Firefly: How Data-Driven Personas Made the Difference
The data-driven strategy behind a new growth-focused brand position.
The challenge: slowing growth & aging member base.
As Minnesota’s oldest credit union, US Federal Credit Union had seen many changes throughout its 90+ years. Founded by postal workers, they had grown steadily to almost a billion dollars. Like many organizations, however, stagnation was slowing growth.
An earlier change to a community charter field of membership did not increase new member growth as hoped. Meanwhile, the credit union brand, its branch network and even membership was aging rapidly, red flags for long-term sustainability.
Repositioning to attract younger members was becoming a critical strategic priority. Adding pressure, the Greater Twin Cities Area is massively banked (including US Bank’s headquarters). Finding brand differentiation in the nation’s 16th largest market would be incredibly challenging.
US Federal Credit Union had reached a crossroads. Market research led senior leaders to conclude their name was highly confusing in the market. It was perceived as an older, rigid, governmentally linked brand.
In order to push towards a more modern, dynamic image and experiences targeting younger target audiences, leadership had determined a name change and rebranding was mission critical to remove the barriers slowing growth.
The first local agency’s attempt at renaming the organization stalled out after 11 months with no trademarkable names, creating lingering Board frustration. Without full leadership alignment on their vision, goals, mission, or brand strategy, and lacking expertise on federal level trademarking challenges, the team rebooted with an experienced strategic brand partner, Seattle-based Strum.
Refocusing around key strategic initiatives, data analytics & targeting.
Strum quickly identified that before simply trying to restart the naming process, four vital strategic areas identified in US Federal’s strategic plan needed to be aligned. Done well, this wouldn’t be just about changing names, but ensuring the name change would be truly ‘catalytic’ in driving the organization’s transformational growth, cultural re-alignment and future performance.
Strum CEO, Mark Weber noted, “it was important for the board and senior team to first realign together to build around a long term shared vision and strategic focus before jumping back into another emotional naming process.”
The Board opted to approve focusing first on those four key data-driven strategic initiatives before restarting the naming process. They included:
Lifestyle Segmentation & Personas Strategy
Internal Culture Alignment
Brand Strategy & Purpose
Data-Focused Market Strategies
Strum started by recommending and then building a foundational Data Warehouse to mine data analytics and drive a range of data-driven strategies. That involved developing Lifestyle Segmentation and Persona Mapping Strategies. Understanding the true nature of consumer lifestyles, demographics and behavioral trends within the membership, the diverse Twin Cities marketplace, and prioritizing specific target audience Personas to drive growth would become the foundation for all decisions to follow.
In parallel with segmentation and relationship data analytics, Strum also launched vital internal research and wide-ranging staff engagement. A two-day Cultural Assessment Workshop with key mid-level managers—paired with quantitative all-staff surveys, front line and back office focus groups, and a cross-functional Branding Workshop team—all helped gain ownership and alignment around the future brand focus, target markets and differentiating competitive position. In all, close to 80% of staff were engaged to help define the new brand focus. Out of that deep collaboration, a new Brand Strategy captured the essence of the brand and a Brand Promise was defined and approved.
“Brand focus backed by data-based analytics and strategy begins to change your hiring practices and your entire culture. Our executive team today speaks about our brand and our Personas; they’ve never done that before. We’re totally focused and it’s exciting and refreshing. It has put everybody on the same page with a clear, consistent message. Once you can get that internally nailed, the external execution becomes easy,” said Marty Kelly, Firefly SVP/CMO.
Armed with highly targeted audience segments and their Personas, the team moved into building a long-range five-year Branch Network Strategy to identify high growth micro-markets and answer critical decision-making around existing brick and mortar locations that did not fit the future model.
The strategy pinpointed a range of critical market and branch changes were needed: four underperforming branches in inferior locations needed to be closed; four were in the wrong location to reach key growth targets and needed to move. Two de novo new sites were identified for new growth. With a dated branch style and legacy technologies, a new Prototype Branch Business Model was identified as a future deliverable to drive innovation, dynamic technologies and design a bold new brand experience.
Aligning the brand strategy to culture & purpose: Finding our “why”.
Once the data-driven strategic initiatives were underway, the board and leadership then collaborated with Strum to retool the credit union’s old Mission and Values to be more memorable and inspiring to all employees—and aligned to the new brand strategy.
