Are Your Brand and Culture “Feeling the Bern?”



At the time of writing this article, Hillary Clinton has become the presumptive Democratic Party nominee in the US Presidential Election, President Obama has formally endorsed Clinton, and Bernie Sanders is preparing to exit the Democratic nominating battle. The 2016 presidential election, and all of its related antics, continually reminds me of the supposed Chinese curse loosely translated into “May you live in interesting times.”

For the record I haven’t supported any of the candidates from the very beginning of the race. I personally believe that no one who has or continues to currently run for the office of President of the United States is qualified for the position. None of the candidates offer what this country needs at this stage of its history. However, I do find the election thoroughly fascinating, and even comically entertaining, from a brand, culture, and strategy perspective.

Particularly one could argue that Bernie Sanders may have been more controversial and divisive than Donald Trump. For all of my readers from the Baby-Boomer generation and my fellow Gen Xers, did you ever think we would see a self-proclaimed “Democratic Socialist” run for president in our lifetimes? Not only did he run but he gained a very passionate following. Sanders was even the last player to get figuratively bashed in the head before the final mono-a-mono matchup between Clinton and Trump in this goofy game of dodge ball we call a general election.

So as credit unions, what can we learn from the Bernie Sanders campaign? As Steve Olsher of Reinvention Radio once told me once, it doesn’t matter whether you like someone or not but what you can learn from that person. I think we can learn at least two things from Bernie: one about branding and another about culture building.

It was obvious that Sanders built a tremendously loyal brand following among his tribe, particularly among the Millennial generation.  The Sunday night prior to the California primary, as I sat on my front porch enjoying a glass of wine I was approached by two Millennials in full Bernie-gear. They were dutifully and passionately knocking on every front door in my neighborhood ready to tell the Bernie story and garner support for his agenda. What amazed me was they were not only devotedly making the rounds on a Sunday evening but at a time when it was already painfully obvious that Sanders had no mathematical chance of winning the Democratic nomination. Seeing that type of brand loyalty has to be frustrating for every credit union executive trying to attract Millennials to apply for loans, much less actually write a positive review of the institution on Yelp!

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