Building a Dynamite Digital Brand

a digital explosion of colors and shapes
Stephanie Schwenn Sebring Photo
Contributing Writer
Fab Prose & Professional Writing

14 minutes

In today’s digital world, conventional wisdom decrees that your credit union has a very short time to make a great first impression.

In the pre-digital transformation era, marketers had about seven seconds to make an impression on consumers. According to a Princeton psychological study, impressions are now made in as little as a tenth of a second, notes James Robert Lay, president of Digital Growth Institute, Houston, Texas—though he believes two to three seconds is a more realistic timeframe to capture someone’s attention. 

“While a credit union’s website provides a slightly longer exposure opportunity compared to other forms of digital advertising, marketers are still competing for the consumer’s attention in just a moment,” adds Lay. Sound daunting? “Outstanding imagery gives a faster impression, up to 60,000 times faster than the written word.” 

“This imagery might represent managing money, beating inflation, getting out of debt, protecting loved ones or saving time and money.” 

Lays says that because these timeframes have shortened so dramatically, it’s critical to consider the needs of your audience and design your digital strategy accordingly. “Is the user a current member? A potential member? Then focus on the needs of this individual. This requires looking at qualitative studies for your credit union and finding out what your audience is doing at a macro level. Discover why they feel the way they do.

“Qualitative data may include a member survey, focus groups or digital secret shopping studies that record why a person feels the way they feel when navigating your website to apply for a financial product,” continues Lay.

A successful digital strategy must also provide an intuitive experience for users searching for solutions and address their pain points. Put yourself in their shoes, stresses Lay, and design your digital messages and website around a user’s perspective, focusing on these questions: 1. Can I trust you? 2. How do you make me feel? and 3. How can you help me? 

“I can’t emphasize enough that your reader is the hero—not the credit union,” says Lay. “They enter the story (or sales journey) as the protagonist, and the credit union is the antagonist. Here, you’re trying to earn the attention and trust of the hero. 

“Remember,” he adds, “your hero is looking for guidance and a helper to elevate their life.”

Below, we explore three credit union websites that Lay highlights as prime examples of user-focused experiences, blending fresh graphics, video and empathetic language. The CUs vary in asset size, but all put people over products.

Mid-Hudson Valley Federal Credit Union 

The homepage of $1.4 billion Mid-Hudson Valley FCU, Kingston, New York, centers on the credit union’s primary brand message, “It’s Your Financial Journey.” Keeping the member front and center, it also features a testimonial: “’The people at MHV never let me down.’ —Eltza R.” 

A video following an in-branch member experience featured at the top of the page draws the reader in, and farther down the page, the friendly tone continues, “Set your goals and blow them away.” 

The page is uncluttered, without much visual emphasis on promotions. “Realize visitors may not be interested in your promotions,” emphasizes Lay.

Also, notice the validation and award stickers (from Forbes, etc.) placed strategically on the homepage. These third-party validations help bolster your reputation, explains Lay, and influencers will often include such icons front and center on their pages. The credit union also prominently uses financial education as a positioning statement to differentiate itself from other financial brands.

Melissa Walsh, SVP/chief marketing officer at Mid-Hudson Valley FCU, notes that the credit union was very intentional in the curation of its homepage content. “It starts by understanding that it is often our first opportunity to represent our brand and convey our commitment to providing financial guidance,” she says. “Our site offers the resources we’ve built to empower members to define and control their own financial journey. It also reflects our hybrid approach to banking that marries robust digital access along with the comfort and security of in-person services.”

Brian Jackson
Texas Tech Federal Credit Union
Focusing on the Help Center has also allowed us to promote our products and services through financial guides and blog content. This approach has enabled us to build trust with our members as they learn and engage.

Texas Tech Federal Credit Union 

Another website to peruse is that of $335 million Texas Tech FCU, Lubbock, Texas. Referred to as its “Member Help Center,” the homepage is fresh and clean, using minimal text and plenty of white space. The front-and-center rotating banners feature crisp graphics and welcoming language. One banner reads, “A discount for our local heroes,” which leads the user to learn about home loan discounts for public safety officers. Another banner says, “Welcome, Abilene!” and features a friendly image of the Texas Tech mascot, Raider Red. This banner points users to important information about Abilene Federal Credit Union’s merger into Texas Tech FCU (effective Feb. 1).

The credit union’s homepage positions itself around offering help and hope simply by asking the question, “How can we help you today?” followed by four possible paths forward, starting with calls-to-action to “Learn” or “Explore.”

Texas Tech FCU has also mastered the use of video. For example, each mortgage lender has a personalized profile so the reader can get to know them, and there is a member testimonial video aligned with each lender, further instilling confidence.

Brian Jackson​​, CIO for the credit union, notes that building the Member Help Center has been a key focus of its digital strategy, which has been a win for members and the marketing team. “It has increased website traffic and helped propel our online presence from an SEO perspective,” says Jackson. “Focusing on the Help Center has also allowed us to promote our products and services through financial guides and blog content. This approach has enabled us to build trust with our members as they learn and engage.”

