The terms brand and branding are tossed around quite a bit these days at banks and credit unions. And while many people use them interchangeably, there is actually a stark difference in definition between the two words.

A brand is what consumers actually think about you. It doesn’t matter what you think you are — all that matters is what the members or customers say. You can think all day long that you are “friendly and fast” but if your consumers don’t feel that way, then your brand is actually “unfriendly and slow.”

Branding is that which you wish consumers believed about your bank or credit union. For example, your branding efforts may include a push towards deeper consumer engagement, more in-depth community involvement or financial education. Branding is the action verb that your bank or credit union employees to drive its identity.

Obviously, there can exist quite a gap between your brand and your branding.

The question becomes, then — how can your bank or credit union align its brand with its branding?

Quite simply, you must have a brand strategy. And your brand strategy does not merely involve a few people around the marketing table trying to come up with catchy slogans and logos. Rather, a true universal brand strategy for your bank or credit union involves every single person in every single department, front office, back office and frontline.

A great place to start in this reconciliation between your brand and your branding is the marketing audit. A marketing audit dives deeply into the functions of your bank or credit union, from its marketing collateral to its organizational structure, a deep-dive look at area demographics and thought-provoking mystery shops in both your branches and your key competitors.

Aligning your brand with your branding is like mile one of a cross-country trip. You need to know where you’re going before you start. That requires a map (or more likely today, a GPS). The marketing audit can serve as a powerful guide in directing your bank or credit union towards its ultimate brand and branding goals.