Note: This article first appeared in Credit Union Times.

Branding. It’s a hot buzz word and topic in credit union circles these days. Credit unions spend a ton of time and resources on their brand’s look, design, graphics and marketing. But branding is more than your strategy and look. Branding is also about your people.

Branding is only as strong as the employees that live it. Once you develop your brand plan and look, how do you get your employees to live it? Here are five tips to get your employees engaged in your brand.

1) Communicate your credit union values. Ensure they are clearly spelled out to employees at every opportunity. Make the most of the time you have, including employee meetings, orientations, training and marketing event kick-offs. Your employees cannot truly live the brand unless they know the credit union’s core values.

2) Drop “sales training” and implement brand training. Everyone talks about “sales culture” these days. While that’s not a bad thing, it’s time we evolved beyond sales training and dived into brand training. Brand training goes deeper than a cursory glance toward “sales culture” and demands more of your staff. By more fully immersing them in what it means to work and thrive at your credit union, you set them up for success as brand ambassadors.

3) Talk about branding at every opportunity with your staff. This could include all staff meetings, new employee orientation (where HR brand buy-in is critical) and other events. Connect your brand with all promotions and how staff’s dedication to the brand directly impacts the bottom line.

4) Develop brand standards and require all staff to adhere to them. Your employees can’t live the brand unless you have standards in place. How should they dress? How should they interact with the members? How should they be involved in the community? These and other basic questions clearly articulate what you expect from your employees. If you expect nothing from your employees when it comes to your brand, then that is exactly what you’ll get: nothing.

5) Develop an acronym that helps employees recall the brand message. We tend to develop grandiose vision and mission statements (which are a good thing). However, what do they really mean to a front-line employee? As an example, one of our clients recently changed their name from Great Falls Teachers Credit Union to Embark Credit Union and rebranded themselves. Their new tagline is “your journey begins here.” With the new name they want employees to “embark”: Embrace our vision, Make a personal connection, Be your best, Ask questions and listen, Recommend solutions and Keep it real. The acronym helps their employees live the brand and deliver it to members on a daily basis.

Getting your employees to live the brand isn’t a one-step or one-day process. It takes time, determination and total buy-in at all levels, from the board to the CEO to the management team to the front line. However, the fruits of this labor are well worth the effort. Employees that live the brand internally will live it externally and serve as the best marketing and communications vehicles your credit union has.