Louisiana Federal Credit Union

Louisiana FCU $438 million, La Place, has a homepage that highlights the credit union’s brand message: “Helping you get there so that you can focus on life first,” which, as Lay recommends, immediately makes the user the protagonist. The subsequent call to action reads, “Help me get there,” centering on the user’s needs, not pushing products or promotions. 

Empathy is also a design priority. Notice the phrasing leading to specific product pages—all focus on the reader’s pain points: “I’d like a better checking account,” “I’d like to buy a car or lower my payment,” or “I’d like to pay off my debt.” 

Member testimonials also reinforce the reader’s confidence further down the page. “These testimonials provide prospective members with third-party validation,” adds Lay. 

Plus, there is an abundance of resources and helpful articles linked throughout the website. (See an example.) “Not only do these help to increase organic web traffic from search engines, but the articles also position the credit union as a helpful guide in its digital story,” Lay explains. “And almost every product page provides helpful steps or a numerical path, showing prospective members exactly what to expect when applying for a loan or opening an account.

“The key is to be the light for people beyond the financial chaos, and the site communicates hope and optimism,” he adds.

Rhonda Hotard, president/CEO of Louisiana FCU, emphasizes the member-centric design. “We see our digital and mobile platforms as another Louisiana Federal Credit Union branch, located in the pockets and purses of our members,” Hotard says. “We aim to offer members an online experience that is convenient, helpful, clear and, most of all, human.”

Rhonda Hotard
Louisiana Federal Credit Union
We see our digital and mobile platforms as another Louisiana Federal Credit Union branch, located in the pockets and purses of our members.

Website Goals & Opportunities

Elisa Rode, president of marketing consulting firm Kearley & Company, Fort Worth, Texas, believes every website and digital project would be better served with a clear goal definition. “Start by surveying members and front-line staff to grasp concerns or opportunities that could be better maximized,” says Rode. “Also use focus groups to ensure your website is easy to navigate and communicates clearly.”

For optimal success, consider Rode’s best web practices:

1. Tell your story with website visuals and video, and put your purpose up-front on the homepage. 

“Credit unions are different, and that’s a huge benefit for consumers,” says Rode. Your website is “the place to explain your ‘why’ (your unique purpose or value proposition) above the fold.

“For example, a credit union’s longevity and not-for-profit status are concepts that resonate. Find ways to convey these themes visually. Also, allow readers to click on subpages to read more if they choose, but keep the text on your homepage to a minimum,” she continues. “Wordy websites—especially on the homepage—detract, causing the reader to lose interest. Visual snippets, videos or snapshots are ideal.”

Where you do use text, focus on member-friendly words as well, not jargon or “internal-speak” for accounts, loans and services, and spell out acronyms.

2. Look for best practices from the big brands. What elements can you incorporate into your site for goal attainment? Some of Rode’s favorites include:

  • The Netflix homepage and the company’s profile and investor page, both of which Rode highlights as easy to peruse;
  •, which features beautiful graphics while being easy to navigate;
  • The Coca-Cola homepage, which is “fun and vibrant, with lovely execution of the brand in a web environment;”
  • United Healthcare, which Rode says packages a lot of information in a bright, easy and friendly way; and
  • Virgin Music. The Virgin family of brands does an excellent job incorporating iconic brand elements across all its sites, says Rode.

3. Don’t overemphasize rotating banners on the homepage. A good banner with a positional statement is excellent, says Rode, but realize that a second or third banner in rotation may not get seen—and more than three is likely a waste of resources. “Your most important message must be first in the queue. Focus on generic but highly relevant offerings that remind people of your convenience services, mobile app or fraud prevention—not promotions.

“Move promotional pages to static messages found lower on your homepage,” Rode continues. “Visitors may be trying to figure out who you are, and your current auto loan campaign isn’t the reason they’re looking to join. Unless your goal is to only book loans, don’t have an auto loan banner front and center, but maybe second or third in rotation.”

4. Leverage valuable content. Millennials in particular are seeking help managing their finances and saving money, says Rode. Any how-to videos or blog content on your site to support ongoing financial education is beneficial and helps deepen relationships.

“Also, balance the right amount of education and promotion within the content,” she continues. “Try targeting a 50/50 ratio, but there is no right answer. Some credit unions serve members who could benefit from more educational content, and some credit unions serve members who need awareness of the accounts, loans and services available.”

Finally, technology and member priorities continue to evolve, and what you’re doing today can change in months. “Each website is a living, breathing, evolving entity that needs to be attended to and evaluated,” Rode notes. “You cannot launch your site and forget about it; test, evaluate metrics and continue changing your content.”

Relating to Members on Social

In addition to credit union websites, social media is an important digital-brand builder.

Social platforms are an opportunity to let your authentic self shine through, notes Rode. “For success, keep messages brief and relevant. When crafting social content, realize it’s not a platform to sell products and services regularly; use it as a way for people to get to know your organization. Make your focus 70% team, people, members and fun, including work anniversaries and events. Only 30% should be product-focused,” she advises.

