Most marketing and advertising execs would agree that a brand is the total experience one has of an organization. This includes its history, reputation and the caliber of its staff; its products and services, how they are packaged, priced and named; its style of communication and advertising.
Let’s now apply the same definition to credit unions.
If the very nature of a credit union’s brand is the experience we have of the credit union as previously defined, can we ever possibly hope to establish a national branding campaign for America’s credit unions? Such an effort would appear to remain forever evasive to our grasp simply because there could be no consistency. Credit unions are all over the map when it comes to providing one common, consistent experience of what they are and what they stand for within America’s financial services marketplace. Or, is the achievement of consistency much simpler and accessible than we think?
My personal experience of brand development and management came when I was employed by The Ritz-Carlton back in the late nineties, when the hotel company was seeking to capture its second Malcolm Baldrige Service Quality Award. As a member of the leadership team, we all worked very hard to earn that second award. By doing so, we proved the first Baldrige award was no fluke. We proved that The Ritz-Carlton was by far the best, par excellence, when it came to lodging accommodations and service.
One of the branding lessons I learned during my employment at The Ritz-Carlton was the importance of consistency. It was extremely important for a guest to receive the same, exact, five-star Ritz-Carlton experience whether the guest was staying at our Dubai property, the Marco Island resort or at our Marina del Rey, California, property where I worked. Consistency meant that a guest always knew what to expect and what to count on when walking into any Ritz-Carlton hotel, anywhere.
That consistent emotional feeling associated with pleasurable memories of the finest quality in accommodations coupled with attentive and personalized service, are at the foundation and strength of the Ritz-Carlton brand. Delivering that value proposition was drilled into us, over and over again as “Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen.” We all lived by the Ritz Credo, “The Ritz-Carlton Hotel is a place where the genuine care and comfort of our guests is our highest mission. . .” Such efforts further defined our brand and the Ritz-Carlton way. And, the experience was exactly the same for every property, everywhere throughout the world.
Can the same be said of consistency across America’s many credit unions?
Certainly there are credit unions distinguished for having a very strong presence among the underserved, compelled to provide an alternative to the local payday lenders. Others venture down a different path, being known more for their ability to deliver a greater rate of return or perhaps valuable educational programs aimed at ways to save or how to purchase a house. Some credit unions carry a reputation for their devotion to serving their members, while others for their spirit of cooperation in the community and among other cooperatives.
While I see no departure from such healthy diversity among credit unions, all of which, of course, results from the corporate or civic nature inherent in the membership segment served by the credit union and the management style of their executive team, I have to wonder if such diversity prohibits anyone from having a consistent experience of a national credit union brand, from one shop to another.
At first glance, it may appear not possible but if we look deeper we will discover that consistency is possible provided credit unions fully recognize and adhere to a value proposition that’s inherent in their nature and business model. It’s a value proposition that’s common and consistent to every shop regardless of the seg they serve. The value proposition I speak of is our cooperative principles.
I believe a national branding campaign for credit unions is possible and would be highly achievable if we based it on our cooperative principles. Emphasizing our not-for-profit status or even member ownership does not adequately approach the pervasive power of our distinct cooperative nature, defined as being,
- Democratically controlled by the members;
- Offering a return based on a member’s economic participation;
- Maintaining an autonomous and independent structure;
- Having voluntary and open membership;
- Providing education to members;
- Extending a hand of cooperation to other cooperatives; and,
- Demonstrating a genuine concern for the community.
Let’s face it; we all don’t have to be exemplary in how we practice these cooperative principles or measure our performance or allegiance to the movement by the depth of our adherence to them.
All I’m suggesting is that they will always remain the bedrock by which the very nature of credit unions are defined. While they may and should be hung publicly in our lunch rooms and board rooms, I believe they can also serve us very well as providing the framework for a national branding campaign.
So the next time there’s talk about a tagline for your credit union, consider one that other credit unions could use, one that offers consistency in message and values, and one that would certainly embrace our common cooperative value proposition.
My suggestion: “A Member of America’s Cooperative Family.”