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Does Your Credit Union Struggle with Personalization? Here’s How To Get it Right.

Kristin Harrison of WebStrategies joins episode 91 of The Remarkable Credit Union podcast

If you’re a credit union marketer who feels like you should be doing more with automation and personalization, but you’re not sure how, you’re not alone.

Kristin Harrison, Director of Business Development for WebStrategies, joins us to talk about why personalization has so much potential for credit unions and why it’s so hard to implement effectively. She offers tips for overcoming common obstacles and ensuring that your personalization efforts don’t do more harm than good.

We also address this month’s BIG question:

How can credit unions build a data strategy to meaningfully personalize digital content to specific users?

Key takeaways

  1. The key to effective personalization is access to good data across departments. When personalization efforts are siloed in the marketing department, they are more likely to rely on limited data sets that won’t set them up for success.
  2. The biggest potential pitfall of personalization? Bad data that compromises the trust of your members by showing that you don’t really know them. If you misgender a member or send them promos for products they already have with your credit union, your personalization efforts can really backfire.
  3. The lowest-hanging fruit when it comes to getting started with personalization is to set up an application abandonment campaign. By specifically targeting people who have started a loan or account opening application and not finished it, you can significantly improve completion rates. Other low-hanging fruit? Member onboarding workflows, individual location pages for each branch that work as landing pages, and onsite personalization related to the last product visited. Just remember, you don’t have to do it all at once. You can take an incremental approach.

Read the full transcript:

Cameron:
Hello and welcome to another episode of the Remarkable Credit Union Podcast. We created our podcast to help credit union leaders think outside of the box about marketing, technology, and community impact. Each episode we bring on expert guests from inside and outside of the industry for conversations about innovation. Our goal is to challenge your preconceptions about business as usual, and provide you with actionable takeaways that you can use to grow your membership, improve the financial health of your cooperative, and magnify the positive impact you have in your community. Today’s big question, how can credit unions build a data strategy to meaningfully personalize digital content to specific users? I’m Cameron Madill, the CEO and one of the co-owners here at PixelSpoke.

Kerala:
And I’m Kerala Taylor, also a co-owner at PixelSpoke and the senior manager of marketing. We are so excited today to be joined by Kristin Harrison. She is the director of Business Development for WebStrategies where she has been for close to a decade. She also has a college degree in theater. She loves to cook, garden, and has a constant drive to be welcoming people. And she loves kids. Not only does she do a lot of volunteer work with children, but she is the proud mother of three triplets. Those are daughters and a son. I can’t even imagine. Kristin, thank you so much for joining us. We’re so excited to have you today.

Kristin:
Oh, thank you for having me. This is fun. I’ve known you guys for quite a long time and happy to do it on this different kind of platform. Certainly, we have tons and tons and tons of mutual clients and we’ve just been really good to each other over the years, so I’m happy to be here.

Cameron:
Awesome. Well, thank you, Kristin. I’d love to start out with, at a high level, we’re in an elevator and the elevator’s going up, so what’s the elevator pitch for WebStrategies before we get to the top store? What’s your value proposition?

Kristin:
So WebStrategies, we’re referral service, digital marketing agency. And we specialize in credit unions, work with credit unions across the country to generate new members and loans online. We tie all of your marketing efforts together and make all of our decisions based on actionable data. Or we could say we connect members in a more meaningful way through personalization, which would tie into our topic today. So either one, but that’s really who we are, a full service, digital marketing firm. We specialize in credit unions.

Cameron:
All right. Well, I love that. And I know you’re quite the just sort of incredible connector with people. Do you talk to them in elevators? Would this conversation actually happen in an elevator?

Kristin:
100%. I would talk to anybody in an elevator. And if I found out that they had a financial background, I would go through the whole spiel. As a matter of fact, yesterday we were at a college orientation. Two of my daughters are going to Appalachian State in Boone, North Carolina, and we were at literally at the creative writing table and I said to the poor kid, I mean he was probably like, “Lady, I care less.” I was like, “How do you guys feel about AI and are you going to teach to the tool? Are you going to teach against the tool?” And my girls are like, “Oh my god.” So I’m always thinking and talking and iterating in digital and certainly credit unions, yeah.

