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On-Demand Webinar: Credit Union Brand Building for Growth, Part I
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by CHELSEA HINKEL

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Principles and practices for financial institutions to use to leverage brand and spur more business

10,000. It’s the magic number. That’s both the count of financial institutions in the U.S. and the typical number of marketing messages the average consumer is exposed to every day. Both of these powerful datapoints illustrate just how competitive and cluttered our everyday environment is, all while people’s attention spans get shorter by the second. For financial institutions trying to make their mark, that means there’s more noise to break through and even less time to make a connection.

In her dynamic session at the CUNA Marketing & Business Development Council Conference, Adrenaline’s Juliet D’Ambrosio revealed ways that CUs are using brand as their single most influential differentiator and a powerful platform for creating new member relationships, and ultimately, asset growth. She says, “Whatever your credit union’s size, having the right brand strategy will deepen engagement with your members, and make you matter in the eyes of prospects, helping your credit union grow, even as competition rises.”

Watch the On-Demand Webinar “Future-Proofing: Building a Credit Union Brand That Drives Tomorrow’s Growth.”

Everyone’s a Challenger

With a 275% increase in consumers choosing non-banks as their chief FI, we see challengers making significant inroads. In fact, new data shows that 60% of Gen Zers and Millennials have a primary checking account using Chime, PayPal, or Cash App. While conditions are competitive, to be sure, community institutions like credit unions have built-in advantages. “There used to be the biggies and the baddies and everyone else were challengers, but now things have flipped and all institutions of all size are all challengers,” says Juliet D’Ambrosio. “And that's actually a great place to be. There has never been a better time for credit unions.”

Omnichannel Opportunities & the New Normal in Banking

That’s because community institutions, especially credit unions, have something that challenger banks don’t: TRUST. Data shows that when consumers are weighing a credit union versus a fintech, they still trust a CU 75% more than they trust a neobank. “So, we have already that value of built-in trust going for us. And at the beginning of 2022, there was a tipping point in consumer unaided awareness and consideration of credit unions,” says Juliet D’Ambrosio. In other words, post-COVID we’re witnessing substantial shift in consumer values that perfectly align with what CU’s represent and project into the world.

Citadel Credit Union Brand Promise

Centering Purpose

During COVID, while many financial brands put new initiatives on pause, some innovate CUs moved forward with building brand programs that would result in meaning more and leaning into their institutional principles to meet the moment. By centering their own purpose, credit union brands – and really, all community financial institutions – can use their own inherent values to make the most of what they stand for. One powerful brand leaning into their purpose is Citadel Credit Union as they expand their influence. 

For years the Philadelphia area credit union pursued a strategy that they sort of “lovingly, half-jokingly called deliberate ambiguity,” according to Juliet D’Ambrosio. While they didn’t mind (or even relished) the idea their prospects thought they were a bank, two big eye-opening pieces of research helped shift this brand to “really dive into and elevate their purpose.” First, 70% of their local audience already knew about the credit union value proposition, so the hurdle of educating the market had already been met. Further, fully half would be extremely or very interested in what the credit union had to offer simply because it was a credit union.

“But Citadel wasn't elevating that part of their identity and celebrating it enough,” says Juliet D’Ambrosio. So, we took them through a brand strategy process that was truly exhaustive.” Using powerful brand archetypes, the Hero and the Idealist united to tell the story of Citadel’s purpose, “Ultimately leading to how their brand expresses itself,” says Juliet D’Ambrosio. “All of these elements came together in their key brand idea, which is building strength – building from their legacy and using that strength they bring.”

Citadel Credit Union Brand Advertising

Ultimately their internal values expressed externally became a rallying cry for the refreshed brand. Their purpose driven story is how “Citadel delivers the unshakable promise, the unstoppable force, and the vision and tools that support our members’ journeys.” And this comes to life in every part of their brand. “Their purpose-driven brand spends a lot of their energy on their values,” says Juliet D’Ambrosio. “So their values, opportunity, transparency, connection, and security became pillars around which to build their strong brand expression.”

For Citadel, this front-and-center purpose gave them a platform for growth. “Tracking from pre-brand launch to post-brand launch now with both employees and members, we went from around 74% of having positive associations with Citadel to 90%,” according to Juliet D’Ambrosio. “By tell broader, more meaningful story, we see a true positive impact from the launch of this brand” Further, for the industry at large, rebranded purpose-driven credit unions outperform their peers by nearly every measure

Purpose-Driven Branding

In our next article in the Credit Union Brand Building for Growth series, we will look at ways credit unions are using their powerful refreshed, refocused brands as a foundation to stand out from the competition. Stay tuned to Adrenaline’s Perspective channel for brand to branch best practices and to Believe in Banking as we track the big trends impacting financial services.  To learn more about customized strategies for your bank or credit union or to speak to one of our experts, contact us at info@adrenalineagency.com or (678) 412-6903.


Adrenaline is an end-to-end brand experience company serving the financial industry. We move brands and businesses ahead by delivering on every aspect of their experience across digital and physical channels, from strategy through implementation. Our multi-disciplinary team works with leadership to advise on purpose, position, culture, and retail growth strategies. We create brands people love and engage audiences from employees to customers with story-led design and insights-driven marketing; and we design transformative brand experiences across branch networks, leading the construction and implementation of physical spaces that drive business advantage and make the brand experience real. 

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