BY LISA LIEBMAN AND JENNIFER FORGÉT
Take a step-by-step walk through the strategies one credit union recently employed to rebrand itself to reflect its modern identity. This guided stroll through process, execution and results serves as a solid case study for other CUs that are considering rebranding themselves.
Hudson Valley Federal Credit Union (HVFCU) is a $4.1 billion not-for-profit financial institution that recently rebranded to better reflect its growing relationship with consumers and businesses in its upstate New York markets. The decision to rebrand was not undertaken lightly. While HVFCU had grown and evolved in the past 20 years, its brand identity remained the same and did little to represent the credit union, its constituencies or its future direction.
The brand’s new identity launched in May 2015 and is the cornerstone of a cross-channel marketing and advertising campaign that comprises broadcast, print, outdoor and digital marketing as well as merchandising and collateral materials throughout the HVFCU network of branches in Dutchess, Orange, Putnam and Ulster Counties, New York.
Here’s the story behind the rebranding process, execution and results. While this is just one credit union’s experience, its success makes for a solid case study for others considering such an undertaking.
The objective of the research was to get an understanding of the brand’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOTs) by exploring its perceptions among key internal and external audiences. This research included in- depth interviews (IDIs) with HVFCU’s board of directors and senior leadership, an online survey among employees and focus groups with consumer and business members and prospects. The insights gleaned from the research helped influence and drive the credit union’s repositioning. Some key highlights of the findings were that:
1. General perceptions of the brand are favorable among members and non-members alike.
2. The credit union is known for its high-service standards, even among non-members.
3. While HVFCU is recognized for the positive role it plays in the community, it could better communicate and deliver on how it serves members in “today’s world.” The research findings and implications served as the blueprint
for creating a new identity for HVFCU.
The goal was to position the credit union for growth by modernizing its image and broadening its appeal. Through the new brand, HVFCU will cast a wider net in terms of attracting new members and educating prospects on who they are and what they offer with a new positioning that HVFCU is more than just a credit union; it is a dependable partner whose members are its top priority.
This platform is intended to differentiate Hudson Valley Federal Credit Union from competing institutions as the local financial partner that puts members’ needs – and those of the community – above all else. It is also designed to establish HVFCU as a credit union that stands as a strong, viable alternative to “big banks” with service standards those institutions simply can’t match (and don’t want to).
The new positioning was the basis for the creative development of a new logo for the brand. The exploration looked at different color palettes, fonts, graphics and treatments. Important questions that were answered through this exercise were:
1. Is the logo unique and own-able?
2. Does it project a more contemporary brand image?
3. Does it depict members and the community as the priority?
The resulting design accomplishes all that and more. The new brand icon – a fresh, clean depiction of the Hudson River and its banks comprising the Hudson Valley – graphically positions HVFCU as the safe, local, service-focused and loyal ‘go-to’ financial partner individuals and business owners trust.
Beyond its bold and distinguishable color palette, strong graphics and modern expression of the community it serves, the icon has the flexibility to work as a branding element and to support the promotion of specific products.
As part of the brand’s refreshed identity, the newly developed tagline communicates the CU’s enhanced positioning in a succinct and memorable manner, and it does so as part of the brand’s sign-off. While a range of lines were explored, the one that prevailed for its memorability and flexibility is: “There’s a Reason People Bank Here.”
The line was chosen for its ability to deliver on the brand’s core values of:
1. Excellence in products and the way in which they are provided (easy, convenient, financially responsible)
2. Exceptional service at every turn
3. Caring, compassion, respect and dignity toward members and employees
The new tagline also enables the brand to convey its variety of products and services to both consumer and business members through adaptations that speak directly to them. For example:
“There’s a Reason People Save Here” and “There’s a Reason Business Banks Here.”
Brand Launch Planning Sessions I, II and III
Planning for the new brand’s launch occurred in three stages. First, the credit union needed to take stock of all of the elements that would be impacted by its new identity. From there, it needed to make a plan – from its letterhead and business partnerships to logo-wear and premiums, website, social media and advertising. A full audit was then conducted and a master execution plan crafted for a seamless transition.
A second planning session was conducted to review the media objectives, strategy and channel allocation for the new advertising campaign. Finally, a third planning session focused on the elements and timing of the internal launch, intended to rally the entire organization and create internal brand champions and advocates for HVFCU’s new identity.
New Advertising Campaign
A creative brief was developed and approved based on the new positioning and a campaign exploratory followed to accomplish three objectives:
1. Build awareness of the brand’s new identity
2. Deliver product and service news to consumer and business members as well as prospects
3. Educate consumer and business prospects on the benefits of membership
The new campaign kicked off with a teaser effort in April that unveiled elements of the logo in high-traffic billboard locations. The new identity was launched internally in April, too, with a week-long rallying event. An internal video message from HVFCU leadership, a desktop puzzle of the brand icon distributed in daily pieces with corresponding brand values messaging, a branded gift and a brochure that explained how the new brand identity came to be and how to “live it” each day were included as part of this event.
The external advertising campaign followed in May. Known as “The Valley,” this campaign demonstrates HVFCU’s integral role in the lives and businesses of the Hudson Valley. It also expresses the sentiment that “doing it here – together – makes us who we are” to focus on the credit union’s community member-centric values. The campaign was executed across multiple channels including broadcast and digital media, and it was incorporated into a print deposit campaign that was in progress.
As a final step to ensure consistency of HVFCU’s new identity, brand guidelines were created to explain the tone and style of presenting the brand as well as proper logo usage. The guidelines are not only used with outside vendors but are also shared with all management staff throughout the credit union to reinforce the importance of brand consistency.
KPIs (Key Performance Indicators)
While it is too early to determine the success of the effort, there has been an outpouring of positive sentiment expressed for the brand’s new image and its advertising campaign. These sentiments have been conveyed by employees, members in branch and HVFCU’s social media community.
Going forward, several KPIs have been put in place to measure performance, including an A&U study that will determine lifts in consideration over other financial competitors in the market.
While rebranding is a massive undertaking, as HVFCU’s experience shows, if you do it strategically, logically, systematically and with a holistic view and a passion for your brand, you can tap into where your credit union is today and build it for future market growth.
Vice President, Managing Director
After 30 years of experience on Madison Avenue working for blue-chip clients at some of the most creative agencies, Lisa joined Austin & Williams in her quest for greener pastures. As Managing Director, Lisa is the agency’s brand ambassador, new business leader, talent scout and a key strategist across all of its clients. A&W actually created this new agency position for Lisa in response to her enthusiasm, interests and skill set.
Vice President, Client Engagement Jennifer is responsible for managing client relationships and overseeing the account teams that service the businesses of Austin & Williams’ partners. An accomplished marketing executive, she is best known for managing global initiatives for premium beverage alcohol brands, financial service institutions, mass retailers and not-for-profit organizations. She is also tasked with overseeing large, multi-disciplined agency teams. Her focus on integrated,digital and relationship marketing has earned her broad industry recognition and the opportunity to work for some of the top agencies in the world.