Why Credit Unions Need to Dial Up Their Brands

silver and orange dial knob with glowing blue notches
By Scott Seroka

4 minutes

Follow this four-step process to promote the positive and noteworthy differences your CU makes in the lives of its members.

Many credit unions are marketing meaningless, stale brands.

Simply look at some of the brand messages credit unions push in their marketing today. One claims to be the “friendly place,” while another boasts the length of time it’s been serving the community, and then there’s the one telling everyone the credit union “stands prepared” to be the member’s “business partner” because it now offers business loans. (Yawn.) True? Yes. Noteworthy or unique? No.

Promoting such weak brands is a waste of marketing dollars and actually does the brand more harm than good, because it tells current and potential members that the credit union has nothing special to offer beyond the standard products and services that can be found at just about any financial institution.

All the while, fintech companies like Avant, Square, Ondeck, Forward Financing, Acorns, etc., are seducing members into using their apps for better and faster financial experiences. (Do you Venmo?) The pressure is on, and credit unions need to think about how to reinvent themselves back into relevance to acquire new member relationships and retain existing ones in the months and years ahead. What worked for attracting baby boomers and Generation X isn’t working for millennials and Gen Z—they are the most skeptical and critical of brands in terms of their claims, promises and values.

When it comes to branding, credit unions can be their own worst enemy.

Most credit union executives are aware of the importance of branding, but many are still using ineffective and antiquated tools to develop their brand messages. The result is what you see today—soft brands that say, “Me too!” and offer little additional value beyond what’s provided by competing financial institutions. If credit unions can’t quickly figure out how to compete with fintech companies, they risk becoming nothing more than parking lots for their members’ money as they become more engaged with non-traditional financial alternatives. This is especially true in today’s rapidly growing digital landscape, where physical branches aren’t a big selling point.

The good news is that credit unions have many opportunities to differentiate and provide even more value than some of the leading fintech companies. The problem is that the culture of the financial industry is too conservative and slow-moving.

The Four-Step Brand Development Process

Prior to embarking on a successful brand development process, it is necessary to set the stage by defining a brand. A brand is what people think about when they hear your credit union’s name or see its logo. Your objective is to take control of your brand by identifying and promoting a set of meaningful distinctions your credit union owns that make a positive and noteworthy difference in the lives of your members. Here is the process:

  1. Start with a brand assessment among your employees and members to determine how your brand is perceived, how each group defines your brand’s strengths and weaknesses, and which brand attributes influenced your members to choose your credit union over others. You can also find out who you compete with by simply asking members which other credit unions and financial institutions they considered prior to selecting yours.
  2. Next, schedule a brand discovery workshop among leaders of key departments to unearth your credit union’s most meaningful value propositions, and discuss what your brand is capable of becoming based on your credit union’s intangible assets, such as your specializations, awards, achievements, intellectual property, key processes, etc. You’ll need to be specific and not settle for meaningless attributes like “Unparalleled Member Service!” or “Milwaukee’s #1 Credit Union!”
  3. Spy on your competitors by reviewing their websites and social media activities so that you can learn about their brands and how they attract and retain members. Afterward, honestly ask yourself which credit union or bank you would do business with if you were looking for a new relationship.
  4. Based on what you’ve learned in these first three steps, get to work on defining your value propositions, brand promise and tagline. (A tagline is the short, concise statement that sums up the essence of your brand.) Notice how I didn’t say “unique” value proposition. Having a unique value proposition may not be possible. But don’t sweat it—focus on becoming a brand built on the attributes your members value the most, and you’ll set your credit union up for success.

You’ve heard the saying that there are three types of companies—those that make things happen, those that watch what happened and those who wonder what happened. Take control of your brand and make something happen.

Scott Seroka is a principal and chief brand strategist at Seroka Brand Development, Brookfield, Wisconsin, and sits on the board of the Independent Business Association of Wisconsin. Scott brings more than twenty years of branding and marketing experience to the mortgage and financial industries and is the host of Seroka Brand Development’s podcast, Brandcology. For more information, email Scott at

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