Cameron:
Well, those poor kids were just like, “Tell me where the Greek houses are.”

Kristin:
I know.

Cameron:
All right, well they got time. They got time. Let’s dig into personalization a little bit because it is one of those words that’s used kind of by everyone, but it’s not always used in the same way. So how do you think of defining personalization in a marketing context, kind of what it is and what it’s not, i.e, what are some of the common misconceptions as well?

Kristin:
So I would say in sort of an elevator pitch, not getting too far into the weeds, so personalization is you want your marketing message and your experience to go to the right person at the right time. And so, it’s not just about getting an email that’s like “KRISTIN” with your name all in caps or it’s spelled incorrectly or something, but it’s really about the company that’s marketing to you. They understand who you are, they understand your needs, they understand your buying habits and they really have the ability to deliver you the right message at the right time across all of the medians that you’re interested in.

And so I think the biggest misconception is, especially for credit unions, that they think they don’t have a budget to do it, they’re not big enough and it’s too complicated. I always find that so interesting that even today we’re still thinking in those terms, like, “Well, I’m not a huge credit union, so I don’t have the budget that everybody else has and I can’t think in terms of personalization and I don’t know how to do it.” A, we can outsource anything. And B, it’s not as expensive as you would think and the return that you would get off of it would be worth it. So I just think it’s interesting in this day and age that we’re still having these conversations, but that would be my definition.

Kerala:
So Kristin, I’m curious if you can just share an example of what personalization looks like when it’s actually working. And that could be from the financial industry or from outside it, but what’s a really effective example of personalization and action?

Kristin:
Again, so many forms of this, but I’ll have to use it in credit union terms because credit union is just my jam. They’re my favorite folks around. So let’s say we’re promoting an auto loan and we’re doing it not only to the prospects, but we’re also doing it to our existing members. You do not want to send an auto loan promo, either show an ad or send an email or do display ads, to your current members that already have an auto loan because that would look dumb. We don’t know our members and we’re not utilizing our data properly.

So the best case of personalization I would say would be to, when I say deliver the right message to the right person at the right time, you’re going to want to deliver that auto loan promotion, whatever the case may be, maybe, say, to your member that has kids that are getting ready to turn 16 and they’re going to be thinking about buying a car or maybe has had a car loan with you and you can understand that that note is getting ready to be paid off, so maybe they’ll be interested in getting a new car or maybe refinancing their loan again. Those to me would be great examples of personalization. If we’re talking about mortgages, we don’t want to send a mortgage promo to a member who literally just closed on their mortgage. You want to send them maybe a HELOC or, “Get that great new kitchen,” whatever, but you really want to make sure that you understand your members and that you understand where they are in their life.

I always like to use myself as such an example. So I live in Richmond, Virginia. I have triplet girls and a son, so that means I will have four kids in college at the same time. I am a member of three different credit unions. One being… Well, I won’t call out what that credit union is. My non-existent filter just kicked in. But I’m a member of three different credit unions in my area and one of which should know that I’ll have four kids in college at the same time. So if I were them, my God, I would be marketing me to death for every loan this side of the river, and they have no idea. And that’s just missed opportunity.

Kerala:
Yeah, that definitely resonates with me. I was going to share a story of… I mean this was maybe, let’s see, it was over a decade ago, but I had just gotten my first mortgage for a condo and I was with a mega bank because that was before I knew about the whole credit union movement. My mortgage was with another mega bank, but I was making that mortgage payment from my primary financial institution and it just seemed like they should know that I was paying a mortgage every month and they were bombarding me with all these emails about being a first time home buyer probably based on my age and my life stage. So to me that was an example of you’re trying to personalize, but you’re totally missing the mark here.

Kristin:
It happens all the time. We just refinanced with Rocket Mortgage. They have BOCO, money out the wazoo, marketing budget forever. We did it through Rocket because they were running a good promo at the time or whatever. Literally, we have gotten solicited by different… And finally I was like, “Update your CRM for God’s sake. I do this for a living. We just signed. So it’s ridiculous when things like that happen.

Kerala:
Why do you think it’s so hard for financial institutions, it seems like specifically in that industry, just to get data that can actually be made into something actionable and effective? We’re both sharing stories from a very large FinTech providers, some big banks, and even they seem to be struggling with effectively utilizing their data. So I’m just curious what your thoughts are on that and do you have specific examples of how to overcome some of these obstacles?

