Believe In Banking Podcast: Episode #5

In this episode of the Believe in Banking podcast, Sean and Gina discuss the power of the brand for financial institutions stepping up during challenging times. Beyond the storefront, exterior signage, and name and logo, what is your financial brand saying? Banks and credit unions are finding that tapping into their underlying brand purpose is helping them communicate their value to their communities and their customers.

Text Transcript

Intro: This is Believe in Banking, a podcast series for decision makers, influencers, and leaders, featuring experts taking on the financial industry’s most pressing issues with insight and empathy. The podcast features information and conversations designed to enlighten and empower. Here are your Believe in Banking hosts, Sean Keathley and Gina Bleedorn.

Sean Keathley: Welcome to our Believe in Banking podcast. I’m Sean Keathley, President and CEO of Adrenaline.

Gina Bleedorn: And I’m Gina Bleedorn, Chief Experience Officer at Adrenaline.

Sean Keathley: Gina, on our last episode, we were talking about the power of the branch, and how it is a critical link to the idea of a network effect. But we were starting to elude to really the next layer up, talking more about the power of the brand when it’s combined. So why don’t you start us off and let’s talk about the power of the brand.

Gina Bleedorn: We have long talked about the importance of branding, but as is evident, it is now more important given where we are today. So the idea of the network effect is that your brand’s physical presence has an effect of perceived just literally being there, being available and forcing some amount of consideration in the minds of the people that you want to reach. But beyond just your storefront, your exterior signage, and your name, what is your brand saying? What is the message behind it? What is in your not just advertising, but especially now your actions? What do people think of? So brand is your reputation.

Gina Bleedorn: One of my favorite definitions of brand is Marty Neumeier’s definition from The Brand Gap, which is just your gut feeling about a product, a service, or an organization. What is your gut feeling? So with your physical presence creating a network effect to drive consideration because you are physically there, building on that with a brand presence that creates a broader halo effect, actually informing your reputation. Community banks and credit unions are now having to pay more attention to what message their brand is sending out into the communities that they serve than ever before. So Sean, what are some examples of brand halo effect that we are seeing with our clients?

Sean Keathley: One comes to mind, Gina, that is a brand that was launched just before the pandemic. And it is a true testament to how well they are positioned to be empathetic, authentic, and to really live out what they’re saying, because I think that’s going to be very important for the audience they’re serving, but also for the staff they’re trying to hire and retain. And they want to work for these types of brands. And that’s formally Kern Schools with the new Valley Strong brand. It’s an incredible story. And if you’ve ever been to Bakersfield into the Valley area, you know this is a part of California that has a great deal of pride. And Kern Schools had been a credit union serving the school districts for a long time, but they had long outgrown just serving the schools. So like a lot of people, they face a tough position.

Sean Keathley: They did not want to alienate their base, but they were serving a much broader universe. And probably most importantly, there was a false barrier that was created by their brand. People in the Valley did not know they were ineligible to join them. And this Valley Strong brand is based on people and people helping communities. As a matter of fact, if you walk into a Valley Strong today in the vestibule you’ll see their mission statement, we help people in communities prosper. And they are absolutely there to pay that off. The brand launched this spring. And they’ve just actually won in Forbes one of America’s best credit unions. So that’s …

Gina Bleedorn: Well, Sean, this credit union had a problem not just with the schools part of their name, as you mentioned, but also with the geographic part Kern. They basically dominated Kern County from an awareness and penetration standpoint schools and beyond, but both their SEG and their GEO base both in their name were a problem, right?

Sean Keathley: Oh, absolutely. And in all of the research, and a lot of these brand decisions are founded in research it’s a very emotional decision. But when you base it on data and you research the communities, it became really clear the Valley was what was resonating for people. And this notion of being Valley Strong, they are from there. They are not just in Kern but that broader Valley. They have roots and they plan to continue to make the people in those communities better. And that is really now apparent not only just by their outward brand and the reputation, but it really matches their behavior that was already happening. And we see that a lot where there are really good people doing good things, but they have not created this halo effect. In effect they’re not even telling their story. And now as they put those together it’s a powerful combination.

