Grading Classical Brand Archetypes for Credit Unions

Branding is important. It builds recognition and trust in consumers. It’s the reason people use words like Coke, Xerox, and Post-It instead of cola, photocopier, and sticky note. Branding is why the skate fashion company Supreme made a brick with their logo on it, instantly sold out of it at $30 a pop, and then saw those bricks go for $1,000 on the secondary market.

Many in the financial industry don’t quite realize the importance of branding. Or maybe, in a world of percentages, terms, and numbers, branding seems complicated and superfluous.

It’s not.


Why Branding Is Important for Credit Unions

Generally speaking, credit unions have better terms and rates than their competitors. Nevertheless, growth is slow and younger generations don’t even know what credit unions are.

So, why is it that credit unions can offer the best terms but struggle to get traction…

But an overpriced fashion brick will sell out in minutes?

Because of branding.

So, put away your calculators and everything you know about finance. Instead, think about how you want to build a brand. Your success depends on it.


Identifying Credit Union Brand Archetypes

The easiest way to start building a brand is to understand your role in people’s lives. What stories do people tell about you? What stories do you tell about brand? If your credit union were a character, what type of character would it be?

Brand and marketing expert Margaret Mark identifies 12 iconic character styles—archetypes—that brands play. We’ll list, explain, and grade each brand archetype with credit unions in mind.

(Bonus: we featured her book, The Hero and the Outlaw, in our roundup of the best credit union books.)


1.    The Magician

Magician brands bring imagination and possibility to life. Magicians are visionary, and their role is to create or help with creation.

Examples: Disney, Red Bull, Tesla

Grade: Credit unions help people make dreams come true with things like mortgages, auto loans, and business loans. However, most people probably just want checking accounts. B+


2.    The Sage

Sage brands pursue knowledge, help people learn, and act as a teachers or advisors. Their role is to grant wisdom to those who seek it.

Examples: Harvard, Google, The New York Times

Grade: People don’t come to credit unions looking for fun, nonsense, or tricks. They want dependability, good advice, and security. The Sage is a very trustworthy archetype. A


3.    The Innocent

Innocent brands are unpretentious, nostalgic, and charming. Their role is to provide goodness, happiness, and safety.

Examples: Nintendo, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola

Grade: Cheerfulness, friendliness, and trustworthiness are all on brand for credit unions. But innocent brands can be childlike, which may lack the seriousness that often defines financial institutions. B


4.    The Outlaw

Outlaw brands know the rules—and how to break them. The Outlaw role questions authority and walks to the beat of their own drum.

Examples: Virgin Airlines, Harley-Davidson, MTV

Grade: Brashness, irreverence, and unpredictability aren’t what anyone wants in a company that handles their money. F


5.    The Jester

Jester brands are lighthearted and humorous. Their role is to make you smile and see the funny side of life—and business.

Examples: Old Spice, Skittles, Moon Pie

Grade: Jesters are certainly fun, but they joke around a lot, which isn’t the most reassuring tone to take with people’s financial livelihoods on the line. F+


6.    The Lover

Lover brands promote indulgence, pleasure, and passion. Their role is to create intimate moments and connections.

Examples: Godiva, Victoria’s Secret, Kay Jewelers

Grade: Lovers are about commitment, which is great in a financial space. However, they’re also big on a feeling of romance, which would be a strange relationship to build with members. F


7.    The Explorer

Explorers seek freedom and adventure. Their role is to help people try new things, push boundaries, and overcome obstacles.

Examples: Jeep, REI, NASA

Grade: Explorers want to empower people to learn and discover. Credit unions with a rugged, can-do feel could make this work. B


8.    The Ruler

Ruler brands are stately, powerful, and high quality. Their role is to provide a luxurious, VIP feel that suggests status and importance. They also tend towards responsibility and organization.

Examples: Mercedes-Benz, Rolex, Microsoft

Grade: In all honesty, most credit unions distinguish themselves through pragmatism and sensibility. It’s an unlikely fit, but the structure or order they bring is great. B-


9.    The Caregiver

Caregiver brands are helpful and benevolent forces in people’s lives. Their role is to nurture, give, encourage, and otherwise help their customers.

Examples: Johnson & Johnson, Allstate Insurance, Volvo

Grade: Credit unions have their members best interests at heart, so they’re very well positioned to be compassionate and understanding as a brand. A


10.                   The Hero

Hero brands are about rising above challenges and pushing people to be the best they can be. Their role is to help others improve and succeed.

Examples: The U.S. Army, Nike, Gatorade

Grade: Heroes try to make the world a better place through effort and courage. There probably are hero angles for credit unions, but they’re not very strong. C+


11.                   The Regular Person

Regular Person, Regular Guy/Girl, or Everyman brands don’t try to distinguish themselves in a flashy way—rather, they try to be an indispensable part of people’s daily lives.

Examples: Folgers, Levis, Budweiser

Grade: Many, many, many brands think they have what it takes to be “The Person Next Door,” but few have it: a lack of pretention, a necessary product, and everyday relatability. Credit unions do have what it takes, though. A


12.                   The Creator

Creator brands are driven to build incredible, enduring works. Their role is to enable invention, innovation, and inspiration.

Examples: Adobe, Apple, LEGO

Grade: Creators aren’t afraid to play around and experiment in the name of making something new and amazing. Especially progressive, tech-friendly credit unions can take on this brand archetype. A-


Final Thoughts

Failing to have a recognizable brand is a huge issue, especially for credit unions. After all, most Millennials and Gen Zers don’t even know what credit unions are. And that may continue—you can’t build a relationship with a brand that has no discernable role in your life.

Identifying your credit union’s brand archetype is only the first step of a strong branding process. There’s a whole lot more to it, of course.

But in a world where overpriced bricks sell out, but your industry-leading services don’t draw customers from big banks…

Maybe it’s time to value marketing and branding way, way more.

Which brand archetype does your credit union fit? And how accurate were our grades?

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