A Kinetic Approach To Brand Development

Heritage didn’t fully hit its stride until employees learned to step out from behind the teller line and executives broke free of the corner office.

Ancient Greeks were the first to dive into the complex study of the behaviors of bodies in motion, but you don’t need a physics degree to understand the value of kinetic energy in a business environment.

As Heritage Federal Credit Union ($451M, Newburgh, IN) has long known, the right employee out in the field is often worth two in the branch. In fact, many of the credit union’s most successful marketing pushes involve getting staff out of their traditional, sedentary roles and out into the areas of the organization and community where more meaningful interactions occur. Some of these efforts are internally focused and boost morale while breaking down silos that exist among executives, board members, and employees in different departments.

For example, Heritage rewards employees with both small bonuses and larger annual payouts for hitting their goals on the institution’s balance scorecard. But the incentives that seem to work best usually involve simple acts of kindness or gestures of support from those at the top.

We set a goal for our Boonville location to hit $1 million in loan production every month for six consecutive months, says Mandy Koester, area manager of member service. Then we asked our employees what they would want if they hit that goal. They said they wanted our chief marketing and member service officer to come wash their cars. When they hit that goal, he actually did. They got a big kick out of it and there was no cost to it just some soap and water.

During smaller scale competitions or periods of internal culture celebration like the one held each St. Patrick’s day in honor of the company’s PATRICK (professionalism, accountability, teamwork, respect, integrity, communication, and knowledge) core values executives and mid-level managers will cook on-site for employees or bring baked goods to keep them fed and motivated.

Front-line employees are the face of the institution for members in a sales and service capacity, but Heritage’s President and CEO Ruth Jenkins and her team have also found value in meeting with wider segments of the community sometimes face-to-face at local government and community events, other times via mass communication.

One example is the credit union’s Ask the Expert television segment, a twice monthly noontime special on the local NBC affiliate in which Jenkins answers questions submitted by the community on a wealth of financial topics.

Not too long ago there was a large breach at one of our local grocery stores, and it affected thousands of credit and debit cards in the community, Jenkins says. So we did a segment on what to do in that scenario and also talked about security with online banking and eStatements.

Other topics have revolved around things like HSAs, IRAs, different savings vehicles, and student loans.

We’ve had people call in and say Because I watch this show and trust the advice you’re providing, I actually went to one of your branches,’ Jenkins says. So what can seem to be simple matters for those of us in the financial industry can be a daunting and intimidating decisions for others, and it really helps them to have that resource.

But the credit union’s brand development efforts aren’t limited to the financial industry. In the midst of the recession, community involvement by large organizations effectively ground to a standstill, leaving Heritage with numerous opportunities to step up. For example, it even secured the naming rights to a tram that takes people through the local zoo.

We want to be wherever the masses are, and it’s a nice little reminder for people that if they have a need, we probably have a solution, Jenkins says.

Another opportunity arose when a large national bank dropped its sponsorship of the local tri-state home show. Thanks to its close ties with organizers at the local paper, the Evansville Courier Press, Heritage was the first institution to receive a shot at title sponsorship. This multi-day event, now referred to as the Heritage Federal Credit Union Home Show, draws thousands of attendees and is a vital pipeline for numerous areas of the credit union’s current and future business lines.

Despite their value, Heritage does look at these sponsorship opportunities in a different light than the philanthropic activities it also participates in.

Things like large corporate sponsorships fall into our advertising bucket, and that’s different from community services, says Steve Bugg, the credit union’s chief marketing and member service officer. So in those circumstances, we’re going to look at how to put our logo out there or find other ways to get a return dollar for dollar on that.

When it comes to community services and personal network building, the credit union isn’t as concerned with logo placement so much as employee placement. For example, the credit union is increasing its presence in local community boards and organizations as a means of getting the word out about its brand. Jenkins herself volunteers on advisory boards at the Salvation Army, the Women’s Fund of Warrick County, the St. Mary’s Warrick Hospital Foundation, and the Indiana Credit Union Foundation. And the credit union requires all executives as well as its two roving business development specialists to sit on a certain number of community boards.

We’re always looking for ways that our membership, employees, and board members can support these charitable organizations in more than just a financial way, Bugg says. We want to actively participate and have a real presence there.

One of the credit union’s largest depositors a local non-profit organization ended up joining not because of the dollar support it received, but because Heritage was able to help staff one of its major promotional events.

Sometimes referred to as the sea of red due to their branded People Helping People T-shirts, Heritage employees donate more than 3,4000 hours to organizations and the community each year.

We know that those numbers are even higher in reality, but employees don’t turn in everything to be tracked, Bugg says. It sounds easy to get people to show up and get involved, but those hours are happening mostly in the evenings and on weekends, and we don’t compensate with extra days off or extra money in their paychecks.

For this reason, it is especially important for employees to connect with one another and the community in enjoyable ways. In the past, the credit union participated in The Really Big Show, a charitable program for which the CEO dressed up in a Stars Wars costume and Yoda-inspired Heritage commercials were broadcast during commercial breaks.

We want to show people we’re approachable and like to have fun just like everyone else, Jenkins says.

January 13, 2014

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