Gina Bleedorn: Something interesting about the Valley Strong name specifically is an approach that not only had more traditional consumer research about impressions and wants and needs, but social listening that was taking into account what people were really talking about, what really mattered to them, and word association reactions that actually led to the selection of the words valley and strong that ultimately created the new name. So for Kern Schools now Valley Strong Credit Union, as they move into new markets where they’ve never been before, all they have to stand on is their physical presence, so their network effect, and their brand presence that’s the bigger halo effect. The impression that the brand creates the message that it sends, the feelings that it evokes in people when they hear or see it, that’s their potential for acquisition and growth. And they’re entering new areas in the Valley that have a lot of existing institutions with a lot of history they don’t have. That’s where they have to leverage their brand halo effect.

Sean Keathley: So that idea of hitting growth communities, not to the detriment of where they’re from is the perfect balance. Let’s have deep pride in our foundation and where we were started and we’re still planning to serve, but let’s don’t limit our ability to expand into those growth communities ultimately makes a healthier organization that can better help those people in communities prosper.

Gina Bleedorn: Going back to the titans of the industry and what they’re doing with the biggest brands that are the most complex to manage, and also the most looked at in the industry right now as beacons of hopefully best practice or opportunities to learn from both good and bad. What are some of the big brands in financial doing?

Sean Keathley: Well, to be honest, the framework is consistent. Let’s go back in time a little bit. Brian Monaghan, the CEO of Bank of America. And he was out front early in COVID in terms of his employees. And that is a critically important piece of the puzzle. If you’re going to pay off the halo effect, you have to have people that believe and they know what to believe, and they feel a part of it. In their example, they did not lay off staff and they sent them home whether they could work or not. And actually I think in March, they hired people. So that example of having the long view. And we’ve talked about that before. Not thinking of this in a short cycle, but having a bigger picture. And in B of A’s example, it was around staff and knowing that dedicated workforce is part of how they’re going to live their brand and help the communities they serve.

Sean Keathley: A more recent example is just recently in the news. Chase is firing some customers. And this is not typical for financial institutions, but it tells you a little bit about where we are in the country today. When you’re full of hate and rude, they don’t want your business. And as we know these call centers, a lot of times they’re dealing with problems. Maybe the mobile apps not working, there was a bad experience and there’s that frontline team to help the customer.

Sean Keathley: And in four different examples, there were words used that were derogatory and race-based. And Chase has said, “that’s not the type of customer we want to have.”

Gina Bleedorn: Amazon’s doing it to, right?

Sean Keathley: Jeff Bezos has done it a long time. They’ve said, “you’re the kind of customer we want to lose.” So I think it gets back to, it’s not the idea of winning every single customer relationship it’s around having an employee base that believes in what you’re doing as a company and thinks you have their back. And I think that’s one thing everyone can agree with is everyone needs to be treated with respect. And these big brands are living that. And I can tell you that pays off internally and gives them more good will about where they work.

Gina Bleedorn: There’s this whole new relevance to the idea of values that I think in some ways have been dismissed by some as fluffy, and doing branding in the financial industry for quite some time that is a thing that has been maybe not given the full importance by some that it deserves, but we have long said, “think about your values as an organization, but also think about your audience values.” Because even organizations that have really strong internal values, many of them haven’t done enough to ensure that those are reflected externally and also to truly consider the values of the people they want to serve when it comes to the services that they provide. So this idea of identifying shared values, what is important and resonant to you as an organization that is also important and resonant to that of your target customer? And I have and continue to love as a brand REI.

Gina Bleedorn: Ironically, I hate camping and outdoor stuff. And really actually I hate all the products that they sell, but I really respect them as a brand because they believe that a life well-lived is a life lived outdoors. And so hiking, cycling, camping, glamping, skiing, whatever, and they did one of the benchmark moves in being real about what you stand for in closing their stores online and physical stores on Black Friday. And they said, “join us outside.” So their number one opportunity for commerce on their biggest day they literally closed down and that’s because they believe in what they believe in and their target believes in it too. And what’s so successful and kind of magical about that is it’s resonant even with people that aren’t their target like me, that it really stands for something. And when you know a brand stands for something, you like them more. And so you better believe when I am going to buy something for camping or outdoor stuff for somebody else, I know where to go because I respect their brand and what it means.

