Strum - Strategic Branding and Analytics
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How Redwood Credit Union Articulated its Brand


Redwood Credit Union Feels the Love

Sometimes all you need to do is reflect, redefine and refresh.

It's not every day a client hires us to leave their brand alone.

As one of the top credit unions in the country, what do you do when you already have a solid brand (but not communicated well), a flourishing business, and increasingly meaningful competition in your market? You figure out the answer to the critical question: how do we stay on top?

Redwood CU.jpg

Redwood Credit Union (RCU), of Santa Rosa, CA, knew they had a strong brand, though a bit dated visually, and didn’t want to limit its growth by simply refreshing it for the sake of change. The problem was a lack of clarity in how to fully express the brand and talk about it in a consistent and differentiating way across the organization. They wanted to continue on their consistent path to success, but weren’t exactly sure how to shape their brand and maintain it. The credit union’s brand had so much potential; all it needed was a boost in the right direction. 

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

The credit union had remained financially strong, and was steadily onboarding new members. RCU was already a consistent winner as one of the best places to work in the North Bay Area. But does a great business slow down when they’ve accomplished so much on their way to the top? Absolutely not. It is the responsibility of the employees and stakeholders to help ensure it continues to grow. So, Redwood management reached out to Strum in hopes of more clearly defining their brand and amplifying their already thriving organization.

Competing for More Than Merger Growth

As a leading competitor in the financial sector in the North Bay Area, RCU was competing well against big banks like Wells Fargo and Bank of America. But they needed to find a unique way to stand out more clearly in relevant ways to new and younger audiences. A er taking inventory of the current status of the brand with an extensive quantitative and qualitative market research process across three regional areas, Strum then moved on to define the credit union’s target audiences.

Using an array of sophisticated lifestyle segmentation tools, a geo-demographic analysis program and actual market demand/potential metrics for selected products, RCU’s overall target audience was defined as ‘Enhancement Seekers’, or those who have higher incomes, more education, are extremely active, and are goal-oriented people.

Finding the right brand identity to differentiate the credit union for enhancement seekers started first by looking at its current members, then looking to the future and the new members RCU expected to bring in. A newly articulated brand would need to gel with both current and future members, as the credit union stepped outside its normal comfort zones to communicate its values. But in order to do all this, they needed a new foundation to work from, and a new outlook to share with all staff and members.

Interpreting Employee Understanding of the Brand

The team at Strum began an internal review on the current status of RCU’s culture with an extensive qualitative and quantitative research process. Robin McKenzie, SVP Marketing and Communications noted: “Many employees could describe facets of RCU’s brand, but could not consistently articulate the key brand essence or promise. Not boiling that promise down was holding us back from taking our brand to the next level.”

The mission was clear. Uncover Redwood Credit Union’s unique DNA and bring it to life.
— John Mathes, Director of Brand Strategy, Strum

Is it possible to fall in love with a credit union?

Research found the name Redwood was well entrenched in the community. With strong awareness, a stellar image, a reputation for competitive pricing and a long-standing connection with its members, RCU discovered early on that their name was a major asset. They chose to forgo a name-change many credit unions take looking for a fresh start. Instead, they wanted to leverage their name by articulating and expressing the essence of the brand for more robust and relevant storytelling.

Everywhere Strum turned they encountered a deep a affinity for RCU, almost a love a air, something totally unheard of for a financial institution. Most people view banking as a chore, like going to the dry cleaners. Rarely is banking viewed as an enjoyable and rewarding experience.

For RCU, there was no denying the love for the organization that every employee and member expressed. Time and time again, research revealed members and employees alike had tremendous love for the credit union and its passion, culture, and commitment to serving its members. Strum determined that ‘love’ — a word not often used for a financial institution — was a differentiating brand attribute.


"Let me count the ways..."

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.

Strum needed to capture the idea of ‘love’ for RCU in a relevant, motivating, and differentiating way that created an emotional and personal relationship with the consumers.

So, Strum took the base idea of love as RCU’s brand essence (the ‘why’ they do what they do) and crafted a home run of a brand promise: “We love to help you succeed.”

Redwood's multi-faceted approach to meeting members' needs is reflected in the high-impact brand wall.

Redwood's multi-faceted approach to meeting members' needs is reflected in the high-impact brand wall.