Kristin:
Sure. I think for credit unions specifically, I think that there’s a big fear of budget. I think that there’s a huge discrepancy in the board or what the board will allow or how the board feels about digital marketing. And I think that they, in the kindest, most respectful way because I love credit unions forever, but they get in their own way with these fears and it’s time that we start looking at these out of a different set of lenses. And typically, the marketing people who are going to listen to this podcast are going to be like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Oh, totally, totally, totally.” So the marketing department is completely in sync with what we need to do, but they have to sell it essentially to their CEO and then the CEO has to sell it to the board.

Now, I’m sure that there’s a bunch of different iterations through here, but basically that’s how it’s going to go. The marketing department’s got to take it upstairs and then upstairs has got to take it further upstairs and it just gets lost in a translation. It gets lost in an importance and it’s hard to get it across the finish line. So departments are siloed, which is a big problem, and they have a system that will dot their Is and cross their Ts for them and nothing talks to each other. And I think that that’s really the inherent issues and to solve it, we need to start really opening our eyes to being okay with the cloud or understanding that we kind of need to step away from spreadsheets.

I mean, we need to just get ourselves out of the DeLorean, get out of 1955 and let’s get into the future. We really can create the credit union movement online. We really can. I mean, we can be there for the people online where they are by delivering their personalized information. I think if they thought about it out of those lenses, we would be having much different conversations today and there wouldn’t be this kind of fear about FinTech swallowing them whole. When I started working with credit unions, I was working off a pool of 8,000 credit unions. And less than a decade later, that has shrunk by almost half. It would just be a shame for acquisitions to keep happening. The big guys were swallowing up the small guys. I believe that the movement can be translated online and we can do all of the things that we need to do online. We just need to be a little bit more progressive.

Now, some credit unions are super progressive. And you cannot base being progressive on an asset size, which again, I think is so fascinating. You would think that all of the big credit unions are really progressive. No. Probably one of my most progressive credit unions is under 100 million in assets. Not even at 100 million. And they have everything, every single thing that we sell and every single thing that we offer, this one credit union has it, does it, thinks completely outside the box and they are small, but they own it. And I think that that’s the most fascinating part.

Kerala:
So I’m sure we have many clients who would like to talk to that one credit union because I find a lot of our clients are feeling stuck when it comes to personalization and marketing automation. We have many who have actually invested in a tool and they’re like, “We’re ready to go, but we don’t know where to start.” And I think a lot of them are probably kind of trying to do it in a silo. They’re trying to tackle it all just within the marketing department. And honestly, this is all a little bit out of the PixelSpoke wheelhouse, but obviously personalization relates to the website and it’s an area we want to help in, but sometimes we end up feeling stuck too.

So I guess I’m just curious, you have a credit union who’s invested in the tools, is there any low hanging fruit when it comes to just getting started? Like some tactics that are really high impact but credit unions could just leverage right away so that they feel like they’re actually utilizing the tools that they’ve invested in and that maybe hopefully down the road it could lead to larger scale personalization efforts.

Kristin:
Yeah. And I think that that’s a great question. I would say, and I’m trying to tailor this answer a little bit to personalization, but it would be right, you would be able to personalize in a much better way or deeper level down the road. But I would say the biggest piece of low hanging fruit is within the loan application system, so the LOS, and how many are lost. So if we, on average, each LOS has probably got a 60 to 80% drop off rate, so that’s someone dropping off in the middle of the application. That’s the biggest low hanging fruit. What happens to them? And without proper data, without proper tracking, they don’t have any idea who they are.

So typically, when we onboard a credit union and they have a CRM or marketing automation, we can put a form in front of the application. So whether they’re joining or applying for a loan or doing whatever activity they’re doing, prior to completing the loan, we have their name and their email address already captured. So you capture those prospects coming to the site. And then if they drop off in the middle of the application, we know where they drop off and then how we can engage them into a workflow to get them to come back and complete those applications. So we call those abandoned application workflows and they are really successful in doing some of those low hanging fruit.

