Credit unions and community banks are notorious for supporting every cause known to man. It’s in their DNA. It is who they are.

There comes a time, however, when financial institutions have to ask themselves how much is too much. Is supporting your loan officer’s church pot luck the best use of your marketing dollars? Does your annual sponsorship of the Sweet Potato Festival make good business sense? That depends on your brand plan. A strong brand plan answers these questions.

“What I really appreciated about the brand workshop was that the end result was not my brand plan. It was our brand plan. Our entire leadership team is on the same page,” said Helen Gibson, vice president of marketing and education for Denver Community Credit Union. “When someone is tempted to go back to the way we used to do things, we have a plan that gives us permission to say no. Our marketing team loves that.”

Brand plans, when developed correctly, identify exactly who your financial institution is and what it is about. They outline steps and processes necessary to initiate and maintain a consistent and unified brand strategy for existing and potential customers or members.

Brand plans provide specific guidelines on who your target audience is – not just age, gender and buying habits, but also how they navigate the world from day to day. Brand plans pinpoint how you make customers or members feel about themselves. They even describe what people perceive about your financial institution.

In essence, your brand plan takes the guesswork out of your marketing plan. It tells you who to target and when to target them, with what types of offers and messages. It sets the tone and purpose of your messaging. It gives you permission to say no when a sponsorship or campaign you’ve always done no longer aligns with your financial institution’s brand vision. It also gives you permission to say yes to new initiatives you never realized made sense.

Branding is more than pretty pictures, a snazzy logo or creative tagline, and it’s not a one-time campaign. Branding is something your employees live. It’s your financial institutions identity and how consumers relate to you. Use your brand plan as a GPS for your financial institution and give yourself permission to say no.