For University of Illinois (U of I) Community Credit Union in Champaign, launching a community branding campaign started by first energizing its employees about the initiative and training them to meet new service expectations.
The credit union’s best communication tool is its staff. Without them, the $307 million asset credit union’s plans simply won’t work.
U of I Community first informed staff of a pending name change and rebranding effort 18 months in advance. The previous name, University of Illinois Employees Credit Union, had hampered awareness efforts in the decade since the credit union broadened its field of membership by obtaining a community charter.
The credit union regularly offered updates on the transformation, and in November 2015 held an all-staff event that was more party than breakfast meeting.
U of I Community hosted the event at a hotel, catered the meal, and played off the credit union’s connection to University of Illinois athletics by theming the meeting as a four-quarter game and hiring a DJ to play music that got the adrenaline moving.
Employees who couldn’t attend the event because they were working received a catered barbeque lunch and their own scaled-down party.
At both meetings, U of I Community Credit Union unveiled its new “compass bearing” statement:
"When it comes to serving this community, we’re not bench warmers. We’re the ones cheering the loudest and bringing it home. Sometimes we’re financial coaches, sometimes we’re teammates—either way, we’re proud to help our members achieve their financial goals. Because when it comes to the future of our community, nobody has more spirit than we do."
As an extension of the intensified mission to serve the community, U of I Community signed on with CUNA’s Creating Member Loyalty [CML] program, which cultivates a sustainable, member-focused sales and service culture.
“To ensure our new promise aligned with our refreshed culture, we partnered with CML to avoid a ‘brand gap,’” says Lisa Paul, U of I Community’s marketing director.
U of I Community continued the internal momentum by purchasing coffee cups for staff that featured inspiring messages such as “#hustle,” “Be Great,” and “Smile and Inspire.”
The credit union redesigned its branches and rolled out its new website in March—a launch U of I Community postponed three months because the initial design didn’t fulfill the brand promise.
The marketing campaign began in April with bus boards, local media spots, and digital commercials. Notably, the credit union chose to not use any stock photos in its promotional materials, hiring photographers to capture local residents, members, and staff.
On a grassroots level, U of I Community made a big splash with a Shred-a-Palooza in April that played up its connection with local nonprofits (12 attended and had booths) and University of Illinois athletics, including an appearance by former basketball star Dee Brown.
A local radio station played music, food trucks came to the site, and the credit union created a kids play area with inflatables.
The event drew more than 1,000 people, and produced 23,320 pounds of shredded, recyclable paper—which translates to saving 46,640 kilowatts of energy, and 81,620 gallons of water compared with producing new paper.
The key to success was focusing first on staff, then on the public—a philosophy CEO E.J. Donahue endorses: If you take care of staff, staff will take care of members.