What’s more important: external or internal branding? Initially, most people would probably say external. Of course they would – what good is marketing and building a brand without your efforts to promote it outside of the organization? Pardon my Spock moment, but to think otherwise would be illogical, right? Fair enough.
But also consider this…why would you build your brand from the top down instead of from the roots up, where it can really take hold and become something even greater – a lifestyle? That’s why internal branding is so important and, quite frankly, critical to your credit union’s success.
If you’re wondering what I mean by “lifestyle,” let me explain. Branding begins with your employees. Truth be told, your members’ buy-in is secondary to your employees’ buy-in. Why? Because your staff are your brand ambassadors, the people who need to embody your mission, values and namesake when they interact with your members, your vendors, your communities and one another. In other words, your brand should be a lifestyle for your staff when it comes to work relationships.
But how do you achieve that? How do you develop a strong internal brand that will allow your staff at all levels to exude the essence of your credit union? How do you ingrain your brand into your employees’ actions so that it takes on the same importance as your mission and values? The answer is simple – create standards that focus on these main components of internal branding:
If there is one key piece of the puzzle when it comes to internal branding, it’s consistency. How disorganized and unreliable does an organization seem if their messaging isn’t coherent? That’s probably not an organization that garners a lot of trust. That’s why consistency is my number one component for a stable internal brand. And it should infiltrate all areas that employees touch – email, internal documents, phone calls and messaging, attitude, intranet, social gatherings and values/mission.
Employees are more likely to buy in to your brand when they see it and hear it at all times, so messaging and packaging should match. Don’t send one message to your staff and something totally different to your members. Be consistent with your verbiage (your tone and announcements) and your imagery (your logo, color scheme and graphics) so that staff can paint a very clear picture of the organization and really get behind your branding when interacting with each other and with outside parties.
An area I see where branding gets blurry is in the official company name. Establish set rules for your namesake so employees aren’t showcasing it in multiple ways, as this creates confusion. For example, if your name is The CU Company, set the expectation that employees refer to it as The CU Company at all times. Referring to it as CU Co. or something that is not the official name will allow misrepresentation to spread inside and outside of the organization. In addition to setting up these rules and expectations for your naming convention, take the approach of leading by example. Include the official name in your internal documents, intranet and communications so employees will recognize it in its correct form and pass that along to your market audience.
All areas of communication are important when it comes to your internal branding, and that includes both the written and spoken word. In today’s world, the main avenue of communication is email (aka, the written word). And how employees interact with those outside the organization as well as with each other is reflective of your brand. Practicing good grammar, using a specific tone of voice and properly introducing your credit union’s name at all times really does matter. In addition, it’s likely that the way employees communicate with each other spills over into the way they communicate with members and individuals outside of the organization, so face-forward branding at all times is crucial.
Also in the realm of emails are your company signatures. These are a great way to share information about your staff and offer promotional materials to your members, but it does more than that – it speaks to who you are as an organization. Find ways to show who you are beyond your credit union’s name and logo. As an example, Vizo Financial is working to add each employee’s strengths to our email signatures, which demonstrates our high regard for strengths-based culture. Again, brand buy-in from your employees is imperative here, because they are actively promoting the values of your credit union every time they send an email.
As for phone conversations (aka, the spoken word), that company tone and messaging we touched on before is just as important. First and foremost, all employees should have a voice message greeting that is consistent and friendly. At Vizo Financial, we provide staff with a few scripted options for recording their voicemail greetings to ensure whoever is calling receives a positive and informative response when leaving a message. This is the same upbeat tone and verbiage we encourage when staff are on a live call with a member or outside party. A good experience – even if it’s over the phone – is one members won’t forget, and making that clear to employees is essential as part of your internal branding.
Whether talking to individuals outside of the organization over the phone or socializing at a company event, attitude is everything. Credit unions are all about “people helping people,” and a kind and encouraging attitude is the basis for that people-driven foundation. Your employees need to know this and should demonstrate an attitude of this nature at all times. So, if a member is on the phone and is distraught over recent account activity, assist with positivity and kindness. One thing I always say is to make sure the person on the other end of the line can hear your smile because it creates an atmosphere of trust and helps to minimize tensions, even in difficult situations. Make sure your internal branding spells this out for employees and cite your core values as the keystones for how they conduct themselves when representing your credit union.
Another thing to point out is that this goes for both external and internal relationships. Again, a positive experience goes a long way, but so does a negative one. For optimal member and employee satisfaction and retention, attitude holds a lot of weight. A unified team that supports one another, as well as members, is very apparent to those outside the organization and will do wonders for your brand.
So, don’t brush internal branding aside – it’s more important than you might think. Because once your credit union’s internal parties – decisionmakers, brand builders, board members and employees – understand and embrace your internal brand, living it will become second nature. By association, everyone from your tellers to your loan officers and all those in between can leave a lasting and positive impression that contributes to your credit union’s brand identity.
As the marketing and business development director for Vizo Financial, Jaime Agostino oversees the marketing, communication, social media and advertising programs for the Corporate, in addition to the member relations activities. Ms. Agostino holds a Bachelor of Science degree in marketing from the Pennsylvania State University. She currently holds her Series 7 (Registered General Securities Representative) and Series 63 (Uniform Securities Agent State Law Examination) investment licenses from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), and has also achieved the following professional designations: Certified Trade Show Marketer (CTSM) and Credit Union Development Educator (CUDE).