Digital Marketing Evolves

Blue Morpho butterfly sitting on green leaves
Stephanie Schwenn Sebring Photo
Contributing Writer
Fab Prose & Professional Writing

10 minutes

Break free from traditional thinking with these digital trends. 

Marketing in the digital world is changing crazy-fast. Whether you’re just getting started or flying above the competition, take stock of the trends and get ready for the challenges ahead.

Mobile-First Strategy

If mobile marketing is not a priority, it’s time to realign your energies, talent and budget. “Transitioning to mobile-first in your marketing execution isn’t optional­—it’s essential,” says Alexander Kesler, founder and president of inSegment Inc., Boston. “The extent of mobile engagement by consumers is so pervasive that it can’t be ignored by any business; all marketing must be optimized for mobile, first.”

“People aren’t slowing down anytime soon when it comes to using their phones,” reflects Alexa Morris, digital marketing manager at $1 billion iQ Credit Union, Vancouver, Wash. “Digital is where you need to be to stay competitive, especially with the number of neobanks [like Moven and Simple] and alternative payment methods popping up.”

And it’s not just the pace of change that’s daunting.

“You need the right internal and external support and expertise to successfully execute your digital plan­—from building intelligent strategies, accessing the right tools, analyzing data to buying digital media,” explains Karen McGaughey, VP/client services, principal for CUES Supplier member Weber Marketing Group, Seattle. “Best practice marketing strategy is evolving rapidly with advanced targeting capabilities. Rather than marketing to a broad demographic audience, now you can target narrow segments. An audience that was once targeted as a homogenous group is comprised of many smaller segments. This creates greater opportunity to define and manage a relevant and meaningful member journey map experience that drives increased member loyalty and engagement.”    

Digital May Mean Redefining Your Business

“Breaking free from legacy systems and traditional thinking is also vital to digital success,” says James Robert Lay, founder and CEO of Digital Growth Institute, Houston. “And the traditional business model may no longer be effective or even adequate.”

“Marketers must move from the reactionary (cost-center) mentality but view themselves as growth strategists—and execute a digital plan around their member’s buying journey—including awareness, consideration, purchase, adoption and advocacy.”

Marketers tend to dwell on the awareness and purchase stages. “Instead, nurture the consideration stage. This is where your greatest opportunity lies,” says Lay. “Creating a digital blueprint with best practices will keep you on track, from defining your digital purpose to implementing the right content.”

A blueprint will also help you discern  what message to use at different times and in different locations. For example, if a member is looking at your credit card page today, you can use a banner ad spot on your online banking page to remind her about your cards the next time she visits.

Extrapolate the Right Data

To build your digital blueprint, you will need data to see where the member is on their sales journey. “Who is coming to your website; what are they doing; and what products are they seeking?” asks Kesler. Everything is recorded and tracked. See where your members have traveled digitally. Have they clicked on an auto loan offer? Visited Zillow to search home prices? Have they clicked on an investment, travel or business opportunity? Serve content relevant to what your data is telling you.

There are techniques to see which sites your members have visited. “At inSegment, we use a combination of first- and third-party data. For activity on a CU’s site, we use tracking tags to segment audiences based on activity. For third-party sites, like Zillow, we partner with third-party data providers,” including Lotame, Oracle BlueKai and the Data Alliance. “We then leverage that data to target prospects for financial products like mortgages, student or auto loans.”

“Your transaction information and analytics will help you to connect the dots, turn information into insight, and enable you to give recommendations or advice based on your members’ needs,” says Stu Fisher, president of Sentient Consulting, San Francisco and a former credit union executive.

He recommends you build out your analytics first:

  • Ask questions before you start. What issue, concern or need are you looking to solve for your members?  
  • Drive solutions by strategy. Quantify success by key performance indicators (i.e., downloads or applications).
  • Acquire the talent and resources you need to deliver the strategy. Work with an agency or outside consultant if you need added horsepower.
  • Analyze how you collect data;
  • is the data clean and accessible?

Embrace transactional data. Follow the same process Google does with its “big data” on a smaller scale. (CUs have access to a lot of user data, Fisher says. There is an opportunity to connect the dots between transactional data, browsing history, call center contacts, etc., to provide better insights and advice to members.)

Engage members. Understand why they may opt in or opt out of your content. Ask IT to assist with the data analytics. Realize the value of your data and leverage it appropriately.

Court Them With Content    

The demand for customer-centric or “smart content” will not fade, stresses Kesler. “Divide your website into defined segments with tabs and landing pages featuring rich content. Review transactional data and optimize content to where your buyer is on their sales journey.”

With this enhanced targeting strategy, followed by retargeting messaging (ads that follow the consumer around the web based on previous searches), you’ll see greater conversion rates, “up to 70 percent higher,” says McGaughey. Staying disciplined with a digital road map and customized content can help you to achieve more conversions and key success indicators. “There is also a huge population of millennials, most of whom are more than willing to share information about themselves,” she says, “but with the expectation that the content you provide in exchange is relevant.”

