Digital Marketing Tune-Up

digital illustration of a colorful wrench made of circuitry
Stephanie Schwenn Sebring Photo
Contributing Writer
Fab Prose & Professional Writing

14 minutes

Use these seven strategies, tools and tips to jump-start your credit union’s marketing efforts.

The new year is well underway, the pandemic is, well, nothing new, and credit union marketers are tackling their own brand of seasonal maintenance by optimizing websites, content, ads and emails. Today’s best practices all strive to keep the member at the forefront. Here are some key digital marketing strategies and tactics to deploy in 2022, according to industry experts.

1. Focus on Member Experience

The member experience should guide everything from website development to content and feature enhancements to digital media and messaging when you overhaul your CU’s digital presence.

“This start-to-finish approach will help credit unions focus on the member journey and drive engagement and effectiveness,” explains Sally Dickter, SVP/marketing for CUES Supplier member Franklin Madison, Franklin, Tennessee. “It will also require integrating the real-life member experience—what people actually see and do online, such as filling out an application—with the virtual user experience, the tools that engage and enhance online conversion.”

It’s also vital to align digital strategies with member expectations, which includes communicating in the ways they prefer and to which they have become accustomed, says Megan Pannier, VP/marketing digital payment solutions for CUES Supplier member Fiserv, Brookfield, Wisconsin. “Make your website the digital hub—dynamic and engaging with minimal copy, not a repository for product brochures. Employ search engine optimization, so prospects can find you and existing members can find what they’re looking for.”

For greater effectiveness, integrate tools that enable an automated, seamless approach to digital marketing. Consider a content management platform for your website, advises Pannier, and a marketing automation tool to deploy targeted, dynamic content for member prospecting and to deepen existing relationships.

Keep members in mind when determining the look of your emails and website by keeping the digital design clean.

With a large variance of content, designers need to think through layouts and provide designs for numerous new scenarios to enrich the member experience, says Mark Ryan, co-founder and chief analyst officer at, an artificial intelligence platform provider for credit unions based in San Mateo, California. “The days of designing one to five marquee banners are going away; designers now need to think through dozens, even hundreds of scenarios with changing displays.”

Clean designs and less copy work best, agrees Chris Spicer, senior marketing manager at Jack Henry Digital, Monett, Missouri. “Sometimes it’s easy for operations and compliance teams to add a ton of details and disclaimers, but this can distract readers from the point. 

“Instead, find creative ways to appease both groups without losing the target audience’s interest, Spicer continues. “For example, feature ads with your promotional message and point to a landing page where the details and lengthy disclaimers live.”

An often-overlooked best practice stems from new member onboarding, whether the account is opened in-branch or online. “Create awareness and reinforce product benefits that complement a member’s account, particularly digital solutions that drive loyalty (like bill-pay and person-to-person payments), which can make or break a relationship early on,” suggests Pannier. 

“Quickly follow-up with a new member through email with value-proposition messaging and solutions that improve their banking experience and well-being,” she adds. “Equally important: Engage with longer-tenured members with product education.”

Elisa Rode
Kearley & Company
Credit unions get so excited about paid efforts and larger campaigns that they overlook the easy, low-hanging fruit: Tell your story through simple posts about who you are, why you exist and how you want to help.

2. Take a Holistic, Omnichannel Approach

Laurie Busby, managing partner at James & Matthew, Shirley, Massachusetts, is a proponent of the omnichannel approach to marketing, but with a few nuances. “Start by reviewing accessible data and identifying opportunities for cross-device campaigns,” says Busby. “Depending on your goals, a multi-channel campaign could target current or prospective members with OTT (over the top) video on a smart TV, or a digital ad on their favorite social channel or web searches, followed by a timely email offering product details.” An example of leveraging OTT would be commercials on streaming services like YouTube or Hulu that deliver content “over the top” of existing internet service rather than using traditional broadcast or cable TV.

Avoid isolated, siloed strategies by backing up communication through members’ preferred channels with reminders in other areas.

“Integrate multimedia tactics using known member preferences,” says Dickter. “For example, send direct mail to members who have attributes of mail responsiveness, followed by faster, lower-cost email reminders. For members with digital preferences, schedule a sequence of emails. And for web visitors who do not make a purchase, retarget them through email and social media ads.”

The key is to drive members to the digital banking app or the landing pages on your website or to encourage them to like, comment or follow your social posts, says Spicer. This pool of members represents the potential mindshare (i.e., consumer awareness) to target with cross-sell messaging within that digital channel.

“Algorithms for social post engagement can also determine the frequency and velocity of exposure to your audience’s news feed,” Spicer notes. “And for greater impact, involve all stakeholders; a common misstep is ignoring the potential of your network (and workforce) to boost engagement of social posts. Leverage your social media influencers on-staff by incentivizing them to engage with your posts.”

Credit unions often fall victim to spreading campaigns too thin and across too many media types, acknowledges Busby, while ignoring (or underutilizing) a few well-executed channels. “It can be from trying to satisfy too many stakeholders with varying goals and potential targets. Instead, maximize results from a few select channels before adding to the media stack.”

