Got beer?

This morning, the twittersphere is a-buzz with a 62-page white paper from the CUNA Marketing & Biz Dev Council entitled: A National Brand for Credit Unions: A compendium of opinions about a national brand for the credit union industry. (side note: interesting that the authors chose to call it an industry, when many insiders call it a movement.) I’ve only skimmed the report and certain sections of it, but my opinion on this hasn’t changed.

Nearly two years ago, I wrote about why I think a national CU Brand campaign is a bad idea. The movement/industry’s strength has always been its diversity. It’s never been about economies of scale. It’s about helping people in a meaningful way. CUs are definitely not charities. But their fundamental reason for being is to help regular people improve their financial lives. It’s a really exciting mission which it seems gets too often overlooked in extraneous activities. Banks DO NOT exist for this purpose. Credit unions DO exist for this purpose, and it’s amazing that we haven’t told our story better to more people who would LOVE to hear this message— IF it’s backed up in reality, and it’s not just fluffy words.

Over lunch at Elizur’s Tavern today with COO Matt Taggart, who has recently brewed some home-made beer, I had an insight– Beer is the same as Credit Unions. (Not really, but bear with me for the sake of analogy.) Is the beer industry calling for a national beer branding campaign? No. And where is the strength of the beer category? Where is the excitement and interest? Is it with the national conglomerates like Bud, Miller, and Coors? No. All of those mega-companies are watered-down pablum. They appeal to the lowest common denominator, and serious beer drinkers don’t even think about them. (Bud, Miller, and Coors represent the mega-banks in this analogy).

The REAL excitement and interest is in the microbrews. At the microbrews, people who are PASSIONATE about beer lovingly hand-craft small batches of beer, insuring quality is high. And the VARIETY of flavors is wonderful… stouts, porters, ales, wheats, and the list goes on and on. And they are LOCAL. It is this LOCAL DIVERSITY that makes beer, as a category, exciting and vibrant… have you visited a microbrewery lately? They are nearly always very interesting, with interesting people working at them. Try Magic Hat in Burlington, VT, or Utah Beers, makers of interesting flavors like Polygamy Porter. (That name is an inside joke in regards to mormonism… you won’t catch a mormon drinking that beer, but the other 50% of Utah LOVES it.)

Are microbreweries successful as businesses? You better believe it. It seems that there are a great many microbreweries that are continually growing, offering even more varieties and seasonal brews. They seem to be flourishing all over the country. And the original “microbrew”, Massachusetts’ own Sam Adams is now so large it’s not even a microbrewery anymore.

So raise a pint of your favorite local, handcrafted beer with me as I propose a toast– to the wonderful men and women, the professionals and volunteers all across the United States, Canada, and the rest of the world, who are tirelessly committed to making their credit unions great every day — professionals who are helping people of all shapes, sizes, stripes, backgrounds, and situations, improve their financial lives every day.

But that’s just what I think. I’d love to hear what you think.


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13 Responses to “Got beer?”

  1. Christopher Says:

    That’s a whole other paper in itself – Is it really a movement?

    If so, where is it going? Ha!

    As a true believer, I think there are folks (like myself) that believe it’s a movement and then there are others that see their work just as a job and part of a larger system.

    Great post. (Shameless plug – info on the paper is here –

  2. Nancy Ninesling Says:

    What a great reason to have a beer!! To toast our LOCAL, individual, unique Credit Union! I totally agree with you. As a very small, almost-single sponsor credit union catering to our specific membership, we have very little in common with our larger credit union brethren, especially those “big” community guys who may even be considered our competition.

    Morriss and Matt, you guys have made me understand how our brand is our reputation. And we want to control our reputation and our brand, not hand it over to some huge overseer, who would supposedly have our best interests. But like most things, would have the best interests of the big guys (big pockets) at heart.

    I don’t mean to besmirch the larger credit unions or the community credit unions (maybe a bit of a napoleon complex). They too have their members interest at heart, and they too would want to protect and control their own reputation, and own brand.

    So I’m join you in a toast to our industry and our individualism!

  3. Morriss Partee Says:

    Thanks for the response, Nancy! It’s dedicated passionate people like you, Linda, Teri, and the rest of the CNG FCU crew that make the credit union movement great! I would continue the list of other wonderful professionals and volunteers that I’ve had the pleasure of meeting all over the nation, but the list is too long and I don’t want to leave anyone out… and cheers to the Arch Street Tavern where, over a pint, I’m sure the idea for your credit union was hatched fifty-one years ago…

  4. Dan Veasey Says:

    I haven’t had a beer since college so I’ll go back to the Got Milk analogy. My family gets milk from what you would call a “micro brew” source that uniquely caters to a precious few people. It comes from a farm just across the NC state line. It comes straight from the cow to the jar to our fridge. To some that might sound disgusting but it’s really very good. The reason we do this is because its more healthy. Natural, raw milk has some better enzymes that store bought milk doesn’t (my wife knows the details). It’s actually a cooperative where we own a share of the cow and pay the farm staff to milk it for us.

