Journal Reader Question #1

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We have striven to have a consistent look and feel to our touchpoints, but we have added a new community to our FOM that for us is a much different group of potential members. Should this branch be designed to "match" the community it serves, or should we stick with the tried-and-true?

John Nicola, IBT, Atlanta

Consistency in the credit union's image promotes stability, reliability and a belief in its mission to its members and employees. Moreover, a strong, sustainable brand is a valuable competitive advantage. So, while this new opportunity puts the credit union within a new community, it should strive to maintain consistency with its brand.

A brand is much more than a logo, signage or color scheme. It represents a promise to the consumer-a promise of service, norms, and practices. A brand carries equity built over time and represents the relationship a credit union has with its membership.

It is understandable, however, that demographic, cultural and economic factors will dictate differences in the way the credit union delivers information and services to prospective members. Among the things to assess are: the membership's comfort level with technology, space requirements that accommodate higher service levels, potential language barriers and appropriate signage, the level of product knowledge among this membership and effective point-of-sale communication.

Expanding to new markets is challenging. By spending time during the planning stage to adequately assess and understand the needs of new members, the credit union should be able to deliver a rewarding experience while maintaining its brand identity.

Andrea Simler-DeGolier, DEI, Cincinnati

If you have worked hard creating solid brand consistency, you should retain your brand image while marrying the "new" community to your brand. Take into consideration what demographic elements this new field of membership is comprised of, what are the age groups, what are the professions, their marital status, what products and services will this new group need/want, what type of "style" will they be attracted to (Traditional, Transitional, or Contemporary). The "style" can be integrated in the architecture, retail elements, interior environment, graphic language and marketing collateral. With all of these elements analyzed then integrate elements that appeal to this new group while retaining the brand image that your member base recognizes.

Tom Lombardo

HBE Financial Facilities, St. Louis

There is no single best approach. Credit unions must evaluate what design elements will best serve the communities and membership base where new branches are to be located.

In terms of facility design, some credit unions believe that maintaining a consistent image is important to successfully market themselves to both current and potential members. For example, First Community Credit Union recently completed three new branches in the St. Louis, Mo. area. All three facilities feature the same distinctive design-including a dramatic barrel vault roof, open floor plan and a high-tech interior design-to support the credit union's expansion into new markets.

An alternative approach is to design new branches to fit the demographic profile of the local community. South Carolina Federal Credit Union recently opened several new branches in Charleston and Columbia, SC. All share common graphical elements, but each has its own distinctive architectural design, ranging from traditional to contemporary, and even a colorful beach motif for the new James Island, SC branch.

Service delivery is another consideration. For example, traditional service delivery methods tend to have more appeal in communities with mature demographics, while younger demographics may be more receptive to newer technology like video remote tellers.

Bob Saunders

RWSaunders, Pittsburgh

Banks have favored prototype branches, in order to express their brand through the design of their facilities. Increasingly, we are finding that Credit Unions are electing to enhance the member experience by creating a sense of uniqueness and individuality, through the design of their branches. This is consistent with the Credit Union philosophy of "personalizing" the process.

When the decision is made to invest capital in a community branch, essentially you are implementing a component of your strategic plan. We initiate the design segment of the process by providing a demographic analysis of the community, so that we identify an accurate portrait of the targeted field of membership.

To compliment the membership data, we study key elements of the community, such as local history, geography, schools, sports teams and industries. The vernacular of local architecture is equally important, as community leaders favor the approval of projects, which compliment, not challenge the design of other facilities.

While the fabric of a community can vary significantly, so can the designs of the branches, both from an exterior perspective as well as an interior design perspective. Consistency in terms of service is the key trait of a successful financial institution, regardless of the location. Unique and personal design can only enhance the delivery process.

Ralph LaMacchia, LaMacchia Group, Milwaukee, Wis.

Tried and true is just that when moving into markets that are comprised of household values, consumer classification ratings and age profiles similar to the ones you are currently serving successfully. If one moves outside of the tried and true demographic, then the tried and true approach may need adjustments, even your name could be a factor in your acceptance. We are currently engaged in several such credit union projects. The moves are geographic for market expansion and blocking new entrants.

Look at the credit union from 3 touch points: the view of 200 feet (at the street), to 20 feet (in the lobby), to 2 feet (at the point of sale). If the credit union is moving into a diverse market, then ask if at a distance of 200 feet, does the facility appear to be inviting to the targeted members? One of our clients is the first credit union in a fiercely competitive bank market. The credit union is extremely capable in engaging these banks and capturing a good share of this lucrative market. Since we must be viewed as a serious contender, the building design and finishes must reflect the target market's expectations.

Too opulent is just as self-defeating as too austere. Take for example Wal-Mart and Bloomingdale's. People who buy 5 gallon buckets of mayo typically do not spend $1,000 on a purse and generally don't see the same touch points as appealing to them. However, both of these merchants are successful.

Design always speaks for itself. Did we communicate and win the touch point at 200 feet? At 20 feet? At 2 feet? We must win all three touch points regardless of to whom or where we are marketing.

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