The impact of a bold new Mission of “working together, we share our 90+ years of experience and understanding to guide our members toward lifelong financial well-being,” combined with clarity on audience targets and brand language helped spark a revitalized cultural conversation. The brand strategy leaned fully into focusing on guidance, trusted advice and lighting a path forward.
Management identified new hiring and training practices; the board even pivoted to recruit two new millennial members that represented their future Persona targets. Departments launched new product ideas and innovative member experiences.
“We realized that this was so much more than just a new logo or name. It was digging into our purpose, our vision, and pulling out the tools that we needed to have alignment throughout our organization. A lot of it driven by the data analysis and strategies that Strum helped create,” said Marty Kelly, Firefly SVP/CMO.
Time to create a dynamic new name & brand for the future.
Armed with a renewed focus, bold vision, clear targets and distinctive brand strategy, it was time to re-engage the naming and branding process again with the rigor of multi-disciplinary team processes.
Three months and 48 names later, the highly unique new name Firefly Credit Union was unanimously approved, embraced and celebrated by the board. It was a far cry from the conservative and dated name US Federal, and it fit perfectly with the youthful and outdoor lifestyle of Minnesota, the land of 10,000 lakes and a lifetime of nostalgic memories of fireflies.
“There’s no question that our new name and our new brand has a very youthful feel to it. I was concerned that it may not resonate with some of our older demographics. When we revealed our new name to the Board for their approval vote, the oldest member actually got a little teary-eyed because the nostalgia surrounding the name Firefly and what it evoked in him. That to me spelled success in reaching all of our demographics,” Marty Kelly, Firefly SVP/CMO
Building a strategic brand identity design system & guidelines.
The new name uncovered the warm, approachable, optimistic brand that genuinely reflected the care the staff had for their members - and each other. But a dynamic new name was only the beginning. Developing a distinctive logo, a dynamic brand identity, and a rich tone of voice of this new brand was when the strategy and potential in the new name really took flight.
Lifestyle photography was carefully curated to reflect members’ real lives, and actively features natural light to tell a story about the ‘light in life’ moments.
Designing a fresh and bold new “brand wrap system” to modernize every branch experience was the next step before rolling out the new name and brand. It meant rolling out and refurbishing messaging, new digital technologies and video merchandising across seven of their existing branches.
In parallel, Strum launched a cross-functional team to design an innovative new Branch Prototype Business Model. Every aspect of the new experience was designed in detail, in 3-D renderings and concepts.
New staff titles, roles and skills were built. Teller stations were replaced with new Pods and Engagement Stations. In 2017, the credit union opened its first new prototype branch model. In 2018, a headquarters renovation allowed the entire brand messaging and style to be incorporated throughout the back-office spaces to immerse all staff in living the brand promise and actions.
“It’s a very outdoor and vibrant branch prototype design, filled with active outdoor imagery and rich storytelling. Partly because of the Firefly name, the new brand communicates optimism, savvy technology and engagement,” said Ruth Kapcia, Director of Retail Experience at Strum.
Aligning the culture to live it out: Brand training.
Interactions between members and the staff—and, in fact, interactions of staff with leaders and each other—contribute immeasurably to the overall experience and success of any financial brand. Aligning the culture to consistently deliver Firefly’s new brand was mission critical to its success. As the organization was about to undertake a massive transformation to its new name and brand, effective change management to live out the brand was a top priority. The Strum team developed a Name & Brand Communications Plan to guide Firefly at each step of the year-long process with each of its stakeholder audiences. The plan ensured carefully staging of important messaging, talking points, PR, staff meetings, intranet messages, and social media communications to ensure buy-in every step of the way.
Staged internal communications throughout the process culminated in an exciting new name and brand reveal event, held at the famous Varsity Theater in Minneapolis, which honored the organization’s rich history, illuminated the vision ahead, and invited each and every staff member to make a heartfelt connection to the new Firefly brand ahead. The organization’s 250+ employees stood and cheered at the reveal of the bold new brand and name.
This coming together to launch and celebrate the new brand was paired the following week with a robust Brand and Culture-Training Program led by Strum’s training team. Learning new brand actions and behaviors was a collaborative and engaging process, helping each staff member feel empowered to comfortably talk about the new name and live out the brand, core values and key messages in their own individual roles.
“Our staff told us, ‘this is exactly what we do.’ We didn’t make this up out of the ether. They told us we guide our members. We take the time to have honest conversations to help them, not push products. This evolved into our brand. It was an extension of what we were already doing, but stepping up our game,” said Marty Kelly, Firefly SVP/CMO.