Revving Up Your Credit Union’s Automated Nurture Programs

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TL:DR: Credit unions should consider automated nurture programs for bolstering auto loans and other products to members. This is a transcript of how one credit union did just that.

It feels premature to be talking about Black Friday when we’re dealing with a week of 90-degree sunny afternoons in Portland. But this is the perfect time to start building out your fall season marketing campaigns.

For credit unions, that’s ramping up your member marketing campaigns for auto loans. Auto lending is a core function of what credit unions do. Callahan & Associates reported that Q4 2017 marked 18 consecutive quarters of double-digit growth for credit unions in auto lending. And according to CUNA’s research and policy analysis department, auto loans comprise nearly 35% of credit unions’ loan portfolios.

We recently had Marc Wilensky, vice president of communications and brand marketing at Tower Federal Credit Union, on the Rethink Marketing podcast, where he talked about their success using Act-On to launch several automated nurture email campaigns.

[podloveaudio src="" duration="19:43" title="Ep. 83 | Credit Union Marketing - Nurture Members with Automated Campaigns"]

This transcript has been edited for length. To get the full measure, listen to the podcast.

About Tower Federal Credit Union and its marketing team

Nathan Isaacs: I’m here today with Marc Wilensky, vice president of communications and brand marketing at Tower Federal Credit Union. Marc, can you tell me more about Tower Federal Credit Union?

Marc Wilensky:  Sure. We are about a $3 billion credit union located just outside of Baltimore. We’re what is known as a SEG-based credit union [Select Employee Group]. We work with about 700 different SEGs, some smaller, some larger, but we do have a closed field of membership and concentrate most of our marketing to the people that work for those organizations.

Nathan: Is it the people that work with those organizations and their families? If I was a son or daughter of somebody that was a member, would I be a member?

Marc:  Yes. Anybody that works for those organizations, as well as their immediate family, is eligible for membership within the credit union. And what’s nice about it is once you’re a member, you’re always a member. So, if you were to leave that company, you don’t have to give up your membership.

If you have an auto loan or a credit card with us, and you left your company, obviously you can still have that auto loan or credit card product with us, as well as any of the other banking products and services we offer.

Nathan: With your role there, vice president of communications and brand marketing, what does that mean day to day? How big is your team? And what’s keeping you up at night?

Marc: I’m fortunate enough to have a full in-house advertising agency. I have three graphic designers, three copywriters on my staff, as well as a very talented web person, a digital marketing manager, a production person, and an admin. We basically do all the same things that a typical advertising agency does. We support the many business lines within the organization. We help consumer lending promote their products, real estate lending, deposit services, e-services and e-commerce. We really support any of our internal clients, we like to say, explain the benefits of their products and services to our existing members, as well as potential members.

Knock on wood, nothing is keeping me up at night these days. I guess we’re always looking for better ways to reach our potential client and utilize the data we have, so that we’re giving them relevant marketing materials. If I just took out an auto loan three weeks ago, nobody wants to receive an email two days later that, ‘Hey, we have an auto loan product.’

Trying to utilize the data we have, the information we have about our members, and market the next best product to them that’s going to benefit them, not necessarily what’s in Tower’s best interest, but we’re always looking out for our members and trying to promote a product or service we think could help them with their financial services.

Making the switch to a Marketing Automation Platform

Nathan: That’s a nice little lead in to this question, did that lead you down this path of marketing automation. Can you talk about that discovery process for you guys?

Marc:  We initially had reached out to about four or five different companies trying to improve our email marketing capabilities. And what we found, it wasn’t just email marketing that a lot of these companies offered. A lot of them offered opportunities for us to identify how our members are utilizing information on our website. We already have Google Analytics, but really diving even deeper down to matching up to a member on the email level as far as how they’re utilizing the website, and then creating the sales funnels.

Initially, what started out as really just a way to replace our existing email vendor, led us to a whole different world of discovery, which was in addition to just automation, there are other products and services that were being offered by companies like Act-On that we could utilize to kind of better target our members and making sure that we’re cross-selling them products that are relevant to them.

That’s how we started the journey. But what we discovered is that you guys offer a lot more product that really could benefit us. And we’ve been utilizing those since we first came on.

Creating automated nurture programs

Nathan: One of the early features you took advantage of with Act-On was the automated nurture programs and targeting those in your audience who may be considering a car loan. Can you tell me what that process was like and the results metrics from it? And are you still using it?

Marc:  We know historically, in our market anyway, December is a great time for people to buy cars. And I think nationally more cars are sold the week between Christmas and New Year’s than any other week during the year. So, we wanted to be ahead of that curve and we wanted to market auto loans to our existing member base. We took a somewhat targeted member list and put them into the marketing automation services that Act-On offers. The initial email was really just a very vague generic kind of auto lending overview, if you will, of what we offer as products and services.

