By Sheryl S. Jackson

Constantly evolving technology and new ways to reach people give marketers an ever-increasing array of tools to enhance marketing efforts, but what is the best way to evaluate a new trend or technology’s value to a credit union marketing strategy?

Digital signage in two River City Federal Credit Union branches in San Antonio are the latest addition to the credit union’s marketing toolbox. “Digital signage provides flexibility that printed promotional signage does not,” points out Carrie Geyer, vice president and chief experience officer. The ability to change messages, share different types of information and update signage quickly is a cost- and time-saving way to keep marketing messages fresh, she says.

Flexibility and timeliness of messaging has also significantly increased social media marketing since 2019 — a fact that Richard Dedor, marketing manager of Community Choice Credit Union in Des Moines, Iowa, knows well. He joined the credit union three weeks before the COVID pandemic was recognized and one of his first tasks was to take an organization that was not previously active on social media and roll out an aggressive social media strategy — almost overnight.

“We had not been active on social media but as we began to shut down our branches, we became more aggressive in social media advertising and posting to make sure we stayed in front of our members and kept them up to date on how to reach us,” says Dedor. “Social media is a double-edged sword. You have to balance content to keep people engaged, and you have to make the messages about them, not you.”

It’s about creating a mix of serious and fun messages that include product promotions, logistical information about branch hours and fun posts that promote engagement to avoiding message fatigue, says Dedor. “You also have to review your Google or Facebook analytics to see if your messages are effective and be ready to adjust them.”

For one campaign promoting a specific loan, Dedor noticed a disparity between the number of people clicking through to apply for the loan and the number of loan applications approved. “I went back to our lending team and found that we had not been prepared with all elements to fulfill all the requests that came in,” he explains. The team made the needed adjustments, and Dedor adjusted the messaging and successfully re-launched the promotion.

At the beginning of the pandemic shutdowns, advertising buys through his institution’s credit union service organization (CUSO) were significant because there was a need to increase presence to reach members and potential new members through those channels. While advertising volume is still a part of approach, they are now more strategic in their ad buys, says Dedor.

The ability to launch marketing campaigns quickly on digital channels does not mean that reviews for compliance with regulations can be overlooked. “We work closely with our compliance officer on any compliance-related language and maintain a robust approval process in that regard,” says Dedor. “We worked a lot faster during COVID, but that did not provide any added compliance concerns,” he says.

“Due to our strong partnership with our compliance officers, we are always confident that anytime a marketing message goes out the door that we are following the requisite rules,” says Dedor. “It is that partnership that provides us the freedom to find the right creative message; a shared trust in each other’s role in the process of growing our credit union.”

Engaging Community During COVID

A key component of Community Choice Credit Union has been sponsorship of sports entertainment venues as well as the Iowa State Cyclones, which includes signage seen by fans in different venues throughout the market area. “We also have business development people at the Iowa State Fair to promote our credit union and build our email list,” says Dedor. When all of these big event opportunities disappeared, Dedor turned to social media to support community engagement and collect emails, which included prize drawings for gaming systems, trips and even block parties to give people a chance to get together safely during COVID.

“We gave people a chance to win a block party that included our Community Choice entertainment UNbanking truck, music and prizes,” says Dedor. “We set a limit of 50 people, but the submission form included the statement that the party was subject to city approval and guidelines.” Over 400 entries were received for the block party give-away.

Sometimes low-tech is an effective marketing strategy. “As a small credit union, we lean on our community to help us reach potential new members through educational programs,” says Geyer. By working with the YWCA, Family Services Association, San Antonio Housing Authority, the local Mexican consulate and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, River City staff have opportunities to meet in person with people as they offer financial wellness information. “Obviously, during the pandemic, the in-person classes were stopped, but we have found a partner to offer the financial seminars online, and we’ve used Zoom for some sessions.”

River City has identified small businesses as a new opportunity to grow revenue and a grassroots, low-tech approach has been very effective, says Geyer. Two business development staff members visit local small businesses to set up meetings to discuss the owners’ needs and identify ways that the credit union can help them meet their goals. “The Paycheck Protection Program helped us launch this effort to reach small businesses, and we created print and digital materials specific to that outreach audience,” she says.

“We don’t adopt new technology or marketing trends just for the sake of doing something new, we first make sure it will help our members get the information they need, and then we make sure we can support it,” says Geyer. “I have one marketing person, so before we commit to an online learning system, a social media channel or any new technology, we identify who will do what and make sure it can be supported by us or our technology partner.” She adds, “Without the assurance that a marketing program can be sustained, the credit union is just wasting members’ money.”