I would also say, I don’t know if we would tailor this under low hanging fruit, but a really popular workflow that we do in the onset of onboarding credit unions that have marketing automation as we do the onboarding workflow and we kind of walk them down through the whole process and introduce them to all the products that the credit union has. And so just kind of take them through the process from start to finish so we can have a fully engaged member instead of just that member that has $5 in their account and has an auto loan. That’s another great tactic that we use. And also one of my favorites, and this is not new but it’s still very effective, is we do separate location pages for each branch and connect their Google My Business and have all of their product pages connected there so that location page can act really like a landing page and they come to this state, “a credit union near me” and they bounce to that landing page and they can do all of their activities straight there from that page.

Cameron:
I love it. Yeah, I’m glad, especially you brought up the loan application recovery workflow because I remember when we first learned that, it was like… I mean I’ve seen different number, but yeah, you’re absolutely right. It’s like only 20 to 40% are completing it. And from prior to working with credit unions, we were a generalist agency and it’s like an e-commerce land. Everyone would get fired if you had a 30% shopping cart checkout rate. And then we learned there’s a lot of reasons, right? It’s a lot harder than just having a Shopify store. But I agree that it’s just like to me as a business owner, it’s almost painful to think of how leaky that funnel is, that someone has said, “I want to do this,” click, and then they don’t. Anyway, I digress. But thank you for raising that.

I’d love to talk about some of the specific channels because there’s been a lot of interesting discussions around this website, email, social. Do you have any sort of perspective on that, which channels are most effective for personalization?

Kristin:
I like website and email for sure more than… I think you have to kind of be really careful with social for a bunch of different reasons, especially when it comes to financial institutions. But website, my favorite with website, which I know that you and I’ve talked about this a lot, so say someone does come to the auto loans page and it’s just clicking around looking at rates or whatever and then they come back, I would love for the page to flip and be like, “Thanks for coming back. The last time you were here, you were looking at autos. Look at this rate special we’re having. Are you still interested in that?” So you can do that with the site as well as putting them in a workflow and having them… If they’re cookie, they’ve been to the site before and they’re cookie and they’ve got marketing automation, we can put them in a workflow too.

But if they did both, I think that that’s amazing and super effective. And especially if someone did bounce out of the application that if they came back and they were like, “Look, Cameron, you were last finished on page five, do you want to continue?” Yes. And then they don’t have to go back through and refill everything. I’m not sure how possible. I think that’s kind of a perfect world, Kristin big picture scenario, but I know that they do, it’s possible. It’s just not possible with a lot of the different fragments that we’re in. So those are things that I would really like to see.

Cameron:
Yeah, I always find it helpful to think… I think Amazon is actually not helpful because they’re too far down the path of unlimited money and everything’s integrated, but just looking at a Shopify website or something like that because those tools are so good now right out of the box and you get a lot of these things like, “If you liked X, you might like Y. Welcome back.” Shopping cart recovery emails. A lot of that stuff has now just been standardized and I think it helps to kind of be like, “Oh, that’s the paradigm we’re shooting for.” And then like you said, what are the low hanging fruit? Because yeah, for sure on the website it’s like, “Well, ideally we’d know everything about you, your name, your social security number, everything you’ve bought, the fact that your kids are going to college,” but at a minimum level, it’s so easy to know which pages you’ve been on the website, right? There’s just things like that that we can do to create that sense of being known, which is really effective.

Kristin:
It’s amazing to me how many credit unions that I talked to that they still don’t have tracking, they can’t tell who hits the application. They can see the entrance and then they can manually piece together the close. But I mean, God, that’s a huge manual process. So that’s really amazing to me that we’re still talking about tracking, just proper ad tracking, through all the way to close. Just think about that was how I got into credit unions to begin with when I figured out that we could really do that and tracking was a huge piece for them. And now we can actually put a name and a face to that data and it’s like we can really learn a lot about these people and we can serve lists that are like, “Show me all the people who got an auto loan within the last six months.” Okay.

I mean, we have the capabilities to do that, it’s just… And I feel like the marketing people are all amped up and ready to roll and do all of these things, and everyone else is like, “Well, hang on. Sounds good, but we might not really… Let’s have some meetings about it.” And it’s like, “No, we really can do it. It’s not that big of a deal.” So I think that everyone just needs to understand it’s not that big of a deal anymore.

