Stop Telling Public What We Want Them To Know, Create Something Public Wants To Ask Us About

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About a year ago I created a marketing term: Brand Pimp. A Brand Pimp is defined as a person, business and/or organization that will ruin an established brand by cheapening it just to make a buck.

Brand Pimps also try to establish a brand without fully understanding just what a brand is and what it should be.

I've had lots of fun with people from all parts of the USA in discussing different Brand Pimps on my blog: From donut makers to the USA Rock Paper Scissors League, we've seen that there are many Brand Pimps out there. Unfortunately I've discovered a new Brand Pimp. It hurts to admit it, but it looks like the credit union industry may just be turning in to a Brand Pimp as well. Let me explain.

Over my four-and-one-half-year tenure in the credit union industry I've watched credit unions being created as well as some being closed. I am one of those rogue people who knew very little about the CU industry when I joined the team at my credit union.

I chose to work in this industry based on its history of being self sufficient and member owned. I loved the concept of people saying "it's my money, and I should own it!" Since I've been here I have noticed one thing: there is no central branding effort for the credit union industry.

Our industry has forgotten who we are, and our internal strife over our branding message is stifling our growth.

According to a recent article in the Credit Union Journal (Aug. 27, 2007) there are many states out there trying to brand credit unions in their area. In New York the theme is "Open to you, True to you." In Alabama the theme is "Think Credit Union." In Oklahoma, it's "Credit Unions Care." Maine's theme is "I Save" and Pennsylvania's is "I Belong." The Georgia league is currently developing a campaign that will feature a celebrity touting the benefits of credit unions and driving traffic to a website.

In 2007 CUNA developed the "Little Guy" campaign directed to legislators. There are websites that have been developed to make fun of the competition, and sites developed to explain the difference between credit unions and other financial service providers. All of these efforts are good, and some are great. Where we are missing the boat though, is in the fact that not everyone is trying to promote the same brand and message for our industry.

So, just what is a brand? The answer is this simple: A brand is your implied promise. It is your reputation. You can't tell people what your brand is; you have to let them discover it for themselves. A brand is impossible to buy and easy to destroy. You can decide to have a certain type of brand, but unless that brand oozes from all of your pores, the brand won't stick. Your brand is influenced by your history and your actions. It is almost a "story" just as much as it is an implied promise. A person, business, organization or entity cannot be completely successful without knowing what their brand is.

What is the credit union industry brand? Ask 20 credit union CEOs that question and I'll guarantee that you get 20 different answers. I feel that the credit union industry has reached the tipping point in its branding efforts. We are trying too hard to tell everyone different versions of "this is our brand" and expecting them to listen. It's almost as if we are a group of crazy old men standing on the corner in Times Square yelling at everyone and expecting them to listen to us while we all say different things. We aren't talking with the public; we are talking at the pubic.

We are telling them what we want them to know while using media avenues that we think they should use. While we have been fighting internally over "just the right message and brand" our industry has been in decline. The general public doesn't want to hear us because they aren't attracted to us. It is time for the credit union industry to wake up and rally around one central branding effort.

Let's embrace the idea of one central theme across the world and promote credit unions as a whole. Let's use new forms of media (social websites, blogs, wireless and other consumer driven media) to reach those younger generations out there.

Let's get back to our roots with the "rebel against the bank" thought process and stop trying to look like our competition. Instead of telling everyone "this is what you need to know about credit unions," let's find a way to get them to ask about us. Let's make the world curious about credit unions.

Wouldn't it be great to see the general public actually salivate for credit union membership? Our brand should be so strong that people automatically know what it is. Our brand should be so attractive that people go out of their way to learn about us.

The only way that the credit union industry will grow is though telling our story, living our history, and branding ourselves with one central, all-encompassing branding campaign. Once we lay the groundwork for the industry brand, each individual credit union then needs to let the public know their individual story. The best thing about this type of approach is that the deeper you go, the more attractive your credit union will be.

In the end we can lead the credit union industry from Brand Pimp status to one of greatness.

Butch Holley is VP with Augusta Metro FCU in Georgia. He can be reached at Bholley or 706.373.4600


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