PR Insight: Trust Me

hand held out in gesture of trust and assistance while another hand reaches out to take it
By Heather Sugg

4 minutes

Three tips for communicating a trustworthy brand

It is said that trust is the most valuable thing you can earn. In financial services, it’s fundamental to success. Trust in financial institutions has been hard won since the 2008 financial crisis. And the financial services industry is not alone. Trust in institutions is wavering across all industries—just look at Facebook’s data scandal for proof. Rachel Botsman, world-renowned expert on trust, says this shaky ground is because institutional trust was not built for the digital age. However, there’s one truth that holds true over the ages: Trust between people is the glue that holds society together. This is where credit unions excel.

Trust stems from a sense of common values and beliefs, a mutual understanding and sense of community. That said, credit unions are in a prime position to win consumers’ trust. The ability to clearly and confidently articulate your brand values and differentiators is the first step. This should be a top strategic priority as your credit union shifts into earning trust from a more modern membership.

Build a Modern Brand Identity

“We have a mission statement and brand values,” some readers might say. “It’s been the same for decades and it still holds true.” Stop right there. Ask yourself:

  • Does your message truly distinguish the credit union?
  • Do employees understand what differentiates you?
  • Does your community know what you stand for?
  • Are you true to the brand that you communicate?

In most cases, the answer to at least one of these questions will need work.

The first thing to remember is to stay true to your roots. Credit unions have invested decades, sometimes more than a century, defining their place in the community. It’s important that your modern message is built upon this well-established relationship.

Then, ask yourself, why are you doing what you do? Why are you invested in these communities, expanding into new areas, offering these new digital interactions? Oftentimes the answer reveals the root of your brand. I was recently speaking with an institution that is offering small business services to cannabis industry companies. They admittedly have a very conservative leadership team and the decision to serve this industry surprised a lot of people—employees included. Then they shared why: Unbanked cannabis businesses were becoming targets for crime in their community. Large amounts of loose cash was a recipe for disaster. The leadership decided to step in to protect their community from crime by properly managing these small businesses’ finances. In this case, a very modern decision was made that reflects on the long-standing values and beliefs of this institution. When properly communicated, it says a lot about the lengths this organization will go for their community’s best interest.

Find Your Voice

After your mission statement is clear, think about your brand personality—your voice. Deciding on the right voice that will translate across both generations and mediums is difficult. It can be one of the most disjointed parts of a credit union’s brand.

To decide on the right voice, ask yourself:

  • What is your company culture? (Are you edgy or professional, playful or buttoned-up?)  
  • How does your team bond together? How do you bond with the community?
  • How would you like the community to describe you?
  • If you could associate your credit union and culture with a vehicle, what would it be? (Are you more like a F-150, a Volvo or a Tesla?)  
  • If you could associate with a musician, who would it be?

Answering these questions can help you define your credit union’s tone so that your message is doesn’t clash between texting slang and exclamation points on your social media and an almost instructional booklet tone on your website, for example. Some deviation is fine—you naturally speak to a CEO differently than you do a high schooler—but keep the personality consistent. NerdWallet does an excellent job at this; the casual, cool tone resonates though all their communications.

Stand Out

A true differentiator is specific and clear, concise and resonating. For instance, “We provide the best service” is almost meaningless. It’s overused and unsubstantiated. Instead, be direct and create a statement you can validate. And make sure it is simple enough to remember. $299 million Louisiana Federal Credit Union, La Place, Louisiana, sets a strong example with their statement, “Helping you get there so that you can focus on life first.” This paints a picture, and it is understood by employees, members and the community. Jack Henry & Associates’ philosophy is another good example: “Do the right thing, do whatever it takes, and have fun.”

Next Steps

Trust is a topic that’s frequently discussed throughout the industry. Will members trust you with their data? Do they trust you enough to add more products per household? Will they trust you to guide their financial futures?

The foundation to earning this trust is building a brand that is true to who you are and creating meaningful member experiences aligned with that brand. Trust is a feeling, a distinctly human experience. It can take years to build, and it can be broken in seconds. There’s no secret shortcut, but trust built on a foundation of mutual understanding and personal connections can last a lifetime. Empowering employees with a modern message to begin these connections is the first step.

Heather Sugg, APR, is vice president at William Mills Agency, the nation’s largest independent public relations firm focusing exclusively on the financial services and technology industries. The agency can be followed on Twitter @wmagency, Facebook, LinkedIn or its blog.

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