Brand Wasteland

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With so many credit unions attempting to build their brands in their communities, most are missing an important first step-measuring key factors such as member satisfaction and market share.

That was the message from Roger Rassman, vice president of marketing for ESL Federal Credit Union in Rochester, N.Y. Rassman told attendees of the CUES Nexus conference that the $2.8-billion CU not only surveys some of its 285,000 members each quarter, it also measures its awareness versus other financial institutions in the Rochester area. The former weighs member satisfaction; while the latter measures brand strength, market share and share of wallet.

"Measuring and managing the credit union's brand may appear complex, daunting and intimidating, but don't get overwhelmed into inaction," he said. "Small steps are better than no steps, so start slowly and simply. Get some wins and build credibility, then expand the program."

Creating the foundation is the hardest part, but CUs cannot create an effective branding program without one, Rassman said. He listed five "foundational tools" that will help credit unions get started:

* Essence-What two or three words capture the heart and soul of the CU's brand?

* Positioning statement/vision-What makes the CU different or compelling? How is it making an emotional connection with consumers?

* Core values

* Brand image attributes

* Competitors' brand essence

According to Rassman, creating brand and member-satisfaction management programs requires they be easily understood, statistically moveable over time, relative to the competition, and aligned with the credit union's vision or preferred way of managing member relationships. These programs also must lend themselves to being measured and actionable at the unit level-which he said can be as big as a branch, or as small as a single employee.

ESL FCU was chartered in 1920 as a savings and loan association for Eastman Kodak employees but converted to a credit union charter in 1996. It still serves employees and retirees of Eastman Kodak Company and its subsidiaries, plus residents of the city of Rochester. To ensure its message is being received by both its members and the community, ESL uses two measures: a general consumer survey and a banking experience survey.

The general survey is blind, meaning ESL FCU is not disclosed as the sponsor, Rassman said. It is performed by phone each quarter by a third-party research company, until 350 "completes" are registered. The results are examined on a rolling, four-quarter basis, with a total sample size of 1,400.

In one of the survey's most important questions, people are asked what credit unions come to mind. The interviewer records the first credit union mentioned, then reads a list of all credit unions in the area. It also seeks people's impressions on service and technology.

"This gives a relative measure of how the public feels about ESL and the competition," said Rassman. "It gives us the relative strength of image attributes, aided and unaided awareness levels for all financial institutions and the importance of community involvement. We feel unaided awareness is twice as important as aided awareness."

ESL uses the image attribute information to guide advertising creative, plus it shows the strengths and weaknesses of competitors, he continued. "We spend a lot of money on advertising. If our awareness level is strong enough, we can save money. We do quite a few community sponsorships because we feel it is important to get our name in front of people."

Relative information on service quality, whether consumers are likely to recommend the credit union to their friends and family, and if they are likely to purchase tells what things the CU needs to work on to become a market leader. Primary financial institution information tells who the competition is and what it takes to be No. 1.

The member banking experience survey is done by mail using a large sample size-more than 5,000 per month, Rassman said. It is based on attributes related to the vision statement and core values of the CU. It measures if members are likely to recommend ESL, what their impressions were of the service quality they received and their primary financial institution.

ESL has created a "loyalty index" that measures the percentage of members who described themselves as a "9" or a "10" on a "likely-to-recommend" scale of one to 10, plus the percentage of people likely to purchase at "9" or "10" levels.

"We currently are running at about 53% of people at '9' or '10' in both categories. The loyalty index is calculated at a unit level, and it rolls up to a corporate score. Using regression analysis, we can see which branch needs to move its scores up."

Using the two studies together allows ESL to understand how it is doing relative to its competitors, which Rassman described as "very powerful."

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