CU Branding 101: How does the average credit unions rate against the 22 immutable laws of branding?

In 1998, Al Ries and Laura Ries penned The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding. It is a great follow up to Al Ries and Jack Trout's 1981 book Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind.

The concepts and ideas presented in these two books form the underlying principles practiced by today's leading brand experts.

Some will argue that there are exceptions to these rules and believe that nothing is immutable, meaning 'not subject to or susceptible to change.' However, for the purposes of this blog post, let's believe them at face value and measure the typical credit union brand against 12 of these widely accepted laws. I eliminated 10 of the laws for this discussion to keep this relatively short

I'll use a scale between 1 to 5 for a possible total of 60 points.

  1. The Law of Expansion: The power of a brand is inversely proportional to its scope.
    • Most credit unions try to be all things to all people which ultimately undermines the power of their brand.
    • Average credit union's score: 2
  2. The Law of Contraction: A brand becomes stronger when you narrow its focus.
    • By narrowing the focus, a brand can achieve extraordinary success. However, most credit unions are spreading themselves too thin as they expand their services and field of membership.
    • Average credit union's score: 1
  3. The Law of Publicity: The reputation of a brand is achieved with publicity, not advertising.
    • A brand must be capable of generating favourable publicity in the media or it won't have a chance of standing out in the marketplace. Most credit unions simply aren't newsworthy.
    • Average credit union's score: 2
  4. The Law of Advertising: Once born, a brand needs advertising to stay healthy.
    • Credit unions are outspent tenfold by the big banks. And to add insult to injury, these big banks are saying the same things: full service, friendly and accessible.
    • Average credit union's score: 2
  5. The Law of the Word: A brand should strive to own a word in the mind of the consumer.
    • If you want to build a brand, you must focus your branding efforts on owning a word in the prospect's mind. A word that nobody else owns. Kleenex owns "tissue," Fedex owns "overnight," Volvo owns "safety." What are most credit unions trying to own? "Banking?"
    • Average credit union's score: 1
  6. The Law of Credentials: The crucial ingredient in the success of any brand is its claim to authenticity.
    • Coke is the real thing in the minds of many. Finally a category where I won't be hard on you! Credit unions rate highly in trust and authenticity.
    • Average credit union's score: 4
  7. The Law of Quality: Quality is important, but brands are not built by quality alone.
    • Does a Rolex keep better time than a Timex? Are you sure? The perception of quality, more than quality itself, is what builds a brand. The problem with a homogenous industry like financial services is that every brand's quality is perceived as equal.
    • Average credit union score: 3
  8. The Law of Fellowship: In order to build the category, a brand should welcome other brands.
    • Credit unions have taken this to heart! There are certainly enough credit union brands competing against one another. The curious fact remains though: the average consumer has a difficult time differentiating banks from credit unions.
    • Average credit union score: 3
  9. The Law of the Generic: One of the fastest routes to failure is giving a brand a generic name.
    • The problem with a generic brand name is its inability to differentiate the brand from the competition. Many credit unions are going through mergers and renaming. They are leaving highly positioned, 50-year-old city or employer names. In their place, they are opting for generic or abstract names or acronyms. Will any of these generic brands break into the mind and become a major brand? Unlikely.
    • Average credit union score: 2
  10. The Law of Colour: A brand should use a colour that is the opposite of its major competitor.
    • This rule is particularly hard to follow in the financial services industry with most credit unions having more than 10 bank, credit union ad alternative institution competitors. We need more colours!
    • Average credit union score: 2
  11. The Law of Consistency: A brand is not built overnight.
    • Success is measured in decades, not years. This is the law which is violated most frequently. Once a credit union occupies a position in the mind, many credit union marketers thinks of reasons to change. Markets may change, but brands shouldn't.
    • Average credit union score: 2
  12. The Law of Singularity: The most important aspect of a brand is its single-mindedness.
    • What is a brand? A singular idea or concept that you own inside the mind of the prospect. It's as simple or as difficult as that. With most credit unions offering a myriad of undifferentiated products and services, this law is broken all the time.
    • Average credit union score: 1

By my non-scientific count, the average credit union scores 25 out of 60 (42%). This is an F. I think we have some work to do! If you actually read this far, aren't you glad I only included 12 of the laws?


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