The process uncovered the essence of Redwood’s brand personality.

‘We love to help you succeed’ became the perfect expression of the RCU brand. It drives and motivates the entire organization’s passion to help members and certainly sets it vastly apart from the financial institutions RCU competes with.

Further development led to a brand tagline, that captures the promise and resonates with everyone in a personal way... ‘For all that you love.’

Conceptualized Ideas Come to Life

Everyone associated with RCU loves (pun intended) the newly articulated brand. It’s concise, clear, refreshing, and perfectly captures the DNA of the organization.

The first step in communicating an enterprise-wide strategic brand shift is to bring all employees on board for a thorough understanding of the organization’s objectives. Strum designed a custom brand-training program implemented in a series of Brand Camps across the RCU network. Every single RCU associate graduated from the Camp and every new hire is onboarded through a video version of the training. The outcome is that the entire organization knows why ‘We love to help you succeed’ is the promise RCU makes and can articulate it accurately with consistency, actions, and shared storytelling.

Branding Experiences

With the internal branding complete, Strum turned to the outward expression of the brand. A key component is the experience a member receives in the branch.

Cynthia Negri, EVP, Chief Operating Officer explained, “As we worked to evolve our retail branch experiences, we linked our new segmentation model into a branch network strategy to identify our future growth markets. Then we used our brand and the Strum team to help us navigate a process of branch prototype design and new branded merchandising elements.”

A complete overhaul of the communication and merchandising within the branches now conveys fresh messaging that is relevant, motivating, informative and most importantly, establishes a unique engagement specific to RCU. The expression of ‘love’ comes alive with environmental design, digital messaging, interactive community outreach, product features, promotions and overall imaging.

 All other consumer contact points have been infused with the brand articulation. From the responsive website to the mobile platform, to advertising and communication. Strum continues to create external campaigns backed by television radio, print, direct mail, digital and more.

Redwood Branch.jpeg
An interactive community space allows members to share stories, goals, what they love about RCU, or just say 'hi'.

An interactive community space allows members to share stories, goals, what they love about RCU, or just say 'hi'.

in one year, total assets grew by 14%, loans increased by 14% and membership grew by 6% .

The result of the credit union’s brand transformation is reflective in the expanded reach of its newly developed brand, creative campaigns, branch messaging, and staff cultural training. In 2015, total assets increased by 14 percent to $2.8 billion, and through the first nine months of 2016 they have grown over 15% to $3.15 billion. Net income in 2015 grew by 2.2% reaching more than $48 million. Net income for 2016 is forecasted at $55 million, an ROA of 1.84%. The credit union’s member base grew almost 6 percent in 2015 and is tracking at 7.5% growth in 2016. As California’s 11th largest credit union, Redwood saw growth in loans, up by 14 percent to $2.1 billion and is forecasted at a 20% increase for 2016.

In May 2015, an 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 charges, deposit growth, and ratio of loans to deposits.

In February 2016, Redwood received four Diamond Awards at the 2016 Credit Union National Association. In addition to their Corporate Identity, Brand Articulation, Electronic Marketing Campaign, and Business Services video winning awards, the standout winner was their Investment Services Geo-Targeted Campaign, which was named a ‘Category Best’ winner. The CUNA Marketing and Business Development Council Awards “recognize creative excellence and outstanding results in credit union marketing.”


We Love a Good Challenge

Strum didn’t rebrand Redwood Credit Union. It led a research-based and staff-engaged process that uncovered the essence of Redwood’s personality and articulated the brand in a way that differentiates it and makes it relevant for many years to come. “There’s an energy created when you do what you love and you love what you do. This energy fuels our credit union’s endless care and devotion to passionately serve the best interests of our members, employees, and our communities,” said Robin McKenzie, SVP Marketing and Communications.

For any financial institution, big or small, a well-defined brand strategy is essential to finding a competitive difference that can lead to new levels of success for the organization. For many, their identity is built upon a foundation that may no longer exist or sparsely exists today. Other times, credit unions may have simply lost their way pursuing a community charter hoping that alone would characterize the credit union’s brand and personality. By articulating and defining the brand, the credit union is able to establish a renewed foundation from which to build the brand and dive deeper into opportunities for growth and expansion.