Rode recommends clearly defining three to five content “buckets” for social channels. “Buckets vary by brand and content goals and may include community events, charitable giving, financial literacy and, lower on the list, products.”

Consider how $156.5 billion Navy Federal Credit Union, Vienna, Virginia,  manages its social content on Facebook, Rode suggests. “It consists of a rigid set of content buckets, and every post or digital ad provides a visual snapshot; the images support their purpose, and the content remains social and on brand,” she explains.

Try defining your credit union’s own purpose and goals within similar content buckets. “For example, bucket one may be the community; bucket two, team accolades; and bucket three, products and services,” says Rode. “By committing to these buckets, you’re not reactive to competitors or apt to stray from your goals.”

Also give careful consideration to advertising on social media. When creating digital ads, less is more, notes Rode. They require movement, along with a clear, concise message. “Think of it like a billboard, not containing more than seven words,” she says. “The ad should also be relevant to the audience and include a persuasive call to action.”

Elisa Rode
Kearley & Company
Each website is a living, breathing, evolving entity that needs to be attended to and evaluated. You cannot launch your site and forget about it; test, evaluate metrics and continue changing your content.

Crafting Compelling Video Content

Jim Pond, co-founder of JXM (formerly James & Matthew), Shirley, Massachusetts, believes establishing a connection between the digital user and credit union depends on “respecting the scroll.” This means understanding that many consumers endlessly scroll through media rather than clicking, so your content dimensions and audio/video length must fit into that window of brief (often mobile) engagement.

Unless strategically and professionally done, most long-form content is difficult to crop for TikTok or Instagram—and presenting less-than-optimal video content can negatively impact your ability to connect with users.

Blackmagic and Red Camera are tools for recording high-quality video with excellent sound and picture,” says Pond. But there’s a learning curve. “Many credit unions don’t have the time or skill to create a quality video that captures an institution’s brand message and the end-user’s attention. Or if they have a solid, long-form video to work with, they cannot edit it to fit each platform properly.

“It may come down to doing less, focusing on the fidelity of the video you’re developing, and realizing that an excellent video product should capture your user’s attention within a second or two.”

When creating video content, Pond recommends shooting a long-form video that encompasses a one- to three-minute extended version for the website, a 15- to 30-second version for advertising purposes (e.g., on YouTube, connected TV or over-the-top video), plus a six-second version for TikTok, Facebook and Instagram, keeping their vertical formats in mind. (Note: Over-the-top, or OTT, video is a technology that delivers video content across a user’s multiple devices. Connected TV, or CTV, is a device that connects to or uses television to support video content streaming.)

“By purposely filming the long-form video knowing you can crop it for other platforms, you have a more versatile piece to work with and edit from,” says Pond. “For the ideal video length, test your audience, look at metrics and adjust as needed.” 

A Video Case Study

$2.8 billion Advia CU, Kalamazoo, Michigan, launched a new video series early in 2023 to highlight its commercial lending team’s capabilities and personalized approach. 

Significant time was spent in the planning phases, with the long-form content filmed at the credit union’s headquarters. After completing the initial introduction video for each commercial lender, JXM edited the content to create numerous shorter-version videos for various social media platforms as well as business-to-business digital publications, LinkedIn, OTT content, digital display ads and more.

(You can peruse the collection of 90-second videos on the credit union’s YouTube channel.)

“Video has become a cornerstone of our digital marketing presence, allowing us to capture the viewer’s attention within moments while fostering a positive association with our brand message,” explains Nancy Loftis, VP/marketing & PR for Advia CU. “During production, we focused on helping the viewer connect positively on an emotional level with our commercial lending team while also internalizing our ability to serve their unique financial needs.”

Video production centered on three objectives: 1. To provide a recognizable and identifiable message as the Advia CU brand, including consistent color, life imagery and logo placement; 2. To build a positive emotional connection with the audience; and 3. To align the message as naturally as possible within each channel.

“Our goal is to stand out from the clutter while still having our audience feel like they are in the right space to hear our message,” says Loftis. “We understand that in this space, we only have a few seconds to positively introduce our brand to a potential member or to reaffirm a relationship we already hold.

“Thinking about how we would use the snippets of video—and wanting the most flexible options during editing—were priorities during production,” Loftis continues. “Within each video iteration, we worked to consistently portray our credit union’s value proposition of providing quick and easy access to personalized financial solutions.”

Results take time, and consistent evaluation is needed. “Avoid the common digital mistakes, like changing your tone, look and feel, or value proposition messaging too often,” reflects Loftis. “Keep sight of your audience, never take a one-size-fits-all approach, and don’t be afraid to consult the experts if you need an extra hand.”  cues icon 

Owner of Fab Prose & Professional Writing, Stephanie Schwenn Sebring assists credit unions, industry suppliers and any company wanting great content and a clear brand voice. Follow her on Twitter @fabprose.

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