In the absence of people, there is no brand.
Every time I read a credit union mission statement, read website copy, or view a credit union social media page I immediately think about the promise the credit union is making to its members, and whether the credit union has a culture of people motivated to consistently deliver on its promise.
Like you, I’ve had disappointing experiences with brands in the past and wondered to myself:
“How would the CEO react if they knew how their customers were being treated right now?”
And, I’ve also had very positive experiences. The difference between the two lies in a company’s culture, and ultimately your culture connects to your marketing message.
The problem quite often is when we survey members and leadership, a vast disconnect surfaces between what the membership thinks and what the leadership thinks. Just because you think your brand delivers service that could rival Chic Fil A doesn’t mean it’s true. Likewise if you think your technology offerings are equal to a Tesla experience doesn’t make it true. What makes it true is whether your members would agree with you, and in our decade plus of experience in brand work with credit unions, we have not once encountered a board and leadership team who doesn’t think a little higher of their credit union than their members do.
Before we troubleshoot, let’s get on the same page about what ‘brand’ means as that word is tossed around a lot with differing meanings.
A brand is a unique set of distinctions a credit union owns that make a noticeable difference in the lives of its members.
Distinctions are not found in the products or services a credit union offers for one reason: With enough time and money, any credit union can replicate what its competition offers. Your credit union’s unique distinctions are best defined by the reasons the credit union was originally created, and what its employees are able to consistently deliver. These typically include things like innovation, service delivery, mission/purpose and philosophy.
When you sum up the above characteristics, it’s the quality of employees your credit union attracts that has a direct correlation to the significance and strength of your brand. Top-performing employees are discerning and have earned the right to be very selective about where they work. Top performers want to work for brands that have a sense of purpose. Nice paychecks and benefits satisfy basic financial needs, which can be accomplished almost anywhere, but being a part of a strong brand satisfies much deeper needs within someone who wants to feel a sense of purpose and fulfillment.
If your brand, and ultimately culture, are not as strong as they need to be, here are a few starting thoughts to prompt discussion and change at your credit union:
- Strong leadership. Without it, your credit union employees will be lost, confused, and will not know if they are performing to expectations. Leaders have an enormous impact on a company’s culture. Gut check: not everyone is naturally a good leader. I recognized several years ago I needed a leadership consultant to work one-on-one with my team members to help support and lead them, as that was not my strong point. If a small marketing firm like YMC can develop a leadership team, so can your credit union. One credit union that I have worked with for almost two decades hired a lender to train and lead the team and within 6 months the results spoke for themselves. It wasn’t a high-level leadership position, but someone who could support the lending team, lead by example, and offer encouragement to build excitement for the work they do.
- Meaningful work. Employees in any organization naturally have more satisfaction and more drive when they know what they do every day serves a larger purpose and makes a positive difference in the company and people’s lives. If your credit union mission statement is the normal “we want to be the primary financial institution serving our members’ needs” that leaves a lot to be desired in someone who wants to make a difference. The mission of this credit union is simple, but the story behind it that is shared with members has a “why” that anyone with a heart has to embrace.
- To be challenged into a sense of accomplishment and achievement. If you’ve ever wondered why people waste colossal amounts of time playing games on their smart phones, it’s because the more they play, the more challenging the games become, leading to greater feelings of accomplishment. The same goes for work. We’ve started using gamification with more of our clients to help engage their teams and give them a goal to work toward. Caution! If you do this you’ll soon find out who really is passionate about being a part of the team, and those that aren’t leaving you with a difficult decision. Do you stay in your comfort zone and ignore it, or address it and have some difficult conversations that may create turnover?
Consider branding and culture this way: Think of your favorite sports team. How would you and the rest of the fanbase react if half of the players on the court or field didn’t try very hard, or worse, hated their coach. Would the fans (customers) keep returning to see more games? Would the players ever win any games? A championship or a Super Bowl? You know the answer.