Who knows what makes your credit union special?

When I am in a new city at a conference or on business, I will often drop into a credit union and ask the receptionist, "I'm new to town and looking for a new place to bank, can you tell me what makes your credit union special?"

Nine times out of 10, I'll get a blank stare and then something like, "We have a great staff and we are nice to deal with."

There is always that one receptionist out of ten that rattles off three or four real differentiators. When that happens, it is incredible experience.

I will then dig a little deeper with that credit union and sure enough their website and annual reports are highly differentiated and articulate. Everyone at these credit unions knows who they are and why they are special.

This one question is a sure fire way to determine how strong a credit union's brand is.

The troubling part to me is that so few credit unions take the time to:

a) determine their difference, and

b) let everyone at the credit union know that difference.

I'm the first to admit that I spend too much time roaming the credit union blog-o-sphere, but the more I read the more I see a common underlying sentiment. I see post after post by those that champion the credit union movement that basically ask "why doesn't anybody understand what makes our credit unions different?"

There has been a great discussion taking place over the last week on Open Source CU. The post, "How long will we singe the choir's eyebrows" really brought it home to me. The author, Charlie Trotter, and the long list of participants in the comment string lament that the general public doesn't understand the credit union difference.

However, what most everyone is missing is that the most important people in credit unionville—the front-line staff (a.k.a. the brand ambassadors)—don't even know the difference. How can you expect your members, let alone the general public, to understand what makes your credit union special if your own people don't even know?

Tim