Regaining control: Helping a thinly stretched credit union reign in and firmly define its identity

When a credit union needs to step outside the boundaries of its historically rooted name to reach new markets where it is not known, how can it still maintain its brand personality, history and sense of local community?

For Northwest Florida’s oldest credit union, Pen Air Federal Credit Union, founded in 1936, this was the struggle they faced in 2014. Despite a 2011 rebranding and new corporate identity (with a four jet logo), the $1.2 billion financial institution was losing members and loan growth was stagnant. But the biggest challenge of all was overcoming the confusing community perceptions of who or what Pen Air was all about.

Stu Ramsey, Pen Air Federal Credit Union CEO, said, “Pen Air was financially successful when I got here and was known in the community, but we weren’t very consistent in our brand, or what our volunteerism looked like. When I talked to staff about who we were, I’d get 350 different answers. There was no clear message for who we were, or where we were going. And when the people in your communities aren’t even aware they can join your credit union, you’ve got a problem.” 

Pam Hatt, Pen Air Federal Credit Union Director of Marketing, said “I talked with Stu about recent ideas I had learned of doing a complete organization-wide ‘transformational rebrand.’ When we looked at our advertising and messaging, we realized there was no personality and no true identity. We were trying to be all things to all people.”

Searching for a strategic branding partner

For Pen Air’s Hatt, their brand selection process started with looking for a skilled partner in the major journey they knew awaited them. Hatt said, “There were many reasons why we selected Weber Marketing Group, even though they were 2,000 miles away in Seattle. In addition to an extensive selection process, we wanted a partner, not a vendor, that had well-documented, successful experience and big results partnering with larger financial institutions. We had learned the hard way a new logo and a ‘look and feel’ did not help our growth challenges. We needed someone to take a hard look at our challenges, our confusing market image: and connect the dots with research, staff  engagement, robust brand and cultural processes, and really be a true partner on this journey.” Pen Air hired Weber Marketing in hopes of reviving its dwindling brand.

Focusing in on the right target

With a diverse target market in the surrounding Pensacola, FL and Mobile, AL communities, Pen Air was struggling to define exactly who they wanted to reach through their marketing efforts that would be attracted to a credit union.

The steady loss of members and brand confusion was outweighing the need to simply appeal to a younger millennial audience. With a dated military style logo and little expression of any brand personality or internal culture, Pen Air desperately needed to find their focus ahead.

We were trying to be all things to all people.
— Pam Hatt, Director of Marketing, Pen Air FCU

What's in a name?

The first focus of the rebrand discovery process included a combination of quantitative and qualitative market research to uncover their name and brand equity both internally and externally. Weber Marketing engaged the entire staff through internal focus groups and stakeholder surveys to first to uncover perceptions, attitudes and feelings towards Pen Air’s brand, culture, operations and member experiences. Secondly, the Weber team helped identify which brand differences should be evolved to the next level. Following internal research, Weber then partnered with Goldman Consulting & Strategy to determine the credit union’s external market brand and name equity – and challenges, including the organization’s name awareness and reputation.

The research provided valuable feedback on the confusing perceptions of Pen Air’s military focus, which had shifted years earlier to a community charter. Yet this caused even more confusion for who could join. Ramsey noted, “Our heart & soul were rooted in the military and yet only 10% of our membership fit that demographic. People saw our jet fighter logo and assumed you either had to be military, or had to work for an airline.”

Research revealed that the Pen Air name held positive historical significance and positive impact on local communities. Yet, most local residents were totally unaware of their eligibility for membership. By combining the internal and external research and building a new brand strategy for the future, Weber Marketing determined that a new brand with the existing name would help build upon this rich history. But the Pen Air logo with four flying jets tested poorly among all audiences and needed serious modernization to avoid market confusion.

Establishing brand focus and clarity from the inside out

Internally, the Pen Air brand had no focus, brand promise or cohesive storytelling for staff  to rally behind. “We knew no matter what we did on the outside, it wasn’t going to be successful on the inside without a strong brand culture.” said Ramsey.