Cameron:
Right. Well, there’s just so many boxes that need to get checked when you’ve got compliance and regulators and all of that. I think on that general topic of why is it hard to do stuff that is relatively easy, I won’t say easy, but relatively easy in other industries… And I think even stepping back from that though, the reality is personalization is hard. Gartner came out with this really fascinating study that said they think that 80% of marketers are going to abandon personalization efforts by 2025. There’s a lot of different reasons.

Kerala, you told your story. I have one. Chris and I probably haven’t told you this, but speaking to the dangers. I somehow got on some list, I think an award I won a decade ago for MBA programs, a local MBA program. They sent me the nicest, most expensive marketing, beautiful trifold brochures and all this beautiful stuff, but somehow they got my gender as female. And so everything was about like, “Cameron, we know what it’s like to be a woman in business. It is not easy. Join in solidarity with other female CEOs or whatever.” I mean, it was really good stuff, but it was just kind of like, “Well, actually really admire that you’re doing that and you’re kind of really building that affinity with women in business, but come on. How is that going to make me want to get an MBA and take you seriously?”

So that’s something that’s so basic, like a really basic data error. I think in general there’s this sense that while the tools keep getting better and better, that process as Kerala said, it’s not just credit unions, it’s a lot of my entrepreneurial colleagues. People go out and they buy a marketing automation tool or whatever, something similar, they get sold a monthly fee and a setup fee. And then it’s like a couple years later it’s like this still isn’t really working, that just having a tool is not enough. So I’m curious, what do you think on what are the key competencies that a credit union needs to have as well as the tools to really be successful at personalization?

Kristin:
Well, it’s all about data, right? I mean, to me, we have to have good data and it has to be in a place that’s easily accessible. And because we’re mired with a lot of regulatory and compliance and different systems and siloed departments, I believe that most of those issues really hinder the data. And so there’s data silos, privacy regulations, lack of resources, and that is what’s hurting the forward progression. And also personalization can really not operate the way that we want it to for a bunch of reasons. What if we’re serving, “Come get this loan” to someone who just lost their job?

Cameron:
Right.

Kristin:
Or obviously in 2020, it was terrible and everyone put a halt. So those are things that it’s going to happen. I would be shocked if personalization really went by the wayside or if it would just change and maybe take some pieces of personalization out and put more pieces of personalization in. I envision when you walk into a store like Amazon, “Last time you were here, you bought these shorts and now they’re on sale” or whatever. But that’s not saying my name, it’s just coming up on my phone and through my banking app. So that’s kind of how I see personalization morphing and changing and maybe not using such specific use cases of each person because that’s where the errors happen. Does that make sense and does that answer your question?

Cameron:
Yeah, absolutely. I think that speaks to some of the benefits of what we often call here behavioral personalization of like, we don’t need to know everything about you, but if we can know basic things and the assumptions are transparent and reasonable, then you can just start to create that relevant experience. The same way that I think you’re kind of offline, right? If you walk into a store and the person doesn’t remember your name, but they remember that you were interested in the t-shirts, it just creates a sense of being welcome.

I want to ask one last question. If you’re able to, I think people always kind of love to hear specific stories, either successes or failures. You can make them anonymous, but just, is there anything that would capture just to make it a little more specific and concrete in people’s minds what personalization can look like?

Kristin:
Sure. So we have a credit union that when they got to us… So it was the marketing team. She was responsible for everything that a marketing team should be responsible for, right? So she’s responsible for running campaigns and she’s responsible for getting in closed loans and new members. Just like every other marketing department for every credit union, that’s ultimately what they’re responsible for. But she had no access to any data, so anything was hidden in other departments that were completely siloed. And so because we could help her with tracking and tag manager and data configuration and things, we were able to give her a clear line of sight to how her marketing activities were performing. And that was step one of a huge process. And then we were able to put a name and a face to the people who were actually converting. And then we were able to say, “Okay. Now we have really detailed tracking in place, so let’s try to market to the people, create a campaign around behaviors.”

