In most companies, brand image is controlled by management, which sets the tone for the corporate culture with a focus on either profits or customers. Amazon.com Founder/CEO Jeff Bezos made news one year for working at one of their fulfillment centers in Kentucky, and has made it a requirement for every employee to spend two days every two years in customer service. When a focus on customers comes from the top, it sets the tone for the entire corporate culture, and that gets reflected in every customer interaction.
Credit Unions are no different.
If the management team values profit over people, or values management hierarchy over creative solutions, it becomes part of the culture that affects how every employee does their job and how members experience the credit union. This culture then becomes reflected in your reputation with both members and non-members.
This reputation is your brand image — the psychological and emotional connections that people make when thinking about your CU — and also one of your biggest challenges to manage if there is a disconnect in marketing your brand.
No matter how you represent your credit union in marketing, if your brand image does not match up to your marketing it cannot and will not connect. If you promote yourself as a warm and fuzzy alternative to banks, but your fees, policies, and reputation are similar to a bank, then you have a huge disconnect between the wishful thinking in your marketing message and the reality of your brand.
Culture (what you do) trumps marketing (what you say you do) every time.
To a degree, you can get away with marketing that’s different than brand reality if you’re in a business where all you need is one sale per person (there’s a sucker born every minute, you know.) But this disconnect can be deadly when you depend on sustaining relationships when you are constantly disappointing or surprising your members, or missing your best prospects entirely.
So what’s a marketer to do?
First, understand that aligning culture with marketing really is your job, and that both components may need to change in order to bring them into alignment. Large culture changes are difficult, slow, and dangerous, but much of the benefit is in discovering and defining an existing culture, then polishing and smoothing the rough edges.
Start by finding out what the culture of your credit union truly is. How are you perceived by your members and potential members? What kind of reputation do you have? Ask management the same questions. Then ask your staff and members. You’ll probably be surprised by the answers. Does this culture really work with your marketing?
The next step is to develop a sustainable, long-term strategy for enhancing and aligning culture and marketing. Do you have a warm, lively, caring culture but generic banklike marketing? Do you have a very buttoned-down, efficient, strictly business culture with a scattershot “flavor of the week” approach to marketing? No matter what culture you have, your credit union will benefit immensely from sustainable, more truthful marketing.
And when marketing aligns with and augments the reality of a brand, the effects are incredibly powerful.