Case Study: How Redwood Credit Union Refreshed Its Brand

Here's how Redwood Credit Union uncovered their unique personality and voice — its brand DNA — and brought it to life.

What should a credit union do when it’s already doing well — one of the best in the country?

How do you stay on top?

That’s the question Redwood Credit Union in Santa Rosa, California was wrestling with. The credit union was strong financially, and was steadily growing new members. They were a consistent winner as one of the best places to work in the North Bay Area. They knew they wanted to remain on the path to success, they just weren’t sure how their brand identity might further support growth.

They believed they had a solid brand strategy, but felt it was a bit dated visually, however they didn’t want to refresh it simply for the sake of change. The real problem was a lack of clarity in how they could fully express the brand and talk about it in a consistent and differentiating way across the organization.

“We weren’t looking to rebrand,” explains Brett Martinez, CEO of Redwood. “We were looking for a way to articulate our brand that captured the real essence of who we were and what made us special.”

The senior leadership team felt the brand had potential; all it needed was a boost. So Redwood management reached out to Weber Marketing Group to explore ways in which the credit union might clarify and amplify its brand.

Segmenting and Defining Target Audiences

As a leading competitor in the financial sector in the North Bay Area, Redwood was competing well against big banks like Wells Fargo and Bank of America. But they wanted to find a unique way to stand out more clearly in relevant ways with new and younger audiences.

After taking inventory of the current status of the brand with an extensive quantitative and qualitative market research process across three regional areas, they defined the credit union’s target segments. Using an array of sophisticated lifestyle segmentation tools, a geo-demographic analysis program and actual market demand/potential metrics for selected products, Redwood defined its core audience as ‘Enhancement Seekers’ — those with higher incomes, more education, are extremely active and goal-oriented.

To find the right identity to differentiate the brand for “Enhancement Seekers,” they needed a new foundation to work from — a fresh message they could take to critical constituencies: staff, members and prospects. Knowing that any new articulation of the brand would need to gel with multiple audiences, they further segmented their base, looking first at current members, then prospects, and then engaging their own staff.

“Many of our employees could describe facets of RCU’s brand, but could not consistently articulate the key brand essence or promise,” Robin McKenzie, SVP Marketing and Communications admits. “Not boiling that promise down was holding us back from taking our brand to the next level.”

Research Uncovers ‘Love’ for the Brand

A team from Weber Marketing Group began an objective assessment of Redwood Credit Union’s internal culture, using a mix of both qualitative and quantitative methods to tease out insights. Research revealed that Redwood had strong name awareness in the communities it served, and there was clearly a deep affinity for the credit union.

Most people view banking as a chore, like going to the dry cleaners. But the research team was pleasantly surprised to find that North Bay consumers viewed banking at Redwood as an enjoyable and rewarding experience. Time and time again, the word “love” would pop up in research conversations.

“There was no denying the affection employees and members expressed. It was almost a love affair,” said Josh Streufert, the creative director at Weber Marketing Group and one of the new Redwood brand’s architects. “That’s something totally unheard of for a financial institution.”

So Weber Marketing Group decided that “love” — a word seldom used in banking — would be the key differentiating attribute of Redwood’s brand. The next step would involve finding ways to articulate and express the brand’s essence — how could they tell robust and relevant stories?

“The concept of building a brand around the idea of ‘love’ was a challenging proposition because the concept could easily venture into territories not appropriate for a financial institution,” Streufert points out. “We needed to capture the idea of ‘love’ for Redwood in a relevant, motivating and differentiating way that created an emotional and personal relationship with people.”

The brand tagline that emerged: “For all that you love.” There could be multiple interpretations for this slogan — for all the people and things members love in life, for the things people love in their community, or the things they love about the credit union.

“This is a fresh articulation of Redwood’s brand that is both clear and concise,” Streufert says. “It perfectly captures the DNA of the organization.”

Helping People Feel the ‘Love’

The first step in successfully affecting an enterprise-wide brand shift is to get all employees on board. With help from Weber Marketing Group, a tailored brand training program was designed and implemented, starting with a series of “Brand Camps” across the entire Redwood organization. Every single associate was required to “graduate” from these camps, and every new hire is onboarded in a similar fashion.

“Everyone at Redwood knows the credit union’s brand promise now,” says John Mathes, Director of Brand Strategy at Weber Marketing Group. “They can articulate it accurately and consistency. They know how to express the brand with their actions and through shared storytelling.”

The in-branch experience was another area that Redwood wanted to make a key component in its brand.

“As we worked to evolve our retail branch experiences, we plugged our new segmentation model into a branch network strategy,” said Cynthia Negri, EVP and Chief Operating Officer at the credit union. “Once we identified future growth markets, we then used our brand to help us with branch design and new branded merchandising elements.”

After a complete overhaul of all communications and merchandising within the branches, the credit union feels its brand now conveys a message that is relevant, engaging and unique. McKenzie at Redwood says the ‘love’ “comes alive through environmental design, digital messaging, interactive community outreach, product features, promotions and overall imaging.”

Can You Quantify The Value of ‘Love’?

What about the ROI? After all, a CFO is going to expect ‘love’ to mean more than just some warm fuzzies. But the results of Redwood’s brand transformation seems to be reflected in the credit union’s bottom line KPIs. In 2015, total assets increased by 14% to $2.8 billion. Then in the first nine months of 2016, they grew over 15% to $3.15 billion. Net income in 2015 grew by 2.2%, reaching more than $48 million. Net income for 2016 was estimated at $55 million, an ROA of 1.84%.

Already California’s 11th largest credit union, Redwood’s membership has enjoyed healthy growth since rolling out the refreshed brand — up almost 6% in 2015, and growth was on pace for 7.5% through 2016. The credit union also saw loan volumes shoot up by 14% to $2.1 billion, and the forecast is for another 20% increase.

Independent consulting group Glatt Consulting named RCU the “Healthiest Credit Union in the Nation” out of approximately 6,100 credit unions. The ranking was based on 11 areas of criteria, including net worth, return on assets, loan charge-offs, deposit growth, and ratio of loans to deposits.

“There’s an energy created when you do what you love and you love what you do,” said Robin McKenzie, SVP Marketing and Communications. “This energy fuels our credit union’s endless care and devotion to passionately serve the best interests of our members, employees, and our communities.”

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