Brand building is a key part of any business’s future, Focus Brands President Kat Cole told CUNA Governmental Affairs Conference (GAC) attendees Monday, and credit unions are no exception. During her keynote address, Cole touched on a familiar theme for GAC attendees: Tell your story.
“To appeal to not only a future consumer, but a future employee, you have to be incredible at brand-building and storytelling,” she said. “There are so many stories inherent within the credit union community that aren’t told, aren’t positioned, and what that means is you miss out on opportunities to recruit the next generation of both members and talent.”
Cole told the story about how she was raised along with two siblings by a single mother on a $10 per week food budget, and how their credit union membership “in many ways saved us.” A lifetime credit union member, she also obtained her first car loan and personal loan from her credit union.
She started working as a Hooters waitress to help pay the bills for her family, became a vice president with the company by age 26, and became CEO of Cinnabon at 31. Focus Brands owns businesses such as Cinnabon, Carvel, Schlotzky’s, and Auntie Anne’s.
“For the last 10 years, we’ve faced what’s probably common to you—a high degree of regulation, a high degree of disruption due to technology, and new entrants into the market that cause us to fight for every customer, every dollar in a way we haven’t had to fight before,” she said. “It has forced us to tell our story as an industry.”
When appointed head of Cinnabon, Cole was looking at multiple years of double-digit sales declines, led by both an economic downturn affecting malls and airports (where most Cinnabons are located) and an increasingly anti-carbohydrate, anti-sugar population.
“There are two truths and only two truths to brands that win today: relevance and differentiation. Relevance means, does it matter to the customer you’re trying to appeal to today? It’s a very easy question, talk to the next generation of potential credit union members and find out if you’re relevant to them,” she said. “Differentiation is what you’re doing particularly special in some way relative to other financial services.”
She told those in attendance not to be afraid to stop in-progress processes if they’re not furthering the organization’s goal, and to be unafraid to seek out partnerships that can be mutually beneficial.
Cole also recalled the words her mother wrote on a birthday card when she was 26: “Don’t you dare ever forget where you came from, but don’t you dare let it solely define you.”
“Think about that as an industry, as a credit union, as a leader. You should not and cannot forget where you came from. The connectivity this industry has to the community is literally unsurpassed,” she said.
“But it is not the only thing that can define you, because the reality is future members are having their needs met by many other different entities today … you’ve got to protect that legacy, but you’ve got to fertilize in the right way to get new branches that reach new places.”