Digital Strategies Reward Credit Unions
While more credit unions are leveraging digital marketing strategies, multiple options can make it intimidating and challenging to figure out what works and doesn't work. CU Times asked four credit union marketing experts to share their insights into which digital marketing strategies succeeded and flopped this year in the hopes it can give executives some clarity and ideas on what may work for their credit unions.
Marne Franklin, digital director for Your Marketing Co. in Greenville, S.C., said what she has seen work for credit unions is consistency when implementing a digital marketing strategy.
“With our client credit unions who dedicated themselves to digital strategy throughout the year, they were rewarded with increased numbers for loans and membership,” she said. “We have one client who has a relatively small marketing budget but they made the commitment to have a digital presence on Google search this year and they have seen big rewards from that. They are averaging a click-through rate that is more than double the national average. While there are ebbs and flows with the results from week to week and month to month, they have witnessed the importance of an ongoing strategy.”
Credit unions that sporadically give digital marketing a try here or there don't see positive results because they aren't always catching members and potential members at the right point in the purchase cycle.
“Since we can't always identify the moment a person is going to search for an auto loan or a mortgage, it is imperative that the message is consistent and available at all times,” Franklin said. “That's why digital marketing is such a valuable tool. It provides a platform for the credit union message that is omnipresent.”
But what doesn't work for credit unions is when they send emails or social media messages to non-targeted lists without a comprehensive strategy.
“When a member who got an auto loan last week receives an email about a hot new auto loan offer, they are basically being told that you could have gotten a better deal but we didn't bother to tell you about it, and we don't actually know you or your lifestyle,” she said. “Similarly, Facebook ads are a relatively easy tool for credit unions to market their products and services to both current and prospective members. However, it is easy to boost a post or run an ad with insufficient targeting.”
Kristen Harrison, director of business development for Web Strategies Inc. in Midlothian, Va., said many credit unions are starting to see the benefit of structuring their marketing to meet demand rather than following a predefined structure or calendar as the traditional monthly or quarterly promotional calendar does little to serve members.
“Instead, developing digital campaigns that reach prospective members when they’re actively seeking specific financial products can have a better result — especially in the long run when online campaigns can be optimized significantly over time,” she explained. “Search ad campaigns, highly targeted display or social campaigns and marketing automation can work together to increase the chances of making meaningful marketing impressions to the right individuals at the right time.”
Interestingly enough, Harrison has found while search remains a dominant channel, it is often overlooked by credit unions.
“Eighty to 90% of purchases begin with an online search — why wouldn't it be the same for loans?” Harrison questioned. “Prospective members will first see the credit unions who invest in a strong search engine presence. This increases the chance of acquiring that member.”
A common mistake that credit unions make, she has found, is that they buy digital ad space they “think” potential members might see versus matching ads to someone's intent or a specific profile.
“In 2017, digital ad platforms are smarter than us at finding the most relevant prospects,” she said. “We should let them.”
Harrison also said credit unions who focused on driving website traffic instead of driving applications didn't invest their marketing dollars as well as they could have this year.
“We shouldn't finish a marketing campaign without knowing exactly what it did to drive loan interest,” Harrison explained. “The tools are all there. They’re just not being used.”
James Robert Lay, founder and CEO of the Digital Growth Institute in Houston, Texas, said his credit union clients that transformed their websites from glorified online brochures to “websites that sell” have produced quantifiable digital leads.
For example, one of his credit union clients reduced the total number of web pages by nearly 80% and substantially increased by 290% the site's call-to-action items or content with call-to-action prompts. Those call-to-action items included “request a call back,” “download a consumer's guide,” “listen to a podcast,” “watch a video,” “attend a webinar,” “read an article,” and “take a quiz.”
“They saw a 1,400% increase in digital leads,” Lay said. “Furthermore, they were able to attribute an additional $2.2 million in net interest income from digital sales leads alone to the bottom line. Keep in mind this attribution is from digital leads which is counted separate from their traditional online loan application.”
Lay explained these call-to-action items and related content are what many consumers search for on the web to get reliable, accurate information and guidance when making important decisions about their finances. Providing this type of content can position your credit union as a trusted resource, advocate and guide, and attract new members.
Internet radio marketing has been one of the biggest pain points for Lay's credit union clients this year. For three different credit unions, he uncovered that 40% to 50% of traffic from an internet radio service was bot traffic. Every time Lay contacted the internet radio service about this issue, Lay said bot traffic decreased and digital leads increased for the credit unions.
“Bot traffic is something we are seeing continuing to rise and is a big problem with digital advertising, particularly display ads, and credit union marketers must also be aware of changing consumer behavior as they continue to implement ad blockers,” he said.
To avoid these issues, Lay suggested credit unions should consider shifting ad dollars from display ads to Google PPC and remarketing mix that can generate more digital leads than display ads. He also recommended that credit union invest in creating original content that can help boost their SEO rankings in their local markets.
Kent Dicken, owner of iDiz Inc., an Indianapolis-based advertising and marketing firm, has seen his credit union clients achieve success when they pick a few things they can do well and commit the resources to produce quality content, quality offers and ROI tracking.
“They stayed true to the awareness/consideration/decision (of the) buyer's journey, and used multiple channels,” he said. “There is no shortcut, no magic pill. You have to help an audience notice you, and gradually get them familiar with what you offer before you ask for the loan and ask them to join.”
Dicken has found that because the digital media product mix is unique for each credit union, he has seen it work best when combined with offline and traditional media.
“One client does a lot of blogging [content marketing] combined with constant personal community events and outreach. They’ve released several unusual and innovative new loan products to create buzz and position them as the lender of choice,” he said. “Another client does quite a bit of outreach on Facebook, and is starting to put more resources that way and move into actual advertising on Facebook, in addition to email. And another [client] has recently doubled down on content — “blogging with more purpose”, you might say — and is getting more serious about SEO for key products, along with expanding a very robust email marketing program and even doing more A/B testing.”
Dicken recommends all credit unions should do more A/B type testing to determine what marketing messages are better than others. While it's easy to set up A/B testing on most platforms, it does require more time, creative work and money so it often is skipped.
He noted that throughout the year, credit unions have been dropping content marketing programs or branded offerings by third parties because they didn't mesh well with credit unions.
“It's not that they don't work,” he said. “The disconnect seemed to be more that they were more complicated or convoluted than the credit unions thought, and thus they never put the personal resources toward them.”