CUNA Community CU & Growth Conference

An Authentic Brand Sells Itself

Design a unique consumer experience true to your ideals, and members will buy in.

October 11, 2013

A brand isn’t an art project—it’s an ongoing consumer experience that sells itself.

Think Nike, whose “Just Do It” campaign encouraged weekend warriors to put on their athletic gear and channel their inner Michael Jordan. Or REI, which breeds visions of scaling Mount Everest.

Engaging credit union staff in behaviors that further the consumer experience you seek will generate growth without needing to invoke the dreaded “S” word, marketing innovator Matt Purvis told attendees Thursday at a CUNA Community Credit Union & Growth breakout session.

Brands that stress a sales culture at the cost of delivering a unique experience might succeed in the short term, but that “authenticity gap” isn’t sustainable.

“Sales is the result of a long line of attitudes and knowledge and skill and technique and communication and listening,” said Purvis, who runs the consulting firm, Purvis Management. “When you start to get that right, the sales become easy and comfortable and authentic to your brand.”

A former marketing executive at Northwest Community Credit Union in Eugene, Ore., Purvis recognizes that a “sales” environment has been anathema to credit unions.  As session attendee Asi Carmeli, vice president of human operations for Scient Federal Credit Union of Groton, Conn., put it: “For years, that was the differentiator—that was what the ‘B’ (bank) people do. We provide solutions, build relationships—anything but ‘sales.’”

How can credit unions grow while remaining true to their principles? Purvis offered a case study from his recent project at MAPS Credit Union in Salem, Ore., which hired him to direct a 12-week initiative to increase auto loan volume.

His key points:

Engage employees, don’t train them. Purvis convened workshops for front-line staff and sought their impressions of the credit union’s “Navigate Life. Together” motto. Then, he asked employees to generate “wacky” ideas for behavior in the branch that embodied that slogan. Staff now pours coffee for colleagues and members who are meeting, and continue discussions with members all the way to the parking lot. Then they follow up with a phone call two weeks later.

“Brand is in the eye of the beholder,” Purvis said. “Brand is determined by the consumer, not by you. If experience in the branch doesn’t change, the whole makeover was moot.”

Measure behavior, not sales. Every week, Purvis joined staff on a fun “Campaign Call” teleconference that always began with employees exchanging tips on how to hone their efforts. No one discussed financial progress reports until the tail end of the call, to underscore that results stem from a solid product.

The program reached its goal of $6.3 million in new auto loans in six weeks, and finished the 12-week window at $11.3 million.

“There are no shortcuts to healthy growth,” Purvis said. “Ask, ‘What is our sustainable, competitive advantage in our marketplace, and focus your brand around that.”

Find more coverage of the conference here and at News Now.