Marketing Budgets: Where Credit Unions Are Spending in 2020

The Financial Brand, following up on a statistical analysis of credit union marketing budgets, reached out to top marketers for specifics on where spending is heading.

Going into 2020 credit union marketers find themselves with an expanding list of missions to accomplish and a marketing shopping list that just seems to grow longer.

As a follow-up to The Financial Brand‘s analysis of overall credit union marketing spending in 2018 compared to 2015, we reached out to a cross-section of credit unions for specifics about their 2020 marketing spending plans. We wanted to know not only how much they expected their marketing budgets to change in 2020, but where the money was going, especially where spending plans were shifting from past patterns. We also asked about anticipated spending on martech, where literally thousands of tools are out there now.

Only one institution planned to reduce marketing spending, and this was because efforts had been so successful in the past that regulators wanted management to slow the institution’s growth for a bit. Most credit unions plan to hike marketing budgets in 2020, with one in the process of pushing for an increase of 25% over 2019 levels in order to support a major branding effort.

Among our sample of credit unions around the country, overall spending priorities leaned toward investment in categories like digital marketing in multiple forms, including social media paid advertising and video; increased use of data analytics; additional martech investments in such areas as geofencing, text-based marketing, Facebook paid boosts, and journey mapping. Some institutions intend to rebuild or reimagine their websites in 2020, to improve the customer experience.

Every executive responding to The Financial Brand‘s queries indicated that their spending plans not only reflect the changing state of the art in financial institution marketing, but also their own local challenges.

The sheer number of items that come under the general category of marketing expenses boggles the mind. Helen Gibson, Vice President of Strategic Outreach at Denver Community Credit Union, provided a list of everything her budget must cover. Everyday items run the gamut from the costs of booths at events to the price of giveaway pens (the costs of decent ones is a pet peeve for Gibson). Newer costs range from an outside website monitoring service to email marketing platforms to digital signage to the use of online learning modules on the institution’s website. Gibson is among those who wish there were more detailed numbers on industry marketing spending to compare the many line items in a marketing budget to. Federal credit union call report data only gives a total figure.

While spending on media and updating technology plays a strong part in credit unions’ plans, the human element isn’t being ignored. In several responding institutions a great deal of thinking has gone into the best staffing mix in the marketing function for changing times.

Let’s look at how some specific institutions are facing credit union marketing challenges and how some specific spending areas are shaping up.

(Read our analysis of credit union marketing budgets and a companion analysis of bank marketing budgets. Both articles include a link to a free Excel budgeting tool from The Financial Brand. Read a roundup of bank marketers regarding their plans for 2020 here.)

Working for Visibility In a Very Crowded Field

Apple Federal Credit Union, even after a 2015 rebrand to its current name, faces tough competition. The institution promotes itself as “Nova’s Community Credit Union,” meaning northern Virginia, and Cynthia McAree, SVP, Marketing, Research & Member Engagement, notes that over 700 banking branches serve the Washington, D.C., metro market that Apple plays to. She expects the marketing budget to rise by 3.5%.

“The nation’s largest credit unions, Navy and Pen Fed, and large banks, including Capital One and Bank of America, are either headquartered or have a resounding presence in our market.”
— Cynthia McAree, Apple FCU

“While we boast 21 locations, soon to be 22, we’re still a very small fish in a big pond,” says McAree. “The nation’s largest credit unions, Navy and Pen Fed, and large banks, including Capital One and Bank of America, are either headquartered or have a resounding presence in the market.”

“Gaining market share against these giants is a challenge,” says McAree, “and advertising placement costs in the D.C. metro rank among the highest in the nation.”

This competitive picture makes McAree emphasize marketing efficiency. She says the three top priorities for marketing investment over the next year or so will be using advanced analytics to create more relevant member experiences; using more competitive intelligence and research to drive brand awareness, recognition, and conversion, and ultimately more revenue; and leveraging martech to create efficiencies, deepen member engagement, and track conversions.

One major item budgeted for 2020, according to McAree, is a new social media marketing and listening platform. Apple’s development team is also looking at alternative platforms available for improving website personalization.

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Balancing New Media and Old Media for Best Results

At Northeast Credit Union, Portsmouth, N.H., Andrea E. Pruna, SVP and Chief Marketing and Retail Officer, says that she’s devoting more in her budget to out of home advertising than she was five years ago. While some marketers use little out of home media anymore — this category covers many forms, from billboards to the sides of blimps — for Northeast this is the ideal fit for some target audiences.

“Out of home pushes our brand where we don’t have any branches.”
— Andrea Pruna, Northeast Credit Union

“Out of home pushes our brand where we don’t have any branches,” explains Pruna. A format that Northeast uses frequently are bus wraps. Sometimes the credit union wraps the entire vehicle, sometimes a portion of it. An example of the latter would be a bus on a route with enough traffic that would enable drivers to see the credit union’s messages on the rear of the bus when stopped.

Another form of out of home that Northeast has been spending heavily on is ads in bus shelters, notably on the stops in the University of New Hampshire’s campus trolley line. She explains that the idea came from focus groups of students. In spite of their attachment to mobile devices, they told Northeast that the best way to reach them consistently was at the shelters.

The message presented typically concerns some way that Northeast makes financial tasks easy for students. One message about how Northeast payment services make it easier to pay campus parking tickets struck such a note that it went viral, according to Pruna.

