Article

Discovering Roots Key to Statewide FCU’s Branding Initiative

tree roots in a forest
By John Mathes

3 minutes

Statewide FCU and its members are both cut from the same Mississippi cloth.

Sponsored by Strum, formerly Weber Marketing Group

William Faulkner’s observation, “To understand the world, you must first understand a place like Mississippi,” is an accurate testimony to the idea that if you can understand and appreciate the unique character and cultural vibe of a particular place, you might be prepared to take on a broader and more understanding view of larger concepts.

Recognizing that there’s a close bond amongst state residents rallying around this “we march to a different drummer” mentality, Statewide Federal Credit Union, Flowood, Mississippi, and Strum forged a path to insightful brand discovery, data-infused strategy and artful execution to tap into the DNA of the organization, leverage the equity in the CU’s deeply entrenched state-wide heritage, and communicate the brand in fresh and relevant ways.

Guided by the vision of a growth-oriented board of directors and an aggressive strategic plan, Statewide FCU began undergoing transformational change at all levels by hiring new CEO Casey Bacon in 2015. A CUES member, Bacon knew he had to be the catalyst for a new vision and started to prepare the credit union for growth by cleaning house, improving the balance sheet and loosening some of the constraints around member eligibility.

Statewide FCU has been open since 1949. Currently the ninth largest credit union in Mississippi, its assets are above $130 million, and it has more than 17,500 members across the state and nation. The credit union serves multiple companies and groups—federal, state and local government employees as well as employees of Mississippi’s state university system. One of Bacon’s first moves was to connect with various community-focused organizations in the area to find easier paths to eligibility, and to make it simpler to qualify for membership. 

Next up in the organization’s make-over was to tackle the brand, image, marketing and member experience. Bacon first jettisoned the credit union’s woefully outdated logo and replaced it with a more modern-day representation and interpretation of serving state-wide Mississippi. 

However, when it came to the brand, he soon discovered a complex landscape that he hadn’t navigated before. Wanting to only go through the re-branding initiative once, Bacon and his team conducted an extensive search for a branding partner. They chose Strum to help orchestrate the brand transformation, find the rhythm of the culture and articulate the promise and messaging of the brand through collaboration that unlocks deep insights that shape consumer behavior, focus organizational culture and address challenges impacting growth. 

Using Strum’s process, Statewide FCU discovered a lot of unique characteristics about itself and about Mississippi and what it’s like to be from that state. The conclusion was: You really can’t separate the credit union from its members. They are one and the same, all cut from that same Mississippi cloth that binds so well.

“We get it. We’re from here,” says Bacon. “We understand Mississippi because even though we operate all over the state, we provide the same quality level of personal banking and financial advice in all our markets. And, we serve it up with a Mississippi interpretation that no other financial services provider can do, because we’re delivering banking with roots.”

The data and insight gleaned from Strum’s deep dive into Statewide FCU’s culture, operations, member base, channels, competition, products, staff and board all pointed to pursuing a brand platform steeped in trust and loyalty. Statewide FCU earns trust by working together with members to understand just exactly what they’re going through.

One of the ways that state roots were identified as a key differentiator for the CU’s brand was by looking at the lack of large national banks in the state. It was an ‘ah-ha’ moment for us. There aren’t any national banks because they don’t understand Mississippi. Well, Statewide FCU certainly does and that’s something worth leveraging.

The strategy was brought to life with a new and approachable brand look and feel for the credit union. Relevant messaging connects as if the reader were a neighbor. Chances are good that they are. Before the brand was rolled out in new advertising campaigns and deployed on a new website, Strum conducted brand training, aka Brand Camp, for the entire organization including the board. This got everyone on the same page, delivering the brand with consistency and continuity, no matter where in the state members do business with the CU.

With brand direction and training as a foundation, the next step for the credit union was sales training and a shift to financial counselors as the primary member contact point in the branch. Meanwhile, the branch network is undergoing updates to embrace and deploy a completely new member experience. A de novo branch in Cleveland, Mississippi, is the result of a Strum-facilitated visioning session designed to create a prototype retail banking model not seen before in Mississippi.

Statewide FCU and Strum continue to work on initiatives together as the brand keeps evolving and the performance keeps getting better. Deep data insight gathering, member and product profitability analysis, target segmentation evolution, media planning and personalization are just a handful of key projects underway, all designed to keep the credit union growing and continuing to bring value to its members and Mississippi.

2018 proved to be a banner year for the credit union, yielding over 19 percent loan growth, 6.5 percent membership growth and an overall market share growth of 6.43 percent, all well ahead of Statewide FCU’s peer group. The future is even brighter because no one gets Mississippi like Mississippi. And at Statewide FCU, they know a thing or two about that.

John Mathes is director of brand strategy at CUES Supplier member Strum, Seattle.

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