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Rebranding 101: 9 Best Practices for Credit Unions

Thinking about rebranding? In today’s super competitive financial services marketplace, many credit unions are. Before you go down that path, remember your brand is much more than your logo and tagline: It’s the promise your credit union makes to members, employees and volunteers. It’s a deep emotional connection that links who you are to who each of these important constituencies wants you to be.
When you rebrand, you’re essentially changing that connection—hopefully for the better. Doing so, therefore, requires careful consideration of who your targets are, what your brand means to them and how you can strengthen the connection between the two.

Here are some best practices Austin & Williams has come up with based on our experience rebranding other credit unions that might be useful as you consider rebranding yours.

  1. Understand what you’re looking to gain. Why is a rebrand worth considering? Are you changing to reflect a shift in ownership? Are you simply trying to modernize? As many credit unions look to attract a younger member base, creating a more modern and sophisticated identity may be the overriding goal.
  2. Consider the cost benefit. The fact is, rebranding can be expensive. Carefully weigh your upside business potential for rebranding relative to the cost of an identity change. Particularly in a super competitive market, the investment you make could help you stand out from banks and other credit unions and pay out in increased awareness, positive perceptions and member acquisition.
  3. Don’t walk away from your equity. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t evolve. However, your evolution should embrace the qualities and attributes that you own and can leverage to help further differentiate you. How will you know what those attributes are? You have to ask. (See the best practice below.)
  4. Look (closely) before you leap. Rebranding should be a strategic and thoughtful process that involves research among key internal and external stakeholders, industry influencers, members and prospects. Be sure to gain a full understanding of your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats before you consider a new direction.
  5. Know what success will look like. Identify the metrics by which you will measure success before the start of the rebrand. Is it shifts in attitudes and awareness, incremental membership investments in products and services and/or increased membership? At the end of the process, these indicators hold everyone accountable.
  6. Take stock of all of your assets and make a plan. A new brand identity touches everything from your letterhead, business partnerships and branch signage to your website, collateral and advertising. To keep it all moving smoothly, conduct an audit of all assets at the start and develop a master execution plan for changing over to the new identity.
  7. Work from the inside out. Don’t forget your key internal stakeholders. In fact, start your communications with them. Your organization and board of directors will need to rally around your new identity and support the change. Employees might feel uneasy about change and it will be your job to make them your biggest brand advocates. Incorporate internal launch activities into your rollout plan; consider a fun kick-off event or activity, special premiums, branded clothing and accessories.
  8. Be creative. Financial services doesn’t have to be corporate and dull (after all, there are colors other than navy blue). Standing out requires taking a risk and having a clear point of view. There is a way to be bold and modern without walking away from your heritage. But whatever you come up with, make sure it has the flexibility to work as a branding device and product marketing tool.
  9. Don’t rush the rebranding process. All in all, you should anticipate a start-to-launch time frame of 12 to 18 months. Initial research takes about three months, creative development, refinement and execution another six months or so, and four months for internal and external rollout. Rollout typically includes a “teaser” campaign to build excitement, if budget allows.

What’s the bottom line? Rebranding is a big undertaking. But if you do your homework and understand your goals—and potential challenges—it can pay off in a big way: Enabling you to stand out in your market, connect with your constituencies and grow your credit union.

(This article originally appeared in the September 2, 2015 issue of Credit Union Times Magazine.)

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Vice President, Communications Strategist

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