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Credit union leaders should be able to say what their CU is about in six words or fewer.

That was the message from Mark Arnold, senior VP with Neighborhood CU in Dallas. Arnold, along with Harvey Briggs, EVP and director of innovation for Madison, Wis.-based development firm Lindsay, Stone & Briggs, led an educational session on building a lasting brand at CUNA Mutual Group's Discovery conference here.

Arnold said branding requires a long-term approach, a CEO who serves as a "brand champion" and a staff that buys into the brand.

"A brand is a name, a logo or symbol, a set of expectations or characteristics, or an actual product or service," said Arnold. "American companies spend $300 billion every year advertising their brands. But TV commercials can be zapped and telemarketing calls can be blocked. It is very difficult to get a brand out there."

Briggs said the four keys to a strong brand are relevance, differentiation, awareness and consistency. In designing a brand, a credit union should ask how it is different from its competitors, he advised.

Legendary psychologist Dr. Carl Jung identified eight core universal human needs: creating, belonging, power, stability, exploration, achievement, nurturing and self-improvement. Briggs said if a CU (or any other company) can tap into those needs, it can create a strong brand.

Arnold said a branding plan begins with a vision, mission or message, continues with the definition of a brand target, followed by brand training.

"A credit union can't be all things to all people, it must identify or choose its targets," he said. "Then, it must train the staff about branding and what it means."

The fourth, fifth and sixth steps in a branding plan are: defining the brand elements, creating awareness and following a timetable. Two of the most important things a CU can use to promote awareness are its use of printed materials in member communication, and the look and feel of its branches.

"Most Americans today still do not know what a credit union is. They think it has something to do with a labor union," Arnold declared. "The materials used in member communication should all have the same look and feel. Non-member communication should have the same look, but also clearly communicate membership eligibility."

Sometimes, the biggest threat to the brand, is from within: the CU's staff, Arnold noted.

"The weakest link will destroy the brand. One negative experience will destroy years of branding efforts. Credit unions are not in the financial services industry, they are in the people business...and just happen to provide financial services. People choose credit unions because of staff courtesy. Branding is critical, but service is linked. Managers and staff must know what they did each day to help members succeed." (c) 2006 The Credit Union Journal and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved. http://www.cujournal.com http://www.sourcemedia.com

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