And so she went in six months from having… She did not have any access to any data, but yet she was completely responsible for all of the new members and the loans coming in from a digital perspective. She had no idea what anything was doing. And within six months, we were able to do a behavioral campaign around auto loans. And I said like, “It’s our job to make you look good. No one’s any worse for the wear. They don’t need to know the how behind it. They’re not even going to care because all they care about is that they have more members and more loans at the end of the day, and that your marketing efforts are generating more ROI.” Six months. It took about six months for that to happen. And she is just a huge raving fan.

Kerala:
All right, Kristin, now we’re going to switch gears and do a few rapid fire questions. Are you ready?

Kristin:
I’m ready.

Kerala:
All right. If you completely changed your career tomorrow, what would you do?

Kristin:
I would be my own version of Oprah Winfrey.

Kerala:
Love it. I think you’ll do great. What is your favorite movie?

Kristin:
Ever? This is such a challenging question for me because I have a bunch, but I would say that my favorite movie probably ever is The Big Chill, Pretty Woman, Steel Magnolias, A Few Good Men. Those are the ones. I have staples. I mean, Top Gun. When Top Gun Maverick came out, it was as if… I mean, I saw it six times at the movie theater, no joke. I love pop culture so I have a few staples. Dirty Dancing too. Whenever that’s on TV, we always have to stop and watch that.

Kerala:
I think you and I appreciate the same generation of movies. All right. What is your life slogan in one sentence or less?

Kristin:
I would say when you know better, you do better.

Kerala:
That’s great. And lastly, what’s one song that you’re most embarrassed to admit you like?

Kristin:
I saw this on the prep sheet. And again, not really a song, just a person. And I wouldn’t say I’m embarrassed. I would just say everyone’s kind of like, “Really?” Because I’ve a very eclectic taste and all pop culture. But I would say that when people find out that I’m a humongous Neil Diamond fan, they’re like, “You?” So Neil Diamond is my jam for sure.

Kerala:
Great. Well, let’s do our final take. Is there anything that we didn’t get to or anything that you’d especially like to reiterate for our audience when it comes to the topic of personalization?

Kristin:
Really, I would just say as covering the points, that it’s not that scary. It’s not as expensive as you think that it is and it’s necessary. I mean, it is absolutely necessary to be able to have a lot of data about your members all in the same place and be able to make your marketing decisions based on that data. And if we’re not doing that, you need to start thinking that way. I mean, that’s just bottom line.

Kerala:
Well, Kristin, thank you so much for joining us today.

Kristin:
Thank you. I am thrilled, like I said with the opportunity. And you guys have been great friends of WebStrategies for so long and I’m so appreciative. Everyone call them for your website, they’re the best. So I just really appreciate the relationship both personally and professionally. So happy to be here.

Kerala:
Thanks so much. Have a great day.

I really enjoyed talking to Kristin about a topic that I know a lot of credit unions struggle with. I’m hoping you came away with some actionable insights. I certainly did. I’d say if I had to summarize my three main takeaways, I’d start with the key to effective personalization, which seems to be access to good data across departments. When personalization efforts are siloed in the marketing department, they’re probably more likely to rely on limited data sets. That just won’t set you up for success. And as far as the biggest potential pitfall of personalization, it seems to be bad data. And that bad data can compromise the trust of your members by showing that you don’t really know them. So if you misgender a member like what happened to Cameron or send them promos for products they already have like what happened to me, your personalization efforts can really backfire.

And then lastly, just how to get started. It seems like the lowest hanging fruit is to set up an application abandonment campaign. I’ve heard a lot about those and they seem to be remarkably effective. And by specifically targeting people who have started a loan or an account opening application and haven’t finished it, it seems that you can significantly improve completion rates. And then after that, Kristin suggests moving on to member onboarding workflows, perhaps individual location pages for each branch that work as landing pages. And then considering how you can personalize the website related to the last product visited. I’d say just remember, you don’t have to do it all at once. It can seem very overwhelming and you can take an incremental approach.

Well, thanks for joining us today for yet another great episode. The Remarkable Credit Union is brought to you by PixelSpoke, a digital marketing agency that works with credit unions to create user-friendly, high converting award-winning websites. As a B Corp and worker-owned cooperative, we believe that business can and should be a force for good. You can learn more and check out our work at pixelspoke.coop. That’s pixelspoke, all one word, .coop. And until next time, I wish you the best of luck in making your credit union remarkable.

 

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