Break The Bank Part 3: Branding for Community

Charting a different course for credit unions in the new economy.

  • Millennials are informed, yet trustworthy, consumers
  • Creating an emotional appeal connects with consumers and drives your brand
  • How humor fosters community and drives results for a Connecticut credit union

So… Millennials are predisposed to hate you (See Part 1: Bank of Netflix), they don’t trust you, and would rather figure out a DIY solution to banking than deal directly with your brand (See Part 2: Misunderstood Millennials). Now that all the good stuff is out of the way, let’s get down to the bad news!

You are dealing with the most connected, most informed, digitally savvy, BS detectors-of-a-generation in human existence. The plus? Because of this, you are dealing with the generation with the highest level of trust in advertising. An added bonus? Since your customers are better than your brand in just about every way, there should be no rationale or motivation to deceive, spin, or alter reality. Transparency, authenticity, and integrity are now universal baselines for brands and campaigns - a new reality that the majority of the financial industry is (in worst case) resistant to, and (in the best case) indifferent to.

This new reality should serve as an introspection point for both your product development and service offerings - but that is not the focus of this piece. Assuming that your products and services are responsive to your customers (especially millennials), your marketing needs to follow suit.

In an ultra-saturated, conservative, highly competitive, highly regulated environment, with modest product and service differentiation (at best), how do you carve out a niche to break away from the pack?

Answer: Your brand.

Successful ads, campaigns, and brands leverage emotion to make an impactful connection with consumers. Never has this been more true (or more important) than with millennials. When information is abundant and accessible, price and competitive comparison is instant, when switching has never been easier, and you operate in the U.S. and world’s least trusted industry, your brand is just about all you have to lean on.

Emotional advertising appeals provide customers with a viewpoint into the type of relationship they’ll have with your business. In fact, the type of appeal matters little, so long as it resonates across the generational spectrum and avoids disenfranchising one demo in favor of another. Appeals that have strong cross-generational resonance in the United States include humor, health and wellness, value-oriented, and real-world situations. Of these, wellness and value-oriented are tough appeals in financial services, as they directly contradict the common public association with the banking sector over the past two decades. That leaves humor and real-world situations as two viable solutions to crafting an effective brand identity to resonate with customers.

Most financial service firms leverage the real-world appeal. Through empowering messaging and helping the consumer visualize their futures (often tied to new consumption or new experiences), the real-world appeal can yield success. However, it is a safe and expected appeal, one that has quickly oversaturated the market - to the point where it becomes a point of commonality vs. a point of differentiation. At Unison, since we like to embrace the unconventional and be a bit more disruptive, we’ll demonstrate how an edgy humor appeal can win the day. In a notoriously traditional and conventional sector like financial services, breaking the mold by being an approachable, witty, and warm brand (one that can take a joke, make fun of oneself, and avoids elitism) can deliver significant results.

CASE STUDY: “Banking Awesome”

To see more examples of the “Banking Awesome” campaign in action, click here.

“Banking Awesome” is a manifestation of (1) knowing your customers, (2) developing a strong and simple humor appeal, (3) implementing a forward-looking, clean, design aesthetic that works well cross-platform and ad format, (4) empowering and engaging consumers through technology and concise, “to-the-point” messaging, and perhaps most important, (5) communicating in a direct, fun, accessible, unassuming and optimistic tone that speaks to a younger demo without pushing away older generations.

Financial service firms can be professional and have a personality. They can be witty without being exclusive, and they can be trusted without being conservative. In an industry that has a dismal track record of consumer confidence over the past 20 years, what do you have to lose?

The other important takeaway from “Banking Awesome” is that it builds on two of the most important factors that are key to earning millennial business. First, it leverages a powerful mechanism (humor) for the brand to manifest a sense of community. Second, the matter-of-fact, colloquial brand voice translates as “talking to a friend,” (not a bank), reinforcing a sense of localism. We know that millennials are value-seekers who respond to engaged brands that have a local connection. Most credit unions and small banks have a built-in, geographic advantage in that they serve a defined community and naturally exude localism. Community and localism are elements that seamlessly bridge traditional and new ad formats, and provide cross-generational appeal at the core of your key messaging strategy.

So, did it work? Since the inception of the rebrand and the launch of the “Banking Awesome” brand campaign in 2013, Nutmeg has seen growth in assets, accounts, average asset per member, and has reduced the average age of new members from 43 to 35 years, without losing older customers. By developing an edgy, forward-looking, nontraditional brand, Nutmeg has ditched the status quo and grown in a challenging, competitive climate.

And that’s a wrap! We hope you found this three-part series helpful to better understand the millennial consumer and how to be successful by being different in a crowded banking marketplace. If you have any questions or would like to discuss your credit union’s marketing strategy further, please email