4 Ways Credit Unions Make Digital Marketing Center Stage
Many long-standing credit union marketing strategies have lost muscle in recent years, thanks to the advent of digital everything and the wildly changing business case for branches. The universe of posters, pamphlets and print ads has given way to search ads, social media and site optimization.
In turn, many credit union marketing teams are finding themselves forced to change their philosophies and even reconsider their hiring needs as marketing priorities shift from branches to digital. That's a tall order, but pros say there are a few simple ways credit unions can reinvent their marketing to compete in the world beyond branch walls.
1. Get rid of the campaign calendar.
Some credit unions are too campaign-driven, Ryan Ruud, founder of the Minneapolis-based credit union marketing firm Lake One Digital, said.
“And they are struggling – not just credit unions, but across the board,” he added. “They are struggling to catch up with the way consumers are actually looking for content and looking for products and services.”
Promoting home loans in the spring and auto loans in the fall, for example, ignores the way real people live, Ruud explained. Two-month promotions mean little to consumers with 24/7 access to information, and that's completely disrupting the way financial institutions market themselves, he said.
The solution: Focus on a digital sales funnel.
“Half the time, the first engagement with a credit union is they are out shopping for the lowest rate and the credit union wins,” he noted. “So, how do you move them through the funnel to get them to understand what a credit union is and what all the benefits in the credit union are? You need to have a digital touchpoint when that is the only engagement that you ever have.”
2. Stop focusing on print.
Those big racks of product brochures in the branch lobby are dinosaurs, said Joe Vernon, who is a marketing manager at the Vancouver, Wash.-based Gravitate, which does credit union marketing. Targeted ads on Facebook and other social media platforms are today's brochures, he said.
Credit unions also need to invest in search-engine optimization and paid search advertising, because shopping for accounts, loans and other financial products often begins with Google these days, he said. Credit union websites have to be dynamic and built to cross-sell, too.
“If the user's visiting the website and spending the time in the personal banking section, make sure that the content and the ads that are shown to the user are related to those products and services as opposed to just generic, static content,” he said.
Credit union marketing teams should also be producing blog posts, infographics, video and even animation.
“Start creating your target personas and start creating content that will speak to them,” Vernon said. “Start promoting it to them and not just posting it and praying and hoping they find it. Try to get in front of their faces a little bit. Just continue focus on creating that content and help educate them … something that conveys a message and inspires the audience to dig around a little bit.”
Credit unions also need to be sure their marketing people have experience writing for online audiences, as well as experience with social media headlines and email marketing, Vernon said.
“You need to write a headline that's gonna get them to stop scrolling and look at it, read it and then inspire them to click. So having someone who is really strong writing action-oriented headlines is definitely something that they’d want to look for, and then hiring someone with exceptional design for different platforms as well,” he said.
Credit union marketing teams have to be more integrated than ever with their IT teams, and credit unions need to hire marketers with modern skill sets, according to Roy Page, who is founder and CEO of Third Degree, which does marketing for credit unions.
“Marketing and IT have to become very good partners. An investment in IT is an investment in marketing because of the digital demand that the consumer has today,” he said.
Even seasoned marketing directors, managers and VPs may be missing some necessary skill sets, and many credit unions are hiring younger staff out of college who are more comfortable and experienced in the digital world, Page added.
Credit unions should make room in the budget, Page warned. The advent of digital media hasn't made marketing less expensive – in fact, it costs more today because of the talent required and because the communication channels are much more fragmented.
“And now we have what I call an ‘applosion,’ which is an explosion of applications and digital technologies,” Page added. “It's hard for a credit union and a marketer to filter through that, and even harder for a CEO to wrap his or her arms around that because they’re not necessarily in tune with it every day.”
4. Remember buy-in is the biggest priority.
Competing with huge financial institutions and their seven-figure marketing and technology budgets can be intimidating, but a willingness to pivot quickly can be a huge advantage in the digital era.
“I always think that if you can break it down into the smallest digestible pieces and deal with what is right in front of you, you are going to be successful. And that is going to be the best path to being successful, especially when you start dealing with digital where literally by the time you decide you want to tackle it or roll it into your strategic planning, it is going to be completely different,” Ruud said. “So just take it one step at a time and know that as long as you are moving forward, you are doing OK.”
Some credit unions face resistance from their own boards, particularly boards that lag in terms of diversity, age and consumer consumption, Page said.
“It starts with leadership, and it starts with the vision of the CEO and the board,” he said. “If they have a vision to be relevant, then they will find a way to address that. That's called innovation. And some may innovate and some may not. And the ones that don't are going to become part of another credit union.”