Following the brand workshops, sta surveys and focus groups, the focus became to define a new brand promise, personality and a set of brand actions that everyone could rally around. “During the whole process, a word kept coming up. We were hearing it from everyone inside and outside the organization. With the Weber team’s guidance, “Respect” became the foundation of our brand essence,” said Hatt.

The brand essence was then fused into a new internal brand promise: ‘We Promise to Respect and Value the Trust You Place in Us.’ Weber Marketing then built a brand identity, personality and key themes that would resonate with the newly defined target audience and be something the Pen Air staff  could proudly share.

It wasn’t going to be successful on the inside without a strong brand culture.
— Stu Ramsey, CEO, Pen Air FCU
A colorful, eye-catching billboard speaks to Pen Air's focus on doing what's best for their members.

A colorful, eye-catching billboard speaks to Pen Air's focus on doing what's best for their members.

A brand wall prominently features Pen Air's brand promise in all branches.

A brand wall prominently features Pen Air's brand promise in all branches.

Aligning the missing pieces 

In order to facilitate growth and promote increased member loyalty, Weber Marketing helped align all aspects of the new credit union brand around an immersive member experience that could be implemented across all channels and messaging. This platform was tightly integrated into a revamped mission, core values, and vision.

A new logo was designed to better reflect the diverse, but tightly connected markets around Pen Air. The new logo pays a natural, yet mild tribute to the history and heritage connection to the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, while becoming more contemporary. For those in the community, it defines Pen Air’s “shared circle of commitment.” Everyone helping each other, out of trust and respect to make good happen in other people’s lives, both internally and externally. The different colors of the logo pay homage to the diversity of families, ethnic cultures and communities throughout the Pensacola area.

From an innovative brand experience to a new brand essence, Weber Marketing was reconstructing a bold new identity for Pen Air, helping differentiate the credit union from the competition from top to bottom. The credit union was slowly beginning to find its unique personality and reclaim its unique position in the market. 

Logo Before

Logo Before

Logo After

Logo After

"Blending out"

An organizational mantra of ‘Blending Out’ became the new counter-cultural status quo for the credit union. This meant creating bold and distinctive new marketing materials and bringing the credit union’s new identity and personality, as well as transforming internally through staff  interactions with members and each other. It meant living out boldly and publicly their commitment to improve the community around them. 

The new brand is focused on the importance of living out the four pillars of the credit union through their brand actions:

  1. Serve First: Members and our co- workers come first, plain and simple.
  2. Solution Seekers: We value innovation and creativity.
  3. Communerosity: Generosity and a sense of community are two qualities we value highly and why together they become our volunteer rallying cry of Communerosity!
  4. ProKnows: We are dependable, honest, professional and knowledgeable. 

Out of these pillars, one in particular stood out to be more deeply embraced as a true distinctive action: Communerosity.

Pen Air's TV spots showcase their values with authentic moments featuring real members from the Pensacola community.

When credit union values and community collide

What is Communerosity? Pen Air created the idea out of a desire to serve its community with a bold heart of generosity. The idea had existed within the organization for quite some time but just needed to be named. It was coined by a Pen Air employee during an employee ‘brandstorming’ session. Hatt, the driving force behind the program, began to see “a huge employee groundswell in the Communerosity arena following the rebrand. Our team has really bought into this idea and everyone has been jumping on board,” she said, “we are seeing positive cultural momentum in the right direction.”

Following the launch of the program, the credit union saw sta volunteer activity increase in the community by 78%. The reflection of their values and actions in the community solidified the importance of firmly defined principles guiding the foundation of respect on which the newly articulated brand was built.

And with this renewed focus, the new brand was almost ready to launch to market. There was only one hurdle to overcome. How does everyone — 350 staff, the leadership team, and volunteers — get on board with living out the new brand?

We invite them to Brand Camp! 

Camp isn't just for kids

The Pen Air staff  was engaged in a full-day brand learning workshop led by Weber Marketing Group to learn how to live
the brand with consistent actions and behaviors at work, with members, and out in the community with confidence and consistency.

