Note: The following post is written by Stan Cowan.

Twenty years ago the marketing function wasn’t just getting off the ground for credit unions, but also for the financial services industry as a whole.  Working for a $1 Billion thrift back then, I was part of a three-person marketing department (two before they created my position).  Needless to say, their marketing department was only utilizing a few marketing mediums or channels – newspaper (for deposits) and billboards (for loans).  They didn’t even have a website back then, let alone online banking.

During the past 20 years, many (and I mean MANY) new marketing channels have been invented assisting marketers (those who chose to keep up their skills) to target different segments of current and potential customers.  But are the “old” channels still relevant today?  Are they even close to today’s, new digital marketing methods?  It depends…let’s look at a few of them.

Your current state of brand awareness is key to determining your marketing methods.  Is your company not yet established in your marketplace?  Or, are you smaller than your competition and/or new to the area?  If so, you should consider mediums that allow for an immediate, high-impact approach such as TV, billboards and radio (traditional channels).  The same could be said for those organizations that are going through a name change / re-branding.

So, does that mean traditional marketing methods shouldn’t be incorporated for well-established brands?  Well, do you still see/hear ads on TV/radio for McDonald’s, BestBuy and WalMart?  Would they still spend billions each year on traditional advertising if it didn’t work? 

With Digital Marketing, not only is a strong, public online presence required for potential customers, but a one-to-one digital strategy is important for current customers.  Key points to consider – How automated is your digital strategy?  How effective is each type of digital medium working for you?  One advantage of an electronic marketing strategy is its nimbleness, the ability to change it quickly to meet your needs.  It’s difficult to launch and change quickly with traditional mediums. 

The most important aspect of digital marketing is one that most don’t incorporate, however—testing.  Most marketers either think they don’t have the time to test their marketing content and targeting methods, or they are too scared of failing to do so.  But wouldn’t you rather fail on a smaller scale than completely because you didn’t do your research first?

So, we’ve put it off long enough.  Given budget and time constraints that we all have, what’s the most important marketing medium to incorporate?  Given my academic background and experience, my answer may surprise you.  Marketing channels are certainly important, but the most important source to tap into is simply – your existing customer base by using REFERRALS. 

Who better to market for you than your current customers?  With the right type of loyalty-based referral program, your best customers, with more credibility than advertising campaigns, can help you gain more customers who look like…them!  Of course, your referral program must 1) be easy to convey, 2) be easy for customers to use and 3) be easy to track. 

Will this require redirecting some of your existing marketing budget?  Yes.  But wait – how much?  That’s why we test it with a select group of customers first, starting by getting their feedback before launching.  Then, you’ll have a good idea of your potential success and how much to allocate.

We’ve only touched the surface here, so I’ll leave you with a related topic for next time:  What if 100% of the marketing budget was allocated to this type of loyalty, referral program where both existing and new customers are rewarded for sharing how they love your organization with others?  Hmmm….


About the author:  Stan Cowan is a seasoned, 20-year financial services marketing leader.  Check him out on LinkedIn.