How Brand-building Can Strengthen Your Financial Institution During The Pandemic And Into The Future

(This article first appeared on July 2020)

Where do we go for stability when so much around us is in turmoil? As we all face these ever-fluid economic and cultural dynamics, it is natural to look for security & safety. Think about your own tendencies as a consumer these past three months – most of us have flocked to trusted, tried, and true brands. Ones we’ve known for years, who likely know us and our buying habits. We’re also seeing a continued rise in preference for organizations which value people and purpose over profit. This Zeno study shows consumers are four times more likely to purchase from, champion, and trust a company with strong purpose.

Credit unions are perfectly situated to be one of those trusted sources, to exude the people-and-purpose-over-profit promise inherent in their very structure, and to guide members through this rocky time and towards financial strength(for them AND for your organization!). Is your credit union ready to step into this moment?

But, how does a credit union build trust when personal member interactions are decreasing? Members are adopting digital products faster than ever. Branch traffic is down and unlikely to return to pre-pandemic patterns. And, call centers are seeing increases in call volume, but the pressure to take care of one member quickly and move on to the next is not an ideal environment for developing relationships.

While member-facing activities are undergoing dynamic, often daily, operational changes, indirect interactions, such as marketing and brand-building, are what we’ll need to ramp up. Take the time now to develop a strategic marketing framework for building loyalty, trust, and the brand in general, then you’ll see the payoffs for years to come.

Know Thyself

So what’s the first step? Being authentic. It’s much more than just a buzzword for social media. Being authentic allows members and potential members to really see the culture and personality of your organization. Hold up a mirror to your organization and really get to know thyself, as the Greek philosophers believed. Being authentic means aligning your core culture to your communications in such a way that when people encounter ANY type of communication they get to know the organization a little bit. And those communications are more effective when they have a bit of the organization’s spark, or personality, showing. If you took your credit union’s logo off that notification letter, your website or brochures, would people be able to distinguish it from the financial institution down the street? If not, it’s time for a chat.

Be Steady

There’s a second component to being a trusted brand: consistency. This consistency is so important for financial institutions especially as members entrust us with very personal information. If they received communications which did not fit the branding styles, trust would start to degrade. Is this REALLY from my credit union? Maybe it’s a scam instead? We want them to look for certain cues on the credit union’s communications which signal it truly is from their trusted financial partner. Being consistent also allows consumers to recognize your brand faster among all of the consumer noise out there. Consistency comes through using the same fonts, colors, imagery style, tone of voice, as well as other communication elements. Even being consistent in the member experience can make a big impact on building trust. Think about how we expect the Starbucks experience we have in our local store to be the same in the Starbucks we visit anywhere else. Now that’s building trust!

Be Helpful

The third major component is transparency. This one is fairly new to the financial industry (relatively speaking) and tends to be a harder one to put into practice. But because of that, the more transparent your organization is, the more yours will stand out from those who aren’t! Banks and credit unions have traditionally been very secretive about their processes, but that no longer squares up to being a successful brand.

But what does being transparent even mean? With information more widely available at the stroke of a keyboard, any disingenuous efforts are quickly rooted out by consumers. Conflicting experiences are called into question and they want to know why it happened. Consumers, especially younger ones, are demanding to have more information about how an organization makes its decisions, where the profits go (and don’t just show them the annual report), and how that organization meaningfully serves the community. So it’s best for everyone to just be upfront and honest in their communications at the onset to save everyone heartache later.

A specific tip for being transparent? Think of Kris Kringle in the movie “Miracle on 34th Street”. He worked for Macy’s but would recommend other stores if the requested toy wasn’t available at Macy’s. Macy’s leadership was appalled! They even started to fire Kris, until they heard from customers how much it helped them. It actually created loyalty and goodwill. My clients use the same philosophy when it comes to helping their members and clients – if a member would be better off with a product available from another institution, then they’ll recommend the other institution. That’s one way of being transparent, of being there to serve the member first, not the organization.

For another example, let’s take a look at the restaurant industry. Several pizza places offer a tracker which consumers can view to follow their pizza order. What if you had a loan tracker allowing members to view the process timeline? Where their loan was within that timeline? Could certainly save phone calls and emails asking about the status, but more importantly it provides a look into the process itself, providing more information, being more open and collaborative, being helpful. Definitely more appealing, more trust-worthy, than being closed off and secretive.

So trust has become more important than ever. And trust is what will get your credit union through this immediate crisis and position it for long-term success. In fact, a recent Accenture study shows us trust-based initiatives in financial institutions can lead to an increase in revenue. Even more importantly though, growing your credit union through trust-based initiatives allows your organization to have even more positive impact on your members and your community. Start with being Authentic, Consistent, and Transparent and you’ll be creating a trusted source in your community.

If you want more information about the ACT framework, including additional actions for each component, get the ACT guide here!