On Branding: Why Change Is Not An Option

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As the presidential election draws near one thing is clear-this country is desperate for change.

It's not surprising that Americans are looking for leadership that feels new and improved with a housing slump, an economic collapse and a war to deal with. But the push for change also reflects the reality that our country and our world are changing at such a fast pace governments and people are struggling to keep up. The new world economy and the exponential growth of the Internet and other technologies are changing the way we do everything: shopping, getting news, keeping in touch and, yes, banking. And no one is moving fast enough to keep up.

Recently I checked out ING Direct's entry in Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia. I discovered that ING is opening Internet "cafes" where visitors enjoy coffee, wireless Internet connection, and free seminars on pressing financial management issues. This is a threat to the CU industry unlike the massive branch construction some major banks are undertaking. ING offers very competitive rates and an intimate, Internet-based one-on-one relationship with customers that feel a lot like a CU. The addition of the free seminars, and a brick-and-mortar location to back up the e-banking should have us all taking notice.

This is just one more wake-up call that it's time for the CUs to step up and make their own place in your local markets. We have a powerful story to tell and incredible benefits to offer. Now is the time to sell the recession by aggressively selling your values and benefits. Step up your marketing and rebrand if your brand is outdated. Basic brand rules to evaluate if your brand is outdated:

A good brand has a foot in the present and a foot in the future-if your brand has both feet in the past then it's time to rebrand. Your brand should work for you-and not you for it!

Your brand strategy, CU model and marketing must drive people to where you want them to go -if your marketing is not coordinated with your brand strategically it's time to rethink your brand position.

We don't just have to tell our story. We have to deliver our services in ways the next generation will embrace. Gen Y and generations to follow consider their "checkbook" to be their laptop computer or Blackberry. CUs who define outstanding service as knowing "Betty's" name when she walks in the door will soon be left alone in the dust. Gen Y's "Bettys" don't know where your branches are located and they don't care. You're not open at midnight when they manage their accounts anyway, so adding additional e-Services along with mobile banking is now more critical than ever.

CUs need to play to their strengths and become the fluid, trendy financial services gurus of the future. But one thing is clear-change is not an option, it's the inevitable and now is the time to reposition your brand strategy to take advantage of market conditions.

Paul J. Lucas is a national marketing and branding consultant. For more info www.PaulJLucas.com or paul@pauljlucas.com.

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