Morris sees a growing number of CUs “courting” members strategically with content. “For us, content serves as a guide and is much more subtle than direct selling.” Gated content (accessible via an email address) also plays a role in onboarding and is used much earlier in the cycle, even before a prospect opens an account.

For search engine optimization, Lay recommends that CUs produce 3,000 new words per month of original content. “This is the problem with canned content,” he adds. “Google’s not crawling it. For you to maximize SEO, your website and blog content must be original. Quality long-form content, such as an e-book, produces a lot of value and can live for up to two years on your site, versioned out [in smaller pieces] for your blog and social channels.”

Understand what matters most to people, stresses Lay. What are your members stressed about? Speak to these pain points. Offer help with their financial future. And use content to ease their pain points, such as buying a home, finding the perfect car or saving for retirement.

Show, Not Tell

Jim Pond, a partner at James & Matthew, Boston, a digital advertising agency, believes visuals, converting the written word to a video or graphic, is important. “It’s not enough anymore to inform people,” he stresses. “People want to be engaged, enlightened and entertained. Create visual content that sells a lifestyle, not a product, but the desired outcome or solution.  

CUs also help people to manage their financial lives. “This is a huge opportunity to get your brand visually in front of members every day and, frankly, a squandered one,” adds Pond.

“Leverage your data to ensure visual messages are spot-on.” When it comes to video production, consider a blend of internal and external talent—internal for tactical needs requiring speed, and external for the more strategic, high-profile campaigns.  

“Whether your members prefer video, financial wellness guides or infographics, all require relevant content,” reiterates Morris. “View the experience from the end user’s perspective. This will help you to see if your product positioning and content is aligning with the right channels and KPIs.”  

AI and A/B  

Today, artificial intelligence has gone from a “big idea” to actionable implementation. “For CUs, it started with fraud detection, watching for patterns and deviations,” explains Amy McGraw, VP/marketing for $650 million Tropical Financial Credit Union, Miramar, Fla. “Now we watch these patterns for different reasons—to personalize and enhance the member experience.”

Siri and Echo already use AI to anticipate the needs of their users; so do Facebook and other social channels. Banking apps that use AI, like Qapital, are also bent on disrupting the landscape.

“We’ve talked about big data for years with no real way to parse it and make it work,” adds McGraw. “With AI, we can now make sense of it. For example, by using predictive or propensity modeling, a CU can grasp more efficiently what it is (financial product or service) the consumer is seeking. Then, it can serve the right message at the right time for a more personalized experience, increasing engagement and conversions.”

Chat bots can serve members with answers to questions in real time, based on how members are searching for information. McGraw predicts these advancements will result in “hyper-personalized” sales and service and nurture the one-on-one member experience.

Fisher likes how Trim is using bots through its Facebook interface, which self-describes as AI for your financial life. The company’s website claims “in five to 10 years—and hopefully sooner!—Trim will be able to manage basic financial decisions for you.”

Another example is American Express, which has taken an avant-garde approach in using bots for customer service, he says. The Amex bot  sends cardholders updates through Facebook Messenger when a purchase is made with the card. It can also answer questions about account balance, payment due date and special offers.

Consider, too, that while overall app usage is up 11 percent, growth is slowing and, according to, adoption rates for new apps may come at the expense of another. A user’s time is still a finite resource.

However, consumers are using their favorite apps more than ever, with the use of instant messaging surging. “Why not use this to your favor?” asks McGraw. Consider implementing bots to engage in your members’ favorite channels—such as instant notifications through Facebook Messenger. Use it to communicate regarding a member’s loan application, for example, so the member feels engaged or can ask questions along the way. More common questions may be answered by a bot, or the member can choose to connect with a real person.

Meanwhile, A/B testing, where marketers can test the impact of changes to a message, such as the color, image, offer or call to action, is on the rise—and it’s so easy with digital, whether for honing your daily minutiae or making major campaign changes. “Gone are the days of having to wait for a full campaign to end before evaluating its performance,” says McGraw. “Now you can implement changes after only a few days.”

Tropical Financial CU recently launched a digital checking campaign, with the actionable item being a free checking account comparison guide. “After seven days, we saw the ad targeting had healthy page views, but no conversions,” says McGraw. “We made a small change (reorganized the landing page visual for readability and added another call to action), waited a few days, tweaked and measured again. The result? Conversions went through the roof. We played the ‘rinse and repeat’ game, taking what we learned in the first 10 days (zero conversions), refined our strategy, and saw 62 conversions in the next 10 days.”

Stephanie Schwenn Sebring established and managed the marketing departments for three CUs before launching her business. As owner of Fab Prose & Professional Writing, she assists CUs, industry suppliers and any company wanting great content and a clear brand voice. Follow her on Twitter @fabprose.

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