And what we did when people opened that email, we then put them into the sales funnel. Act-On has a really nice tool that they use where you can give people a scoring system based on what they do, starting with them just simply opening the email. And then if they click on various links, if they’re reading content on your site, if they’re watching videos, we’re able to take that initial list and put those people into three different follow-up groups.

In addition to that, we also took advantage of the automation. If somebody didn’t open the initial email, we waited maybe a week or eight days and sent anybody who hadn’t opened the original email a follow-up email. And we saw a nice bump in the open rates that we would typically get.

But what was more impressive for us is once we put these people in the funnel. We had three different funnels, if you will, people that were just starting the process of looking for a car, people that were kind of in the middle of the process but weren’t ready to pull the trigger just yet, and then people at the bottom of the funnel that we believed were about to make a decision on buying a car.

And we fed them relevant content depending on where they were in the car buying cycle. We were able to reuse some content we had already created for our monthly email newsletter about auto lending. And we geared the content depending on where you are in the buying cycle. For those people at the top of the funnel, they received a follow-up email a week later. The people in the middle got a different email. And then the people at the bottom got a different email.

And what was amazing to us was the open rates – the first emails we got our typical open rates which were in the high 20s. But the follow-up emails, which were really targeted to people that we’ve identified were in the market to buy a car, those open rates we saw were more than 50 percent.

I’ve been doing email marketing for 17 years and I’ve never seen open rates of anything that large a group that exceeded 50 percent.

We felt like we were on to something here. We were giving our members relevant content based on the behaviors we had identified through your scoring system. And obviously that’s what people want. They want relevant content.

A week later, we sent each of those groups a second email, which was tied to where they were in the buying cycle. And obviously within each of those emails, the ultimate call to action was to apply for a loan. And we saw plenty of people trickling down even at the top of the funnel to apply for a loan at a much higher rate than what we typically saw in our email marketing efforts.

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Check out our additional related content:

Choosing Marketing Automation: 2 Must-Haves that Predict Success

Using email nurture campaigns and lead scoring for other products

Nathan: Awesome. And you’ve expanded automated nurture programs to other areas?

Marc:  After the first of the year we did a similar campaign with the mortgage buying cycle, again utilizing content we had created, and putting people depending on where they were in the buying cycle.

It’s a much longer buying cycle in the mortgage industry, but still giving them relevant content if we believed that they were just entering based on kind of a lukewarm response that they had received from the first email, to where we felt like they were in the cycle for a while, to where we felt like they were probably pretty close to deciding on a home and/or mortgage. We sent them again relevant content. And we saw similar open rates.

We really felt like we were on to something again. Because the buying cycle is so much longer in mortgage, it’s harder to kind of grade that success. But we felt like we were getting people into our own sales funnel, if you will.

We have an outside company we utilize called, Home Advantage. And our goal is to really get people engaged with the Home Advantage program. And that takes them through the entire real estate buying process. We found that the emails did have success at getting people to the Home Advantage website, getting them to register for Home Advantage, and then we have a pretty good close rate once they’ve entered into the Home Advantage cycle. So, we found a similar success with mortgages.

We did another one tied to our wealth management services, again utilizing content and giving people content. The wealth management one is a little different because that’s probably not tied to a buying cycle. So, that one we tried to do it more tied to ages. Depending upon how old you were, you were probably at a different life cycle as far as planning for retirement. You probably have a little bit more risk the younger you are versus the older. We tried to tie the content more instead of utilizing the sales funnel, more to an additional demographic which was age we’ve built into the Act-On system, and we’re sending people relevant content based on their age. And, again, we were very happy with the follow up open rates and the number of appointments that were set up with our wealth advisors.

We’ve been three for three so far. And now we’re kind of taking a little break because we don’t want to overwhelm our members with maybe too much content. But we’ll probably go back out and revisit and make some adjustments based on the three campaigns we’ve already launched.

Using automated nurture programs for intelligently onboarding new members

Nathan: Sure. It becomes something you can do annually, right? You mentioned December’s the time when you’re going be doing car loans. And you just get better and better at fine tuning your content. It sounds like, overall, you’re happy with marketing automation in Act-On. Anything else you’re thinking about trying or playing around with?

Marc:  The next thing we’re trying to do is probably more of an onboarding. When a new member joins the credit union, onboarding them. And depending upon on what products or services they open their initial membership up, we would put them down the different automation paths. If you came in with an auto loan, but maybe haven’t given us your checking account, we would promote our checking products. If you came in with deposit products but no loan products, maybe making some assumptions, or looking at how you utilize the website and send you relevant content about some of the lending products that we offer.

That one we’re trying to build out a little bit differently. And it’s probably going to take us a little bit longer. We’re also hoping to work closely with our IT department to really get to the person quickly after they’ve joined the credit union. Because I think most research shows you have about a six-week window to really maximize their picking up additional products and services. We want to make sure we go quickly to them, but also again utilizing relevant content.

And I don’t want to send somebody a credit card offer if they’ve already applied for a credit card when they first came into the credit union. So, trying to really take a little extra time to make sure that we’re targeting people properly.