EverythingCU Branding Whirlwind hits Minnesota

Phew! What a trip! Just got back to Massachusetts after an incredible trip to the twin cities of Minnesota, with a stop in Madison Wisconsin on the way back!

The journey begins with the EverythingCU.com team of myself, Mad Tiger (Matt Taggart), and Josh Lynn meeting the wonderful folks of Cities CU of Vadnais Heights (a section of Saint Paul MN) at the Depot, a converted train station that was once the hub of transportation for Minneapolis, and is now home to two different Marriotts, a skating rink, and a water park. Our stay at the Depot was wonderful! Even the breakfast lady that we will never forget — shrieking “GOOD MORNING!!!” at what seemed to be the top of her lungs to EVERY person foolhardy enough to enter the breakfast room. (While that might seem nice at first, it gets old really really quickly!)

Our brand journey with Cities CU starts with Koren Kent, Gnome 28 at the BBB. We were so ecstatic when we learned that not only had Koren framed her Branding, Bonding, and Brew diploma on her wall, she somehow managed to convince the entire CU to make the gnome into their PC’s background image! And imagine our surprise and delight when we pulled up to Cities CU for the first time and read “Welcome to Vadnais Heights EverythingCU” in lights 60 feet in the air on their highway-visible LED read-out sign!

We had earlier contracted with Koren and Scott Olson, President of Cities CU to brand their credit union. And our journey began by presenting the foundation and fundamentals of branding to the management team of Cities – Scott, Koren (Marketing Officer), Jennifer Edlin (Vice President), and Mike Enright (Loan Manager). We also prepped them as to things to look for the in the first of the focus groups that were about to be held that night (Wednesday 1/11).

Then after pausing for a short breath back at our hotel at the Depot, it was time to go conduct the focus groups. Our first session consisted of White Bear Lake residents who had no affinity with Cities CU. It was enlightening to find out that despite the fact that Cities CU had spent tens of thousands of dollars on cable advertising for the past couple of years, they had ZERO recognition from this group. Although it was also wonderful to learn that after I revealed what a credit union was, and the fact that Cities was sponsoring this focus group because it cared what people in the White Bear Lake community think, interest in switching their accounts to Cities was so enthusiastic that Scott had to come out from behind the one-way mirror and introduce himself to the group! That shows not only how wonderful and genuine that Scott is, it also shows there is a huge pent-up demand for a financial institution that cares and trusts in the community that it serves. At least that’s true in the White Bear Lake area of Minnesota. We also learned such valuable information from members culled from Cities’ most valuable list, that we decided the NCUA ought to make it mandatory for all credit unions to conduct focus groups! It’s always such an eye-opening experience! Cities’ loyal members showed their obvious passion and concern for the credit union in a number of ways.

Thursday started bright an early with a presentation of brand fundamentals to the rest of the credit union staff. The trust and respect that this team had in Scott’s leadership and management style was apparent. What a wonderful team to work with! After a short break in the afternoon, we headed back to the focus group facility for day two of the sessions. We learned a number of new insights, including that people are looking for an institution that stands for the same values that they themselves believe in. And how community participation can also be one way to demonstrate those values and make the connections. Koren and Scott immediately changed the way they think about marketing based on these sessions, and made some realizations about things they needed to change right away. Good stuff!

Thursday night we checked out the Town Hall Brewery. A quite impressive tin roof and fun atmosphere. We checked out quite a variety of the local brews on tap. Poor Matt was fighting a cold the whole time, but he managed to survive. What a trooper! It was fun being in the middle of the city that boasts the Vikings, the Twins, the Timberwolves, and the Wild (NHL).

The EverythingCU team started with the Cities management team bright and early on Friday morning for a discussion of what we had just learned in the focus groups conducted, and we decided on the psychographic characteristics of Cities CU’s target member. Then we began the process of writing the first chapter of the credit union’s story. We had a special moment when in the process of getting at the core of the credit union’s values, Matt asked each member of the management team to describe the attributes of the other team members — it became quite clear that this team has the utmost respect and trust with each other — a truly special situation! And one not often found in credit union management teams today.

Then it was time to say goodbye to our new friends after a successful first trip on the Cities CU branding journey.

Our first little free space of time on the trip was Friday evening — so we definitely had to check out the water park! It was a wonderland of fun — a large hot tub area in one corner, a giant pretend train in the middle of it all with 3 slides coming out of it for all the kids… another area with a rope climb and a basketball hoop. Every 15 minutes or so, the bells and lights would go off and then a huge rush of water would drench the entire pool area. Poor Matt was still battling his cold, so Josh and I were the only ones to hit the pool — and the slides! The exciting slide has stairs that go up about 3 floors in height — and then the slide IMMEDIATELY goes outdoors — crazy stuff in the middle of the Minnesota winter! — but thankfully it didn’t feel cold as it felt the same temperature as the water that was going down it. And then the very end of the slide dumped us back into the building — what a trip! After going feet first the first time, Josh and I dove head-first on all subsequent trips down the tube.

Friday night we checked out downtown Minneapolis – cold, cold cold! (Although not as cold as it usually is in January!) We found an incredible American eating establishment called Mission that was quite modern. The food was truly amazing! If you visit the web site, be sure to check out the gallery. It looks really cool inside. Even though we decided that the ceiling was off-brand. Every detail counts! In walking downtown, we discovered Minneapolis’ skyways — enclosed glass walkways that connect most of the skyscrapers in the downtown core. What a great way to get around without freezing off important body parts!

The next morning Josh and Matt headed back to Massachusetts while I headed off to Madison, WI, so we said our goodbyes in O’Hare….


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