How's your curb appeal?

On my way home from work each day, I pass four credit unions and three banks. In a 10-minute commute, that's quite a few! For those of you in traffic for three hours a day, I sincerely apologize for the last sentence.

Chilliwack is British Columbia's fastest-growing city but it is still a close-knit smaller community of 70,000 people. All five big Canadian banks (RBC Royal Bank, TD Canada Trust, CIBC, Scotiabank and Bank of Montreal) are represented with multiple branches, there are four of the 10 largest credit unions in Canada located here (Vancity, Coast Capital, Envision Financial and Prospera) plus other players like HSBC, President's Choice Financial and Citibank). There are actually 20 different branches if you can believe it!

From this credit union marketing specialist's perspective, it's a great environment to watch all of these financial institutions duke it out! The 20 branch managers probably don't share my enthusiasm!

With more and more crowded marketplaces like this, it begs the question, how the heck can you differentiate in such a competitive environment? (Start the infomercial-guy voice in your head now) The most obvious solution is to create a differentiated and compelling brand backed by amazing service, competitive rates and innovative products. I just published a second newsletter on this subject which I encourage you to read (and subscribe to!) + Click here. Expect the third and final edition on this topic by the end of May. (End the infomercial-guy voice in your head now).

As part of your incredible differentiated brand that you are committed to building, don't forget the curb appeal of your branches. My wife and I watch a bit of TLC on the weekends, so I consider myself a home improvement expert. My wife might not agree, but she's not writing this! TV programs like Flip That House constantly reference the importance of curb appeal when getting your home ready for the market. I believe the same principles are so important for your credit union branches. The barriers to have someone actually enter your branch are huge, so you better be as attractive as possible.


Here is a picture of a new Scotiabank branch near my home that I pass twice a day. I dare say that it has the best curb appeal of all the FIs in my home town. Here's what we can learn from this example.

  1. Bold, clear and integrated signage. I say integrated because the building was actually designed around displaying the brand prominently. The bold white illuminated lettering set against the rich red backdrop stands out from 300 meters away (328 yards for the Tiger Woods fans reading). So many financial institution branches are boring beige with signage that was clearly implemented as an afterthought by the facilities department!
  2. Permanent brand positioning. It's great that Scotiabank has emblazoned it's tagline right on the building. In these days of changeable positioning where taglines come and go regularly like white after Labour Day, this really is an impressive move. It shows commitment and differentiation.
  3. Amazing 10-foot high super posters. I am seeing this approach more and more by the big banks. These bold illuminated posters dwarf the standard 24" x 36" posters being used by most credit unions. Although the imagery is the generic shiny happy people used by all FIs, it really communicates an emotional feeling far better than stucco!
  4. Clean, consistent merchandising. Notice that there are not a half a dozen competing messages here. Just the current promotion—loud and clear and legible from an appropriate distance.

The next time you drive to work, take a look at the retail world around you. How does your credit union's curb appeal stand up?


P.S. Check out this video to get a feel for Chilliwack's competitive credit union market. I produced this in 2004 for a MACU conference that I spoke at. The topic was crafting a unique position or your credit union.

These five credit unions are actually this close to one another! Village Credit Union has since merged with Vancity and the mall branch has been closed. Unfortunately, I seem to have chopped the video short on the end. There was a winning putt that made its way from Village to Prospera. Trust me, it went in!

Who knows what makes your credit union special?

Is your credit union embracing blogging and social networking yet?