Compound Branding

By Mark Arnold

5 minutes

You’ve heard of compound interest. What about compound branding? It’s the same concept, really. The longer you invest in your brand, the more lucrative your return is.

“Brands that judge their efforts only by the immediate gratification of the hits, visits, or sales they quickly generate fail to see the big picture,” writes Steve McKee in his book Power Branding: Leveraging the Success of the World’s Best Brands.

Branding is a lot like saving money for retirement. Sometimes you have to sacrifice short-term gratification for long-term goals. For example, some people like spending $5 every day on a fancy coffee drink from Starbucks (short-term gratification). If they put that money in an IRA instead and let it grow, they are better positioned for long-term financial success. That’s Investing 101.

We see the same effect with compound branding. Credit unions that treat branding as a one-time campaign do not experience the same level of brand success as credit unions that invest in their brands long term. They focus on the short-term gratification that comes with the initial kick-off, but they don’t put in the long-term work required to sustain their brands. They don’t live their brands day in and day out, which is the long-term investment. Credit unions that truly live their brands experience the effect of compound branding.

“We have turned our focus to ‘owning the brand every day’ to ensure success,” says Jennifer Wade, market and sales strategist for $225 million Deer Valley Credit Union in Phoenix. “We know what our brand is all about, but without action from every single staff member, the brand would be useless.

“The Deer Valley team brings it to life and gives a true sense of purpose to our brand based on three words: own, simple and personal. We own every member interaction by focusing on simple solutions and personal engagement.”

Here are four ways to compound your credit union’s brand:

1.  Promote Brand Over Products

Product marketing is short term. You launch a campaign. You increase penetration of that product for a specific period of time. You move on to the next product. Sound familiar?

If you are still living according to the monthly marketing calendar, you are not positioned for long-term success. STOP! Instead of jumping from one promotion to the next, think like Apple. How often do you see an ad or commercial for an iPad or other Apple product? Hardly ever, if it all. Apple markets its brand and lets its customers market the products through word of mouth. If your brand is strong, your products will be strong, and your members will spread the word.

2.  Ask Strategic Brand Questions

With every decision you make (opening a branch, acquiring another credit union, penetrating a certain market, etc.) ask, “How does this affect our brand?” During strategic planning sessions, always carve out time to discuss your brand. Talk about its impact, its plan, its status, its longevity. This is critical to your credit union’s growth. Your brand will not take care of itself. It’s like having a child. Your brand needs to be fed and nurtured, and even when it grows up, so to speak, it needs attention and guidance. The goals your CU establishes during its planning sessions should align with your brand and contribute to its long-term viability.

3.  Audit Your Brand

Have you ever had a third-party expert review your brand? It’s not easy to have someone come in and evaluate what is near and dear to your heart. What if they point out something that’s wrong? That is exactly what you want—someone who will help you strengthen your brand by pointing out your brand gaps.

For example, your marketing materials may say you have a hassle-free loan closing process. If your employees don’t deliver on that promise, that is a brand gap. Everything you do must align with everything you promise your members.

“We made some changes based on our marketing audit and brand plan, like training our staff on expectations and helping them understand what good service really is,” says Kristina Morgan, VP/HR and marketing at $260 million Nymeo Federal Credit Union in Frederick, Md.

Branding touches everything, and an outsider’s view can make those efforts more successful.

4.  Train to Your Brand

The greatest threats to your brand come from within. It’s not your members you need to worry about as much as the people who see your name on their paychecks.

According to McClean & Company, a disengaged employee costs an organization $3,400 for every $10,000 in annual salary. An employee making $30,000 a year, who is disengaged with your brand, costs your credit union more than $10,000 year. That’s just one person.

Your employees are your brand ambassadors. They can make or break your brand through something as simple as a member transaction. They must live your brand every day, but they cannot live what they don’t know.

Train them. Communicate brand expectations and brand behavior. Teach them how to interact with members according to your brand promise. That is how you sustain your brand long term.

Branding is not a one-time campaign. It is a long-term effort that requires daily attention. When your credit union makes that effort, you will experience the effect of compound branding.

Mark Arnold is an acclaimed speaker, brand expert and strategic planner. He is also president of On the Mark Strategies, a consulting firm specializing in branding and strategic planning. Some of the services Mark provides include strategic planning, brand planning, leadership/management training, marketing planning and staff training. Reach him at 214.538.4147 or

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