Are You Harnessing Your Brand Power?

by Nina Penson

There is no shortage of “good brands” out there. But when a brand graduates from good to great, that’s where the magic happens. A brand is the promise of an experience. Whether it’s the hope that comes with new opportunities or knowledge, or the sense of pride that an action instills, emotions tied to particular experiences guide human decision making and memory. In the end, it is the emotional resonance of those experiences that makes a brand memorable and elevates it from good to great.

In working with financial brands across the country for many years, I’ve experienced firsthand what brands have done to hit home runs for their audience. Brands that successfully curate memorable experiences have two things in common: they understand and embrace their “why,” and they lean hard into data. This results in a deep understanding of who they are and who matters to them, which allows them to champion a consistent, effective brand identity across all channels.

So how do you up the ante from good to memorable? Start by asking these three questions about your credit union.

1. Does your brand experience align with your “why”?

Over 10 years ago, author and leadership expert Simon Sinek grabbed the attention of business leaders around the world with the notion of starting with why. He posited that consumers don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. This idea challenged the belief that consumers are all rational creatures who buy solely based on price, rates or features. Instead, Sinek asserted, consumers make purchasing decisions in alignment with their value systems AND based on emotion. 

Simply put, the experience that your brand offers should match your market’s end goal; for credit unions, you should constantly be asking what are my members – both current and prospective – looking for and what do they need or want to feel. All of these elements make up your target audience’s “why.” 

Bypassing the why is one of the most common missteps I’ve seen clients make. Too often, brands focus on the products or services they bring to the table, rather than the innate reasons a person would want them in the first place. 

Members are real people with complex stories of their own that resonate with the same human truths that drive each of us to action. Think of it this way: people don’t want a loan for the sake of a loan. And they don’t even necessarily want a loan because they want a house. What people want is the life achievement that buying a home represents; that feeling of security, of being able to provide for their loved ones, accomplishment, validation and pride.

Once you understand the why, you can make intentional connections throughout the member journey that reinforce the understanding of what you stand for and what promises your brand is making to the member if they engage with you. These connections can be scaled greatly, ranging from highly produced, experiential interactions at every touchpoint, to the well-timed share of a member testimonial that inspires someone to see themselves in your brand and your mission. 

2. Does the market connect with your brand in the way you intend?

Understanding the why doesn’t carry much weight if you misinterpret the how. How does your target audience see you? How do you want to be seen? How much space exists between these truths? That gap is typically what inhibits the positive growth brands strive for. 

Our brains are inundated with information. As a result, if we can’t make a personal connection, our brain moves on to process the next piece of information vying for our attention. I saw this play out recently while working with a credit union who sought help in battling stagnant membership growth. They were firmly established and positioned themselves as a luxury brand that took pride in their high-level, personalized service. Following suit, their ads painted the picture of an upscale lifestyle: big houses, expensive clothing and extravagant cars. 

When we dug into the data and individual testimonies beneath the assumptions, a large difference in perception versus reality was revealed. Ultimately, prospective members could not see themselves reflected in the brand. Instead of feeling empowered and catered to by what the brand was projecting, members of the credit union’s target audience felt inadequate and like they didn’t belong. Leadership was shocked by these findings, as their strong existing member relationships afforded them a misplaced sense of comfort.  

How do you avoid this common pitfall? First, take stock of your current market perception. Test your assumptions regularly to ground your action in a data-based strategy. Make it an annual priority to take a pulse check of your brand and target market, and any changes in the gap between them. Understand your competitive environment. This includes not only your current members, but also those who went elsewhere. 

Staying in touch with and analyzing changes in consumer trends helps you proactively identify areas of disconnect and make appropriate changes to your brand experience. This is crucial to creating a brand that continues to resonate with prospective members over time. 

3. Are you expressing your brand consistently?

Seemingly simple, this one carries a lot of weight. With multiple touchpoints, members can experience your brand across many channels. While adaptations may be necessary for specific platforms or to accommodate unprecedented circumstances (a global pandemic, perhaps?), your brand should be communicating and reinforcing the same story everywhere. 

Why is this so important? Consistency is key to brand recognition and trust. It’s important to remember that not every consumer will interact with your brand everywhere, so making sure your brand maintains consistency across all channels is key to a strong and resonant brand experience.

We often see clients create beautiful websites and other digital collateral, but the experience feels very different in other channels, creating a disconnect for users. With that gap comes the increased opportunity for customers to look elsewhere to a solution that makes more sense to them. While websites are perceived to offer more flexibility, if done well, the experience delivered in a branch or through other channels can be flexible and convey the same feeling of connection and belonging.

What makes brands competitive today isn’t the product or service they sell, but the experience they offer. Consumers want an experience that is comfortable, user-friendly and dynamic; one that resonates with them on a personal level. 

From your physical branch to your digital channels, every interaction is an opportunity to build a relationship with your members. If you view every aspect of your brand through this experiential lens and ground your message in emotional, contextually relevant human truths, that is what will take you from good to memorable.