Busby advises selecting the mediums that drive measurable results in trackable key performance indicators and key performance actions. “To make the most of your marketing dollars, identify and prioritize the right KPIs for strategic objectives, and target audiences on marketing and advertising channels that deliver results.”

3. Understand and Leverage AI

Artificial intelligence, comprised of datasets and machine learning (ML), resides at the heart of digital marketing in 2022. 

Preetha Pulusani, CEO of DeepTarget, a digital marketing company based in Huntsville, Alabama, says that a credit union not employing AI will be left behind. “[AI] can personalize and add consistency to your messages—those welcomed by the recipient in the channel they prefer, to capture interest and loyalty. It can also boost leads and conversions.” 

Credit unions possess massive amounts of data, which allows AI and ML models to continually learn and predict the characteristics and behaviors of individual users more accurately. “AI can reveal the propensity of a user to purchase a loan or deposit product, help personalize campaigns and target offers,” Pulusani explains. “And it takes less time, potentially yielding better results rather than a human trying to determine a product-fit with limited data manually.”

Predicting member behavior is also critical to proactive member retention strategies. “It can increase a credit union’s competitiveness and wallet share—significant because the consumer’s desire for a PFI (primary financial institution) is waning,” adds Busby.

“People are moving away from using one primary financial institution, preferring to utilize products and services they need in the moment,” she continues. “AI bridges this gap, allowing credit unions to be more personal and at scale.”

Predicting member needs with a better understanding of what content resonates is another way AI impacts digital marketing—even changing how content is prepared. Pannier shares that Persado, a New York-based company, applies AI to marketing creative. Chase Bank has signed an agreement with Persado and found machines are outperforming humans in copywriting trials.

AI can directly enhance member service as well. “Some financial institutions are leveraging chatbots on their websites to respond to inquiries or guide users to appropriate content,” notes Pannier. “For example, third-party apps integrated into web platforms can present customized content based on if the individual is a first-time or returning user, by location and more, for increased lead generation and conversions.”

However, it’s important to remember that AI isn’t a magic tool that can immediately fix all digital marketing and service delivery problems. 

“AI is, undoubtedly, exciting in terms of engagement and enhancing the user experience,” reflects Elisa Rode, president of marketing consulting firm Kearley & Company, Fort Worth, Texas. “There is, however, growing concern about fundamental biases built into AI, and these could impact member groups—meaning AI cannot offer a universally positive experience for every member you have. 

“As with anything, do your homework, define objectives and goals, and then test a diverse group of members before you launch anything,” stresses Rode. “The last thing you want is to create pain points for your members and turn them off. Management and measurement and refining execution tactics can be a forgotten aspect of digital.”

4. Count on Zero- and First-Party Data

Zero-party data is a component of first-party data shared willingly and intentionally by members. 

Highly reliable, zero-party data goes beyond the standard personal information and behavioral data acquired in a customer relationship management system; it includes surveys, online registrations and forms through which members proactively provide context into their product, service and communication preferences. “This data drives a more personalized, relevant marketing approach,” explains Busby, “and is invaluable for deploying complex retargeting strategies, reaching high-value members or developing new, lookalike audiences.”

Zero-party data will also help prepare for a life without cookies. The data privacy landscape will continue to change, and marketing plans that rely heavily on third-party data will be less effective, notes Rode.

Browsers like Apple’s Safari have already implemented default settings that block third-party cookies, which track the presence of an online user across websites; Google unveiled its own plans for Chrome but subsequently delayed the end of cookies. “Apple has rolled out privacy updates, particularly Private Relay and App Tracking Transparency, which have impacted how advertisers run advertising and track performance on platforms like Facebook,” notes Busby. “As a result, highly targeted ad strategies will become increasingly limited as users opt-out of tracking.”

Pannier adds that conversion attribution accuracy will also decrease as marketers lose the ability to measure the impact of an ad against an intended outcome, like a page visit or form-fill, and the ability to track targeted audiences across multiple channels. “Overall, we’ll see lower conversions, higher CPAs (cost per acquisition), and we’ll have to establish new benchmarks to evaluate performance.”

Credit unions can adjust to these changes by relying on their first-party data (and cookies) that track basic data about a website’s visitors. “You can understand what a user did while visiting your site, see how often they visit and gain other basic analytics to develop or automate an effective marketing strategy,” continues Pannier. “You can also mine your CRM and transaction data to target more effectively.”

Searchability will remain untouched by these privacy changes, and a well-optimized web presence will help existing and prospective members find content and services across the web without cookies. A strong SEO strategy can also lead to significant organic traffic, mitigating the loss of reach.

“Spend time getting up to speed on SEO and how to build your SEO strategy—and if you don’t have the resources to manage your site and site optimization in-house, ask colleagues about their preferred partners,” advises Rode. 

Another area commonly ignored is organic social growth. “Credit unions get so excited about paid efforts and larger campaigns that they overlook the easy, low-hanging fruit: Tell your story through simple posts about who you are, why you exist and how you want to help,” Rode says. 

5. Optimize Digital Ads

The impending demise of third-party cookies will certainly impact the effectiveness of ad retargeting across all of a user’s browsing activity. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t leverage zero- or first-party data to retarget users through your own channels.

