Credit unions: Tips for successful rebranding

Eva LaMere, president of Austin Williams, a New York-based digital marketing, advertising and rebranding firm, shares some insights.

With several credit unions undergoing a major rebranding in recent years, we spoke to a digital marketing expert to learn what the process entails and how credit unions can create a strong brand.

Eva LaMere, president of Austin Williams, a New York-based digital marketing, advertising and rebranding firm, shared some insights.

What are the key elements of a successful credit union brand?

Eva LaMere: Every brand has a unique and compelling story to tell. The key is to find it: to uncover your brand DNA; who you are – and more importantly, how that connects to what your target audience wants, and needs, you to be. That brand story is built on a platform based on extensive research: we uncover insights into consumer sentiments and motivators, the credit union’s brand truth, and the competitive environment in which they operate.  A successful brand connects the consumer to the credit union in a way that’s relevant, engaging and stands out from other financial institutions vying for the same dollar. The brand platform is the foundation for all messaging and creative content to ensure we have consistency with that identity and brand truth. Without that consistency, you will not build a successful brand.

Should ‘credit union’ be kept in the name? Does it have an old-fashioned meaning for the public?

Eva LaMere: There is still a lot of work to do educating the public about what credit unions do – or why they’re a better financial option. So many credit unions consider removing the moniker from their brand, or reducing its emphasis. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; it depends on what your research tells you about your target market. But in those cases where credit union is removed, we must replace it with something – ‘Financial’ is a common option – and/or create a tagline as an identifier. This tagline may include the verb “bank” (no one “credit unions”, after all) to explain both what the institution does and to reinforce its mission.

What are the biggest challenges in the rebranding process?

Eva LaMere: Rebranding is a huge undertaking, so credit union leadership first needs to understand what they’re getting into and why. What is the ultimate goal? Is it a viable and financially beneficial one? Take into account the many perspectives from which your rebranding will be viewed: your core constituencies include not only your members and prospects, but your employees and board of directors. How do they feel about your brand now? How will they view the rebranding and how will it fit with how they interact with the credit union each day? Leaving no stone unturned from a tactical and a financial point of view is important, from those “big” elements such as changing branch signage, right down to planning for changes to those “little” things like your email signatures.

Is rebranding in itself enough? Or should credit unions use this opportunity to present new services for members?

Eva LaMere: It depends on your competitive situation and your goals. Any rebranding must start with research to understand what prospective and current members want or need and how or if you can deliver them. If you’re not delivering the services people want and need, no rebranding or marketing effort is going to be successful.

How can results be measured? Do strong brands generate strong sales/an increase in membership?

Eva LaMere: At Austin & Williams, we believe every opportunity to brand is an opportunity to sell and every opportunity to sell is an opportunity to brand. Every rebrand should start with key performance indicators (KPIs) as well as a plan for measuring them. Results need to be measured against goals: increased awareness, increased membership, or higher product sales volumes. If a rebranding isn’t designed to deliver a solid return on investment (ROI), don’t do it.

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