First United Bank: Better Culture, Better Brand

August 20, 2019 | blog | By Mike Sullivan
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This month, we’re talking about the impact a company’s culture has on its brand. If you haven’t read the first two blogs in this three-part series, check out “Your Company’s Culture Can Make or Break Your Brand” — the story of how the Wall Street big bank culture helped make a mess of America – and “Culture Is Your Brand beyond Words” – which examines the role of brand and culture plays is a company’s brand. For our final entry on the topic, we have a very different story about a very different kind of bank.

Greg Massey is the CEO of First United Bank, headquartered on Main Street in Durant, Oklahoma. The address alone is sufficient for identifying theirs as a subcategory of the larger banking industry. First United Bank is not a large national bank, and Massey is no Wall Street banker.

First United is a community bank with branches throughout Oklahoma and Texas, and Massey is a purpose-driven banker. Catch him in full stride on stage at his annual stakeholder meeting and you’ll hear more about leading with love and creating meaningful impact than you will about interest rates or investments. That’s because his leadership is driven by a personal purpose founded on faith and fortified by the belief that a bank is uniquely positioned to facilitate far more than financial transactions.

It’s transformative experiences for all the bank’s stakeholders — from employees to customers — that ignite Massey’s passion for what’s possible at First United.

He’s on a quest to build a bank capable of delivering transformative impact at every turn. It’s Massey’s deeply personal sensibility about the good things a bank can do for people and communities that drives his vision; and this vision is both informed and driven by an acute awareness that financial stress destroys lives.

When he shares his insights on banking with finance students at universities, his talks are less about money and more about marriage. He talks about the toll debt takes on families, the causative role of finances in divorce, and the responsibility of bankers to offer credit carefully because if it. Massey speaks about financial challenges and the harm they inflict on people’s lives in a manner and tone you might expect from a deeply concerned friend.

It’s this compassion for the people and communities the bank serves that inspired the headline of his favorite First United billboard which reads, “What’s better, twice the house or half the mortgage?” It’s an unexpected sentiment in an industry that rewards head over heart, but it’s evident at every turn, underpinning the bank’s mission to help its customers with empathy and through education.

Conscious leaders build conscious cultures.

Massey’s leadership is characteristic of a small but growing group of companies led by conscious leaders who eschew personal ambition and individual accomplishment for personal growth and development as leaders. In fact, Massey is a highly engaged champion of the conscious capitalism movement described by its founder, Whole Foods CEO John Mackey and co-author Raj Sisodia in their best-selling book, “Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business.” The movement’s mission is nothing short of elevating humanity through good business, a business philosophy that drives not only virtuous corporate behavior, but real results.

In his book, “Firms of Endearment: How World-Class Companies Profit from Passion and Purpose,” Sisodia cites research demonstrating that consciously-led, publicly traded companies outperformed the S&P 500 index by a factor of 10.5 from 1996 to 2011. A Harvard Business Review of the book had this to say about the exceptional performance of consciously-led companies:

“And why, in the end, should that be a surprise? Conscious companies treat their stakeholders better. As a consequence, their suppliers are happier to do business with them. Employees are more engaged, productive, and likely to stay. These companies are more welcome in their communities and their customers are more satisfied and loyal. The most conscious companies give more, and they get more in return. The inescapable conclusion: it pays to care, widely and deeply.”

These results hold up for First United Bank, whose annual growth rate compares to those high performers cited in “Firms of Endearment.” First United dramatically outpaces its banking industry peers, whose forecast year-over-year growth hovers between one and two percent.

Of course, nothing happens without conscious leadership and the culture it creates.

For better or for worse, it’s an inescapable fact that company leadership drives corporate culture. From the C-suite to the synagogue, we look to our leaders for all the important social cues about how to conduct ourselves as we try to fit into the groups that fill our lives with meaning. The academic and popular business literature written about the way culture influences organizational behavior is vast, indeed. What’s discussed much less often is the powerful advantage that accrues to those companies that understand how culture can be used to create truly extraordinary brand distinction.

The key is congruence, and it’s the reason First United Bank’s brand position can never be co-opted by Chase Bank — or any other competitor.

When a company’s brand is tightly aligned with its culture, the result is a powerfully attractive clarity of purpose that resonates deeply with customers.

That resonance serves as the basis for what the author of the seminal work on challenger branding describes as a lighthouse identity.

In “Eating the Big Fish,” Adam Morgan describes this as the kind of identity that’s so radiantly clear that consumers use it to navigate the category. It becomes the very basis for comparison among its competitive set and often more broadly. Think Starbucks, Apple, and Dove.

The basis for the kind of brand and cultural congruence that allows for a brand to shine in this way can always be mapped back to the way a company’s employees behave. After all, your brand is what people think it’s like to do business with you.

MIKE SULLIVAN is president at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency and a top Dallas advertising agency for digital, social, mobile and user experience. For more about challenger branding, advertising and marketing, leadership, culture and other inspirations that will drive your success, visit our blog BARK! The Voice of the Underdog and catch up on all of our posts.

For more about LOOMIS, or to discuss how we can help your company succeed, CLICK HERE

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Mike Sullivan

President at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency

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