Online branding & Vancity.

One of the things I love about the Vancity brand is that it’s complicated, and therefore a challenge to express succinctly. Vancity is a credit union that uses its profits to give money back to its members and the community. Sounds simple in a way, but there’s a complication as soon as we have to express how we do it and what it costs.

The more money Vancity makes, the more money it can give to the community, and it gives money in a myriad interesting and meaningful ways. Many prospects and members want to know what all this good work will cost them; surely they must pay extra. This sentiment always strikes me as odd – no one expects to pay more at a big bank when their stock prices are high, and yet they’re returning profits in the form of dividends to the shareholders. It’s the same with us, except the money goes to something meaningful.

So all of this is to say that when we launch a new brand campaign, it’s always tricky to engage people around our mission in a way that rings true and feels like us, but is still entertaining and works as marketing.

This week we are launching our 2007 TV spots, outdoor advertising and our web site to promote Vancity. This microsite launched yesterday, and I think it does a nice job conveying our brand and who we are. I’m curious what readers think.

Vancity | We All Profit

What’s the point of a homepage?

Because most banks have homepages that look like web portals from the 90s, I think a lot about the purpose and function of Vancity’s homepage. It’s not as cluttered as some, but not as clean as others.

Then, along comes Seth Godin’s article Blow Up Your Homepage. He says that your homepage is the page for newbies, not a real page people will use over and over again. That it’s akin to the old splash pages with a ‘skip intro’ button. With an Online Banking log in on the homepage, this isn’t as true for banks as it is for some, but still, a clarifying remark. Focus more on major internal pages (that we often neglect) and let the homepage be for those unfamiliar with your company.

Sounds obvious, but I found it rather helpful and timely.

Credit Union offers free WiFi

When I first saw this article about Eastman Credit Union offering free WiFi, I assumed it was free wireless Internet in their branches. But no.

Eastman Credit Union joined forces Thursday with the Kingsport Housing & Redevelopment Authority’s Greater Kingsport Alliance for Development to announce the expansion of Wireless Fidelity – or Wi-Fi – in the city.

So residents of Kingsport Tennessee will now get free WiFi in their city because of a local credit union. That’s different. What a way to enable community and help the economy of their town.

It’s great for PR:

In a news conference at ECU, officials involved with the project used wire cutters to sever the link between a laptop computer and its wired connection.

And it’s good for the city:

…local police, fire and rescue personnel will also benefit with more effective communications and methods to monitor locations within the coverage areas… The network will also create educational opportunities and enhance current educational programs in the city… students will be able to conduct research and communicate with teachers and professors through the network… And tourism will also benefit… Kingsport hosts an average of 330 conventions and tournaments each year, and free Internet service will help the city’s effort at attracting new and repeat tourism visits.

Brilliant! Imagine if they now offered something like on top of that as a value added service for the community to discuss the issues they face and the problems they want to tackle. Now that would be giving a voice to the citizens.

tinfoiling on the virtual human experience.

In a post I made a few days back, I tried to articulate some of the issues I’ve been thinking about our web site design to enhance the member/user experience.

Gene at tinfoiling left a comment in which he said:

The online experience seems to revolve around the person, their personal networks and being able to keep things the way they want to. Our products need to capture these elements.

I was intrigued, but his short comment on my site obviously didn’t capture the depth of what he was getting at, so I asked him to expand on his own site. Much to my delight he has.

Here’s Gene’s response on tinfoiling.

His theory, and I hope I do it justice is that web design as we’ve been dealing with it is a bit of a boondoggle, avoiding the key element of what the customer wants. And it goes back to our product design as well. A huge idea really, and I gotta admit, I’m still fully wrapping my head around it.

Colin, as usual, had a great comment:

Product – my take: forget about it. It comes last. Banks have been product centric for ever, and that doesn’t work when you get into experiential design.

A great conversation. I had no idea the doors I was opening when I started…

All things to all people

Thinking a lot, as I have lately, about the design of our website, I find myself focusing about three things. Obvious as they may be.

1> The vast majority of our site traffic is coming to do their online banking, so in a list of priorities the website is a relationship deepening tool first and foremost.

2> If we look at our member (credit union speak for customer) segments there are clear heavy users of our website and clear groups of members who don’t use online banking for their transactions. Based on the known priorities of the segments who use online banking, we can easily make the webiste sing for them, while bringing like-minded members along for the ride quite nicely.

3> I have stopped looking at my FI peers for inspiration. No offense to the other FI sites, but we’re competing against other e-tail experiences, not other FI sites. The kind of members who are core users of online banking are not comparing us to other sites in our vertical, but to the kinds of experiences they have shopping elsewhere on the web. Maybe not even just shopping, but getting entertainment and amusing themselves online.

Not rocket science, I know, but man do we have a whole lot of work ahead of us…