SC Telco and The Brand Leader began working together in 2014 after Geoff and his team were recommended by a consultant we were working with, about a need for website design and branding advice.
Since then, the professional relationship between the two companies has evolved and expanded into something much deeper and much more remarkable—a genuine friendship and partnership based on mutual respect, shared values, and a common vision.
Listening and Learning
“We first started working with The Brand Leader because we put out an RFP. We narrowed our search and met with three different companies,” said Brian McKay, the Chief Operations Officer at SC Telco. “When we left the meeting with Geoff and the creative team, the consensus among everyone was that this was the only group that really listened to us. Other groups we met with seemed like they were trying to sell themselves and their services. In the conference room at The Brand Leader, we felt like we were heard, like the team got us—and like they thought our story was cool and wanted to help us tell it. We had more or less decided by the time we got to our cars.”
Once the relationship was formalized, the creative team got to work on the project. As the project developed, however, everyone realized that SC Telco needed more than a new website. They needed a new identity.
“At the time, we thought all we needed was a quick website update, but as we met with The Brand Leader team, we kept questioning our premise. Does our look and feel truly match who we are? Geoff and his team challenged us about who we are and how we present ourselves.” Brian said. “Because they had shown their commitment to listening and getting our story right, I trusted them to guide us through a rebranding. And, I appreciated their willingness to make recommendations and go the extra mile.”
As part of the rebranding, SC Telco worked through ideas for a new visual identity, along with a stronger, more cohesive brand voice, that would fully encompass their culture and values.
“The new look modernized us and brought us out of the Eighties,” Brian said. “More importantly, it got to the heart of our mission. We chose a compass as our new logo because that’s what we see as our main function: to provide guidance and direction that helps our members improve their lives.”
The Ongoing Relationship:
Defining the Scope
“The rebranding experience was a great learning experience for me and for our organization,” said Brian. “There was a continual redefining of the project and the scope, but always with our needs at the forefront. When we completed the project, we had a decision to make. What’s the next step? Where do we go from here? Do we see value in keeping this partnership going? Ultimately we decided, yes, we see great value in keeping the relationship.”
As part of the ongoing partnership, The Brand Leader not only developed new pages for the existing website but also created an entire subsite dealing specifically with auto financing for new and used vehicles, both to better serve members as well as aggressively move the SEO needle with search engines as part of new member acquisition strategy.
“The Brand Leader wanted to understand our story from that first meeting, and they kept asking those questions and helping us define ourselves,” Brian said. “For example, much of our business comes from our lending services, particularly auto financing, but our online presence didn’t reflect that reality until we started working with an outside agency. The process of someone with an outside perspective trying to fully understand what you do—also gives you more clarity about what you do.”
Partnering with an Agency
According to Brian, in addition to expanding and refocusing SC Telco’s brand identity, having The Brand Leader available for consulting, insights and marketing strategy has given him more peace of mind and increased his ability to investigate new opportunities.
“As COO for an organization of this size, one of the biggest challenges I see is our key people being spread too thin. We get so caught up in actually doing our story that we don’t have the time to reflect and tell it,” Brian said. “We’ve always been good at execution, but what we’ve lacked is that higher-level strategic thinking and guidance about what we could or should be doing. The confidence that I have knowing that someone else is out there, paying attention to our brand, how we look, and what new avenues we should be pursuing—that’s invaluable to me.”
SC Telco has also realized a strong ROI from partnering with an agency.
“The quality of work and the consistency is much higher now, across the board, and it’s freed us up to not feel the pressure to hire a strategic marketing executive and still feel comfortable that that role is being handled at a high level,” said Brian. “We get to have a marketing department of one. We get quality we can rely on, consistency we can rely on. If I had to go out and hire a top-notch graphics person, developer or multiple developers, creative director, copywriters—it would quickly outpace the investment we’re making with The Brand Leader.”
Deepening the Partnership and Expanding Collaboration
As with any relationship, the partnership between SC Telco and The Brand Leader has had a few challenges and mistakes, but both companies have been able to communicate effectively and work together to resolve any problems that arise.
“I’d say the biggest challenge has just been understanding our business fully and all the nuances of what you can and cannot say, legally,” Brian said. “There are all these regulations and compliance issues about what logo has to go where and what language you have to include—even we have a hard time keeping up with it, and we deal with it every day. The way we’ve handled that, and one of the things I most appreciate about my relationship with The Brand Leader, is that I feel I can pick up the phone and call or text Geoff at any time. I have the ability to reach out instantly and know that I will get answers and get issues resolved quickly.”
The natural growing pains that occur as a partnership deepens have also been handled the same way, with honesty and collaboration.
“Early on, right as we were making that transition and engaging The Brand Leader as our agency of record, we had a meeting where communication just wasn’t going as well as we wanted it to,” said Brian. “You have to understand, the credit union had never had an agency before, so we really didn’t know what to expect. We were able to have a really honest conversation where we explained what we had expected and some issues we saw. They took the feedback and made the changes immediately. Of course, we discovered that we had some changes to make, too, but we wouldn’t have seen that if their team hadn’t taken the conversation in the spirit of collaboration, assuming that we both wanted this to work and we were both feeling our way through it. In my view, that meeting ended up enhancing the relationship.”
Looking to the Future
Brian believes that many credit unions have lagged because, nationally, they’ve never had a great voice or been strategic about getting their messaging out there.
“We’re not like the big banks, so we don’t have a huge marketing budget. For perspective, we have about 6% of the national market,” Brian said. “In general, credit union messaging is not very good. It’s disjointed. For example, a lot of people don’t consider credit unions because of concerns about convenience. They’re worried they won’t be able to get to their money or make deposits when they travel. Did you know that there’s a national cooperative network of credit unions that allows members to make free withdrawals and deposits while traveling? When you look at the network, credit unions are the second largest financial institution in the country in terms of number of locations. Most people have no idea, and that’s a messaging failure. To grow, we need to have a relevant, national voice, because what we lack in size we more than make up for in purpose and story.”
He is hopeful that more credit unions will follow SC Telco’s lead and consider the value of a marketing partner in the near future.
“Some of the stuff we’re working on now could have legs, and that gets me really excited. It’s thoughtful, engaging work that could get some attention nationally,” Brian said. “All in all, if I had to boil the benefit of partnering with The Brand Leader down to one thing, that would be it. The high quality of the work, that skill level in execution, combined with a deep understanding of our purpose and corresponding core values. I’d say that’s the main difference between a vendor and a partner. With a vendor, you keep them at arm’s length and dictate expectations. With a partner there’s negotiation, compromise, and continued growth. When you find a partner that’s talented, honest, has like-minded core values, and has a genuine desire to see the relationship be the best it can be—those are the ones you hold onto.”