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Branding
What’s in a (Brand) Name? Everything, Part II
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by CHELSEA HINKEL

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Exploring brand name changes based on expanding audiences

As we discussed in part one of our series on brand name changes, the need to drive growth for financial institutions is palpable as all sectors prepare for our post-pandemic future. While most signs point to rebound and recovery, building strategies for attracting and growing customers is critical, especially now, as financial brands effectively leverage our expanding economy. The topic is so relevant to smaller and midsize financial institutions, two of our most recent presentations to credit unions and community banks have growth at the center of them. According to Gina Bleedorn, Chief Experience Officer at Adrenaline: “As we come into our new normal-ish, growth is really at a premium, as acquisition opportunity soars to an all-time high.”

For credit unions, membership was already slowing before COVID, making growth even more mission-critical. “While every industry is measuring their response in the wake of a global pandemic, there are generally two schools of thought for institutions facing [change]: preserve what you have or prepare for the future,” according to Believe in Banking’s coverage of credit union rebrands in times of challenge and change. That’s why CUNA chose to launch its awareness campaign for credit union growth now. “As we open consumers' eyes to credit unions, we’re laying the groundwork for long-term market share growth by overcoming long-held beliefs: ‘I can’t join and it’s only local,’” says Chris Lorence, Executive Director of CU Awareness, LLC.

CONSIDER CHANGE: OUTGROWING YOUR NAME

With a strong people-first purpose and high level of trust among member communities, credit unions have some built-in benefits to be sure. But for all of their advantages, CUs face some structural challenges, as well. Many credit unions began their lives serving special employee groups or small local areas, so growth beyond their initial audience becomes impractical, especially when limitations are built right into their name. “Many credit union brands are chained to legacy names that no longer represent their current positioning or presence,” according to Gina Bleedorn.  “No matter how much a credit union may love their roots, marketing efforts cannot overcome a naming deficit. In competing with larger financial institutions – whether they’re banks or other credit unions – your name really matters.”

“As we know, when you change a name in the right way with the right communications and the right story, people can see the benefits.”

– Gina Bleedorn, Chief Experience Officer at Adrenaline

As they grow, credit union names must accurately reflect their service area and audience, especially if they want to combat the perceptions of credit unions being small and serving only particular types of members and focus on future success. Here are some relevant examples of financial institutions we helped rename and rebrand, positioning the new CU brand for expansion and growth.

While there is a lot of discussion around Special Employee Group (SEG) limitations and whether credit unions should change their charters to facilitate growth with new audiences, when a credit union does choose that strategy to reach beyond its discrete member base, there is a compelling reason for their name to reflect that change. Such was the case with MacDill Credit Union. Originally serving military members out of MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, the credit union was an early pacesetter in applying for a community charter.

New Logo for Grow Financial

Such a beloved credit union to their military members and families, MacDill was prepared to lose 10% of their membership base when they changed their name to Grow FinancialGina Bleedorn says, “With this name change, they were ready for mutiny to occur. But as we know, when you change a name in the right way with the right communications and the right story, people can see the benefits.” The credit union realized phenomenal growth in the decade following their expanded charter and new name, with $1 billion in assets prior to the change to $3.2 billion today. 

Smart Financial Logo

First Educator was another credit union with a limiting SEG. Serving Houston area educators, the credit union earned a reputation for its focus on members and commitment to education in the community. With their charter change, this CU was able to take advantage of their educational affiliation, selecting a singular and powerful name – Smart – that reflected its roots, something that’s not as easy for FIs to do now, a decade later. Once it became Smart Financial, the credit union was able to go deeper into local communities and expand county by county. With membership comprised of people who live, work or attend school in a four county area centered around Houston, the credit union also successfully serves businesses in the four county region of Brazoria, Fort Bend, Harris or Montgomery, as well.

Before and After Valley Strong Logo

Like other SEG-based credit unions, Kerns Schools credit union was serving teachers, but its name also tied it to a small geographic area it was growing beyond. They needed to capture a bigger market share as they expanded their influence geographically – beyond Kern County – and demographically – beyond their teacher roots. According to Adrenaline’s case study on the credit union rename and rebrand: “This new brand required an authentic story to tell as they move northward in the Central Valley, sowing the seeds of new relationships while keeping their legacy alive.” Tapping into the strength of the Central Valley culture and communities, Valley Strong Credit Union’s brand positions them for seeding growth throughout region.

Before and After of Ascend logo

Like MacDill before it, AEDC credit union also came from military roots, serving the Arnold Air Force Base in Tullahoma, Tennessee. When the credit union applied for a new charter, it needed a name change that honored its past but soared into its future. Embracing the flight theme and another singular name, Ascend Federal Credit Union now partners with more than 1,200 Middle Tennessee businesses and organizations, offering membership benefits to employees across the region. As a multiple common bond credit union, the financial institution also offers membership to families of members, affiliated employer organizations, people in underserved communities and members of the Tennessee Chapter of the Nature Conservancy. Today, the credit union serves more than 200,000 members in 21 counties. 

While there is not a single path to growth, it’s clear that optimizing opportunities is at the heart of most brand name changes. In our next Perspective on name rebrands, we will address three examples of financial institutions spurred on by having a non-distinguished, non-ownable moniker that limited their growth opportunities. For more about naming practices within rebrands or to speak to one of our branding experts, email us at info@adrenalineagency.com or call (678) 412-6903.


Adrenaline is a brand experience company that creates and implements end-to-end branded experiences through creative and environmental design. We enhance our clients’ customer experiences across digital and physical channels, from their branding and advertising to design and technology in their spaces. After transforming an organization’s brand, Adrenaline extends it across all touchpoints — from employees to the market to in-store environments. And, we focus on serving industries that sell human experiences including financial, healthcare, sports and entertainment.


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