Sean Keathley: Unlike you I have been in a REI store recently and I do believe what you’re saying is absolutely correct. When you walk in, they are genuinely interested in what it is you want to do outdoors. And they are very helpful. Because when they’re not working, they themselves are outdoors. And that again is how you build a brand around people that can pay off that brand promise.

Gina Bleedorn: Interestingly to, my husband loves REI and was just in a store. And because they’re actually a co-op meaning they’re owned by the people that join and really anyone can join. You actually have a share in the profits that come back in the form of discounts and rewards. And so as such, my husband is always continually buying from REI because he feels like it’s a membership that’s actually giving back to him. So it is a cooperative like a credit union, for instance. It’s the same actual business model there that garners advocacy and loyalty on a whole different level.

Sean Keathley: As well as the Green Bay Packers. And if you don’t think those fans are loyal then you haven’t been to Lambeau Field.

Gina Bleedorn: What? Wait.

Sean Keathley: It’s a co-op. It’s the only NFL team that’s not owned…

Gina Bleedorn: Really?

Sean Keathley: Yes.

Gina Bleedorn: So I know you miss football, Sean and just wanted to talk about football. But for real, the Packers are a co-op?

Sean Keathley: The fans own the team.

Gina Bleedorn: Hmm.

Sean Keathley: You can tell I miss sports.

Gina Bleedorn: Yeah.

Sean Keathley: So whether it’s REI, credit union, the Green Bay Packers, this notion of feeling really invested. And whether it’s a literal investment or not the idea is the same. The idea of having skin in the game. That is powerful for a business that relies on people to deliver what they’re doing. Gina, talk to us about how someone can implement that kind of an idea.

Gina Bleedorn: Yeah. It’s about trust. It’s about trust and establishing a relationship which by nature is built on trust. And brands need to create trust with the people that they serve. In fact, in Edelman’s latest Trust Barometer, so they are literally monitoring brands and trust on a monthly basis. The last one at the end of June had a stat that 81% of people needed to be able to trust the brands they do business with to do what is right. That’s staggering. And certainly what is right has a gray area and is up for interpretation, but it’s their interpretation. So back to the idea of having shared values with the people you want to serve, what do the people you want to serve believe is right? And you need to be doing that for them to choose to do business with you. Another staggering percent. 83% of people expect brands to bring people together.

Sean Keathley: I’ll one up you. 86% of millennials would consider a pay cut to work at a company whose mission and values align with their own. So it does work externally and internally. And that is what’s so critically powerful, but it’s also really a requirement in today’s day and age. And I know a few financial institutions out there that would need to dust off their value or mission statement to understand what it even says.

Gina Bleedorn: Your core. Do you have a core? Do you have a six pack or a beer belly? Is it strong? It is your core that should be guiding everything you do and be a North Star for everything you’re saying and guide your action which to your point, you better be able to back up. So to even one up your stat, the top 40 brands perform the MSCI world benchmark average by over 96%. Stronger brands with stronger cores. Brands that know who they are, their employees know who they are, their customers know who they are, do better financially. That was up until now. It’s going to be even more so post-COVID.

Sean Keathley: And that makes me think about our next episode. We’re going to have a special 30 minute addition because we’re going to have a true expert. We’re going to bring in a banker. This bank created a new brand that could create their own halo effect. And so it’s going to be a lot of fun, Gina I think. Not that we’re not having fun, but I guarantee you this will be more fun. Mr. Ryan Kilpatrick is going to join us and we’ll hear firsthand about how an organization more than a hundred years old is living their brand values in a modern era. His nickname is The Governor. You’ll learn more about that nickname in our next podcast.

Outro: You’ve been listening to Believe in Banking. A podcast series created to empower decision makers, influencers, and industry leaders in financial services. Be sure to also join us on our flagship site,