Northeast also uses digital in multiple ways. Pruna explains that spending on digital advertising, including Facebook ads, search engine marketing, and search engine optimization helps target consumers more finely than alternate media such as New Hampshire area radio stations. Being able to target audiences by their IP (internet protocol) addresses enables tailored messages to be sent to appropriate consumers. Pruna says that mortgages, in high demand in New Hampshire seacoast communities, aren’t in as much demand in the northern part of the state. On the other hand, an acquisition that brought Northeast into neighboring Maine calls for a different media mix — and has driven increases in the credit union’s marketing budget.

At O Bee Credit Union, in Washington state, heavy investment has been made in recent years in experiential marketing. O Bee started as the company credit union for Olympia Brewing and in the last few years it has been converting its branches into “brewpub branches” that resemble tasting rooms, complete with taps. Lee Wojnar, VP/Marketing for O Bee, says the brewpub conversions are nearly done and now he is looking at additional channels that need revisiting. Video content is something he’s going to be digging into in 2020.

“YouTube is almost a search engine on its own,” says Wojnar. “People look for things right on the site.”

Wojnar is also investing in baseline brand research to get a better handle on how consumers see O Bee, which has grown to $324.3 million in assets. The credit union has gone through major growth in the last few years and has reached out to a new county.

“We are moving up the I-5 corridor,” says Wojnar, and he needs good radar about the best ways to reach people in each market. He also has to balance this with costs. The closer O Bee gets to Seattle, he explains, the higher the price to reach consumers in each market.

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People Still Drive the Credit Union Marketing Process

At AllSouth Federal Credit Union, Connie Hernandez Vizitei, VP/Marketing, started her job in mid-2018 and began revamping the makeup of the institution’s marketing team and refocusing its efforts. The credit union, which has $883.7 million in assets, originally had a three-person business development team and a two-person marketing team. Now AllSouth has a unified seven-person team that works on content marketing, social media marketing, design, data, community engagement, and retail sales.

“The last position we added was a Marketing Research Specialist,” says Vizitei, “to work with our core systems, marketing customer information system, and our customer relationship management system.”

One of Vizitei’s strategies has been cross training.

“We have a few team members who have been with AllSouth for a little while, and their training is marketing focused,” says Vizitei. “Our newer team members are skilled in marketing but haven’t worked for a financial institution before, so their training is focused on financial marketing. We learn from each other, too.”

At the same time, Vizitei has been going outside AllSouth for some tasks.

“Marketing has been evolving rapidly in recent years, and will continue to do so,” she explains, “and we would not be able to accomplish all of our goals relying solely on a do-it-all inside shop today.” AllSouth has tapped social media consultants, a freelance graphic designer, a web agency, and a print house that helps with list purchase and direct mail.

( Read More: How Much Should Bank & Credit Union Marketing Executives Make? )

At Fort Worth, Texas’ Unity One Credit Union, Alyssa Guillory, VP/Marketing, has reorganized the marketing department staff roles. There are currently three positions, including a multimedia designer, a content and digital strategist, and her own position.

“The roles have shifted from traditional marketing functions to being more social and digitally focused, based on consumer’s methods of consumption,” says Guillory. “While I would love to have another person on staff, it’s not in the forecast for 2020 so we partner with outside agencies to fill in the gaps.” Among the tasks given to the agencies by the credit union, which has $248 million in assets, are brand marketing and lead generation.

At Fieldstone Credit Union, the small size of the institution — $45.6 million in assets — means that all 15 employees play some part in marketing, according to Mark Baron, CEO and Manager. While virtually everything to do with marketing has been an in-house affair, Fieldstone experimented with one outside firm for a promotion in 2019.

At Santa Cruz’s Bay Federal Credit Union, Tonée Picard, EVP and Chief Development Officer, says that the institution has been adding staff. Notably, one of the three positions involved is that of marketing digital manager. This goes along with the credit union’s plans to invest significantly in data analytics, journey mapping, and more digital capabilities. By design and choice, Bay Federal, which has over $1 billion in assets, does all of its marketing work internally, so it is important to bring the right skill sets on board as needed.

Denver Community Credit Union plans a major branding effort for the $346.1 million-assets institution in 2020 and will increase its use of outsiders to accommodate that, according to Helen Gibson.

“We are a mix,” says Gibson. “We like to keep strategy and basic design work in-house, but we also outsource. Our MCIF is software-as-a-service and our website development is outsourced. We also outsource SEM. In order to handle extra tasks in 2020 and into 2021 because of the branding campaign, we will increase our use of design firms, media buying firms, PR agencies, and others

“Technology has created many opportunities and challenges for us,” says Apple FCU’s Cynthia McAree. “With this shift we have had to change our staffing needs and skills in order to compete.”

Over the last three years, she says, Apple has taken advantage of attrition to add digital specialists as people with older specialties leave. “On deck for 2020 is a full-time social media position,” says McAree. Over the next 18 months she anticipates adding a position for monitoring web analytics and another to take charge of the credit union’s personalization platform.

These additions are on top of her plans to continue using outside specialists. McAree works with an ad agency to develop TV, digital video, and more, but also has an in-house design team to produce additional campaigns and collateral materials. The institution also uses a public relations firm, “to position Apple as a thought leader,” says McAree, as well as a digital agency to place all digital marketing and an outside video producer.

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