    The national Milk campaign didn’t hinder the brand of our organic fed, home-grown raw milk. I think the same would be true of the small home-grown CU. Perhaps it should be more of a national awareness campaign though. There are many things that all CU’s have in common. It could stick to those common denominators.

  5. Andy Says:

    What a coincidence, the girlfriend and I just broke into our batch of home-brew raspberry beer that has been fermenting for over a month…mmmm, and it wasn’t that over-sweet raspberry flavor either. my final verdict…10 pounds of fresh raspberries = one fine drink.

    Beverage preference aside, I agree, as soon as CU’s get branded as a national singularity we lose that local connection and individual diversity. Go ahead, do a national promotion for credit unions as a whole, but don’t try and classify all CU’s as a single institution. Thats what I’ve always loved about CU’s, you can shop around to find the one that fits you as a person and still find the CU service you’re looking for.

  6. Andy Says:

    oh, and cheers to all the local CU’s serving with a purpose…to improve the lives of their members!

  7. Suzanne Says:

    Got wine?

    I will drink my glass of Hess Select to this discussion. I haven’t read the paper on the thoughts of a national brand campaign and while I understand the beer analogy, I am not sure I can agree with it.

    My take on it seems to be that before microbrews started and became so successful, most consumers knew what beer was. My credit union days have taught me through numerous focus groups, discussions in the industry, discussions with members and non-members that consumers do not understand what a credit union is, what the movement, the mission, the advantages, the value, and the relevancy are. That hurts. And unfortunately it appears that many credit unions are having difficulty getting that message out and don’t have the budgets and/or the know how on how to accomplish that in an effective way. Further, having worked and consulted with CUs with the attributes stated above, I can attest to those facts. So if there is to be a national credit union brand, my opinion is it should be around the commonalities of all credit unions, the originating mission of the movement, so that consumers can better understand. I truly trust with the right resources and people that can be accomplished.


  8. Andy Says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever talked anybody (at least my own age anyway) that knows about credit unions or the way they work beyond, “aren’t they non-profit or something?” I could see a nationwide ad circulation that expresses the difference in an entertaining way (see but that doesn’t brand CU’s as a single entity. Show people the difference and let them make their choice. I really don’t think we can “push” people into leaving banks behind and joining CU’s, all we can really do is make the differences more visible to the general public and hope they get fed up with banks.

  9. Bill Weye Says:

    I don’t know much about CUs, but I know much more about beer. I’m not sure if the analogy really works . . . for the most part these small producers no longer call themselves microbrewers, they’re now referred to as “craft brewers” and they make “craft beers”. Why? They became so successful that referring to themselves as micro seemed silly and implied that they never really wanted to grow beyond being micro, and that when they did grow beyond the micro they were sell outs, which in my opinion is not true.

    So, there was a wholesale shift in the industry to re-brand themselves, or more accurately brand themselves. I don’t know everything about the issue, but it seems like better accuracy is a good reason make a shift like that.

  10. Morriss Partee Says:

    @Bill – Good point. Craft beer is a much better description of the dedication that goes into making these delicious, interesting beers, and is simultaneously independent of the size of the brewer. And this label does not change my original point — you don’t see a national craft beer advertising campaign; there is no need for one. The strength of the craft beer industry is in its local diversity and regional flavors. There are interesting local stories behind many of the craft beer flavors…. just as there are incredible and interesting stories behind the founding of most credit unions across the country.

  11. Jerry Manor Says:

    You never cease to amaze me! Two of my favorite things… craft brewed beer and credit unions. I think your analogy is good. No matter how big Samuel Adams becomes, they’ll never be Anheuser Busch just like Navy Federal will never be JP Morgan Chase… @Suzanne, beer = financial services; Banks = Anheuser, Miller, Coors and the like; Credit Unions = craft brewers. There has always been good beer if you knew where to look, just a very few here in the US before the craft brew revolution. Just like there have always been CUs (since the early 1900s) just not too many of them. Sammy showed the way by focusing on a specific market and providing a superior product. The others followed suit. CUs need to do the same thing, provide a superior product and focus on our market. If Sam Adams and the like aren’t for everyone… some people actually prefer the watered down taste of the big brands but the crafts like credit unions need to maintain their unique qualities for continued success. So a national campaign for CUs, while it may have some benefit, probably wouldn’t be any better than a national campaign for craft brews.
    BTW… toured the Samuel Adams brewery in Boston about 10 years ago. Great tour! and I rarely travel without trying the local brew. Seldom disappointed!

  12. Morriss Partee Says:

    @Jerry – now if we can just get credit unions to serve craft beer in their lobbies… no wait, perhaps that’s not a good idea after all. 😉

  13. Jeffry Pilcher Says:

    People know about beer. They don’t know about credit unions.

    People want beer. They seek beer out because they like beer. They don’t want to spend time on financial matters because it’s boring and tedious.

    The credit union industry doesn’t need a “brand campaign.” But it does need some sort of organized effort to raise awareness of credit unions as a viable option for core financial services.

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