Is Your Brand a Line in the Sand?

Your brand consists of the perceptions and images that represent your credit union. Many credit union leaders think of their brand only as a logo or tagline, but a meaningful brand is so much more. Your brand is the promise of what you’ll deliver, your members’ experience, and most importantly, what your organization stands for.

Where do you draw the line?

The line in the sand metaphor denotes a point (physical, decisional, etc.) beyond which one will proceed no further. Its origin is commonly accepted as a reference to the action of William B. Travis, who, in 1836, while commanding the defenders of the Alamo and contemplating a demand for surrender, drew a line in the sand and asked those willing to remain and defend the Alamo to their deaths to step across.

Operating in a hyper-competitive financial services market is extremely challenging, and not for the faint of heart. Whether you like it or not, you have a credit union brand, and it exists somewhere along a continuum of “different shades of the same boring thing” to a very bold brand committed to something that forces your organization to take a stand, i.e. financial inclusion or social justice. The more your brand image blends in with the tens of thousands of financial competitors, the less you’ll stand out. But, if your organization can rally around a theme, cause or belief that is meaningful and bold, you’ll stand out and attract people to your cause – and they become your loyal advocates.

At YCUP, we get to rub shoulders with the best and brightest credit union leaders. We get to experience bold brands, behaviors and beliefs that inspire action, amazing results and advocacy. One of these amazing examples is Bank Australia. Earlier this year, The World Council of Credit Unions invited us to moderate a presentation by Rowan Dowland, General Manager of Corporate Development at Bank Australia. Don’t let the “b” word mislead you; Australian credit unions are called banks and Bank Australia is a credit union in every sense of the word. Bank Australia’s brand is “values-based banking.” As an organization, Bank Australia’s brand has boldly drawn a line in the sand. Its target market is millennial-aged, globally social-conscious consumers, and its leaders know firsthand this target market trusts and supports businesses committed to a social purpose and positive environmental change. Bank Australia takes bold stands where other financials dare not tread. It draws a line in the sand and takes affirmative positions on issues such as financial inclusion, immigration, marriage equality, and the environment. Its leaders don’t shy away from declaring their position; they embrace it. They strongly believe that standing on the sidelines is no longer an option for them. The brand is bold, it stands out, and most importantly, it inspires action. Bank Australia’s outcomes are as dramatic as its brand in bank awareness, target market support, community impact, corporate culture, growth, and revenue. Bank Australia does very well by doing good.

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it”

Far too many of our credit union brands are focused on what we do (low-rate loans and low-fee transactions) and how we do it (seamless delivery channels, happy tellers), and very few of us focus enough on why we do what we do. In his “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” video, Simon Sinek suggests that people are not attracted to what or how we do something as much as they are attracted to why we do it. When our “why” has real purpose and meaning, e.g. financial inclusion for the working class, or an end to predatory lending in our communities, we will attract people who support that cause and they will then advocate for our cause and make it their own. Simon challenges leaders to identify and share their causes and beliefs. Ask yourself if your team’s current beliefs or causes are aligned with the target market you need to attract for the next 20 years. If the answer is no, you’ll want to refocus to find something meaningful enough that the desired target market will listen to and follow you.

Common day causes worth fighting for

If you’re not sure what you’re fighting for, there are many issues facing the target markets we want to serve. Issues and causes that really matter in the lives of millions of consumers. Some of these causes have a natural connection to credit unions, such as financial inclusion for the underserved, action against poverty, affordable housing, relief from predatory lending, and high student loan debt. Other causes not as directly linked to credit unions, but no less inspiring to the people we hope to serve, include equality issues and climate change – to name a few. Consider one of Bank Australia’s very unique brand messages: “A bank that carbon-offsets every car loan is the Bank Australia needs.”

Why it matters

Brand boldness is needed now more than ever. I don’t believe creative-looking logos, snappy taglines, funky names, and run-of-the-mill products and services are enough to maximize attention in our crowded and competitive space. My experience has been that the clearer the credit union’s purpose (why) and the strength of their commitment to it result in extraordinary outcomes for the members they serve.

If you haven’t already, find something that really matters, both to you and to your target market, then take on the cause and make it your own. Draw a line in the sand and make it your rallying cry. Sure, you’re likely to anger some, but you’ll become a hero to thousands. The world needs more heroes.