It’s not often people have a special story to answer the question ‘Why join our credit union?’ When you can connect a relevant story to the “why” question, you’ve gained a true and lasting competitive advantage.

“Brand Camp is much more than a brand reveal party to show o your new look and feel, said Randy Schultz, VP Marketing at Weber, “It’s the first time many employees are seeing the new logo, colors, website. But more importantly, they are learning new skills and behaviors to better interact consistently with members and each other with shared key messages, fresh ideas, rich storytelling and renewed passion.”

As part of a team building brand exercise, the staff  built 50 kids bicycles together. Their surprise later that day was that it wasn’t just an exercise: 50 kids rushed in from the local Boys and Girls Club for a group photo with Pen Air staff  as they presented the bikes to the kids live.

“Needless to say, there were a lot of joyful tears as they realized they got to be part of a real experience of Communerosity,” Hatt stated. Almost a year later our staff  still talk about that day. It’s such a great example now when people ask them ‘Why should I join Pen Air?”

“I can’t reiterate enough how you want to time this brand rollout and not just rush through the process,” said Ramsey. “We knew it would be important not just for our staff  to go through the Brand Camp training, but give their own input as to how we were going to live it, communicate it, and what we were going to do everyday for our members and our internal employees to experience our brand.”

Staff present bikes they hand built to kids from the local Boys and Girls Club.

Staff present bikes they hand built to kids from the local Boys and Girls Club.

Creating new brand experiences

Once the staff  was ready to live out the new Pen Air brand, the next step was rolling the brand consistently across an outdated and widespread 15-branch network. Weber Marketing created a unique and distinctive branch merchandising system and new digital technology displays to communicate the new brand values, messaging and product solutions, while totally differentiating the new Pen Air brand experience.

Weber designed a bold new Community Wall to actively engage members in sharing what they think would make their local community a better place to live. This direct member feedback gives Pen Air authentic examples of how they are affecting their members’ lives and their communities positively. The cards also o en give members a chance to voice what they think the credit union could do better.

Hatt said, “We have learned through this process that our members are really our best brand storytellers. The community wall ensures their voices are heard and acted on.”

The proof is in the numbers

Following several years of stagnant market growth, the results and bottom line impact of this enterprise-wide brand transformation at Pen Air has been staggering across the board. In the first year following the brand rollout, the impacts of the brand investment have led to the most dramatic growth in the credit union’s history:

  • 22.30% growth in total loans
  • 20.00% increase in Mortgage & HELOC loans
  • 27.48% increase in Consumer Loans
  • 11%+ growth in mobile banking, eStatements, and bill pay users
  • 0.83% growth in new membership • 3.19% increase in overall assets

With a goal to attract a tech-savvy and younger millennial target, Pen Air’s Social Media Initiative was born and communicated so that staff  and member involvement in the community did not go unnoticed. In addition to the new branding and a robust responsive website upgrade, the social program helped grab the attention of many: Google Analytics results showed a 100%+ increase in web traffic a year a er the brand launch.

What comes next?

Every aspect of the Pen Air brand was transformed and integrated culturally and operationally in order to live the mantra of “standing out,” not blending in. This was vital to fully reshape community perceptions of who Pen Air is, what they stand for amidst a sea of aggressive financial competitors, and why people should join.

The Pen Air rebranding successes and huge results did not go unnoticed in the financial and advertising industry either. Pen Air received four Addy Awards including Brand Story, Brand Web Ads, :30 Auto TV spot and Brand Integrated Campaign. The brand program also earned national attention earning four CUNA Diamond Awards and four MAC Awards.

“The management team learned the initiative was about much more than their brand identity, website or a new logo. This transformational brand process revitalized the Pen Air business model enterprise- wide, as any viable strategic branding initiative should,” Schultz added. “Creating transformation that drives bottom-line results is a journey of continuous improvement. And this first wave looks incredibly promising.” 

Comment