Often when working with bank or credit union partners on projects like branding or strategic planning, we ask a relatively simple survey question: what makes your bank/credit union different?

While the answers can come from all directions, more often than not, responses such as “service,” “people,” or “community” are among the more popular. While there is nothing inherently wrong with these answers, pretty much every single one of your competitors can say exactly the same thing. The goal of the question is to challenge participants to dig deeper into the cultural DNA of their financial institution to help find key distinction points, as opposed to their competition.

After hundreds of surveys and thousands of answers, one just a few weeks ago while working with a credit union partner really stuck with me.

Question: “What makes our credit union different?” Answer: “Me.”

Think about it. In the (literally) thousands of answers to this question over the years, this is one of the few times an individual had the guts and self-awareness to answer, simply, “me.”

That got me thinking. Shouldn’t that be pretty much the number-one answer for every one of your staff when it comes to this question? Shouldn’t all your staff feel similarly proud and free to operate in their position in such a way that empowers them to thusly respond?

When you get right down to it, you probably have pretty much the same products and services as your competitors. There may be minor differences in the bullet point definitions in your brochures, but a savings account is a savings account. And while the generic answer to the question of “our people” gets a little closer, someone brave enough to answer “me” is taking personal responsibility for the brand and the image in which he or she portrays it to both consumers and potential consumers.

It’s not your products or services that differentiate you. More than likely, it’s not your pricing structure or accessibility. What it really comes down to when working with an authentic brand is the manner in which your staff lives it. If your management leads the brand and your staff lives it, your consumers, in turn, will love it.

Hats off to the individual brave enough to answer “me” to this seemingly simple question. That powerful, two-letter word is perhaps the best response to the question “what makes your bank or credit union different?” Just think about how powerful your brand could stand if every employee felt brave enough and empowered enough to answer in the same way.