“It’s effective for brand and product reinforcement because it hits users that are familiar with your brand or services,” says Busby. “Historically, most digital tactics relied on one data point to determine when to serve an ad. Now, predictive modeling can evaluate and weigh hundreds of data points to serve a highly targeted, personalized digital ad.”

To maximize retargeting for multiple segments, Busby offers three tactics:

  • Web-Based Pixel: This tactic re-engages users and/or members by targeting ads based on behaviors on a credit union’s website. A user’s behavior is tracked by implementing a pixel or snippet of code onto the website. Targeting can be based on general web visits or users who have visited specific product pages on the site.
  • List-Based: This tactic utilizes existing CRM data to target ads precisely. Lists can be segmented based on specific products and services with ads tailored to a member’s needs. 

    Both web-based and list-based approaches are omnichannel and can be used across many platforms and media channels. Examples include digital audio, connected TV/OTT, online video and YouTube, display advertising, social media and even search.
  • Ad Engagement-Based: This tactic builds upon previous campaign efforts by serving ads to members and prospective members previously exposed to an ad. Depending on the campaign’s objective, the target audience could have watched a video to completion or engaged with ad content. 

One example of a cross-platform tactic is serving OTT video ads to a broader audience, then retargeting those who viewed the video with a direct response digital ad. This results in traffic to the site and provides information for subsequent KPAs. Engagement-based ads are an excellent tactic to reinforce messaging and support awareness-based channels.

“Additional ad strategies include testing contextual advertising and predictive modeling across omnichannel campaigns,” Busby says. “Test tactics against cookie- and device ID-based campaigns; set benchmarks to understand campaign performance. This will provide insight into how performance may evolve.”

Increasing conversion rates must also become a priority. Ryan notes that most credit union websites have less than a 2% overall conversion rate. “This low rate can be debilitating for digital initiatives (such as ad campaigns) because it doesn’t make sense to send traffic to a website that can’t convert well. As credit unions update their digital strategies, creating a highly relevant and satisfying website that converts should be step number one.”

Megan Pannier
VP/Marketing Digital Payment Solutions
It’s critical not to deploy the same email tactics you used 10 years ago.

6. Take Email to the Next Level

The use of embedded media, compelling visuals and animation is becoming the norm in email marketing, as is the use of AI to improve targeting, content and delivery timeliness. 

“It’s critical not to deploy the same email tactics you used 10 years ago,” Pannier explains. “Leverage a best-in-class email service provider or marketing automation platform to deliver contextually relevant content geared towards different member segments.”

Sophisticated platforms offer capabilities like predictive analytics and lead scoring for ongoing testing for subject lines, visuals and calls to action. They can also support automated trigger campaigns to reach members with the right content. 

But don’t forget the lower-tech best practice that applies to all marketing content: Keep content pithy.

“Credit unions can’t afford to push lengthy messages, especially if most are reading emails on their smartphones,” says Spicer. “Subject lines should not be repeated in the body of the message, and the first two lines (of your promotional message) should be straightforward, giving the recipient a reason to click through to the promotion. Move the longer message, campaign details and disclaimers to a landing page.”

Follow up, but don’t overcommunicate, agrees Pannier. “Don’t craft messages to be viewed on desktop—always create for mobile-first viewing.” (Get more advice about successful email tactics from Pannier, Spicer and other industry experts.)

7. Own the Relationship

Despite the growing adoption of predictive analytics, some FIs today are moving away from the next-best-product marketing approach. Barry Kirby, SVP of CuneXus, a technology company based in Santa Rosa, California, believes CUs should continually offer solutions instead and condition members to shop with the credit union first, rather than go elsewhere. 

“The ‘next-best’ product isn’t necessarily the best thing for your member,” says Kirby. “Often, it’s a product the credit union is eager to promote. For example, if a member has a checking account elsewhere, they probably don’t need another checking account with your CU. Instead, focus on providing members with options that are accessible to them and allow them to make their own educated decisions, much like a retail experience.”

Also consider shifting from the use of third-party applications to hosting more services in-house. “A CU’s data should always reside within the credit union and not released to a central repository,” Kirby explains. “Don’t let another company represent your brand—whether it’s a call center, student loan product, mortgage, car site or something else. You’d be giving away the keys to the kingdom. It’s imperative for CUs to refocus themselves on owning the relationship with their members. Too many credit unions are redirecting the eyeballs of their members to different platforms, ultimately diminishing their own relevance.” 

Kirby suggests that a common mistake CUs make is trying to meet too many demands outside their branded environment: “If you can’t do it better than other vendors out there, don’t do it at all.”

Dickter says not leveraging the power of the credit union brand is a common misstep. “Branding should center on the credit union’s name and logo as a source of engagement and credibility that gets attention and purchases,” she explains. “The tone and visuals of digital marketing must also speak to what members emotionally feel and rationally need.”  cues icon 

Owner of Fab Prose & Professional Writing, Stephanie Schwenn Sebring assists credit unions, industry suppliers, and any company wanting great content and a clear brand voice. Follow her on Twitter @fabprose.

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