AUSTIN, Texas-Despite her recent successes, Lisa Nichols wasn't always an award-winning credit union marketer. The Michigan native's first use of her dual degree in public relations and political science from Northern Michigan University was moving to Austin, Texas, and entering the construction business.

"I built two custom homes from the ground up," said Nichols, vice president of marketing for Austin's Amplify Federal Credit Union and winner of NAFCU's Professional of the Year in the category of credit unions with assets between $151 million and $750 million. "I never wanted to do that again."

In addition to learning the rigors of hard work, the experience taught Nichols the value of hard data and her passion for numbers took root. Today her marketing efforts are driven by data, and the results bear out the value of tempering creative thinking with a firm numeric underpinning when segmenting member groups and effectively targeting products and promotions.

"I always thought you needed a big promotional push to market your products," Nichols said. "I've learned that what really matters is what you're pushing and through how many channels. That was a very big lesson for me personally."

Nichols never intended to stay in Texas, but took a job with NetSolve. The Austin-based data processing company eventually was purchased by Cisco Systems, but not before it took her to Southern California. Nichols left NetSolve and took a job with what was then Orange County Teachers Federal Credit Union (now Schools First FCU) in Santa Ana, and the drive for data began to grow.


No California Dream

Unfortunately, there was no corresponding love of California, and another DP firm lured Nichols back to Austin before unexpectedly dissolving within weeks of her arrival. Drawing on her previous experience, Nichols took a job in the marketing department of IBM Texas Employees Credit Union (as Amplify was originally known) in 2002. She earned an MBA and three years later left to form her own marketing firm, but still did contract work for the credit union.

Nichols rejoined the Amplify staff as vice president of marketing in 2011. By that time her passion for data-based marketing was in full flower.

"I came from a data background at Orange County Teachers, where we looked at how to slice the membership in different ways," Nichols said. "Then we asked how could we make it easy for the member to accept the offer and the data gave us the answer."


IT Support For Marketing

Critical to Nichols' success has been Amplify's five-member in-house software development team, which takes the questions marketing asks-both basic and complex-and designs software to help find the solutions.

The data is provided to the marketing teams and others within the credit unions to help create their products and craft their plans. Reponses to various offers further refine the data and the in-house call center team has the information needed to make follow-up calls and, if necessary, close the sale.

The methodology definitely returns greater results for the marketing dollar, Nichols said. A 2012 "Slash My Auto Loan" campaign was specifically targeted to a demographic group of 3,000 members. The campaign yielded 99 loans (roughly a 3% response) and generated $1.5 million in auto loans and another $0.5 million in related loans to the same group.

"I am very excited about the potential to analyze member and nonmember needs and help people grow their financial wellbeing," says Nichols. "The ability to cut a member's car loan from 18% to 4% has an awesome impact. For me the process and result are both very exciting to watch."

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