NORTHGLENN, Colo.-Horizons North CU remade its marketing department once, lost focus for a while, then got it back.

Thanks to sharp increases in its loan and checking penetration after instituting a cohesive marketing plan, the $64-million CU is a winner of a Credit Union Journal Best Practices award. Krista Burnell, business development director for Horizons North, said the CU's experience with marketing best practices has taught it the only "magic bullet" in CU marketing is a strategic, disciplined, consistent effort with buy-in from all levels of management. The marketing budget has increased to $122,950 in 2010 from $52,000 in 2007.

In June 2010 its loan penetration was 44%, up from 38.12% in December 2009. Checking penetration is now above 51%. Vehicle loan penetration is at 22.81%, compared to 20.73% in 2006.

The CU said it has been able to maintain and increase product and service penetration improvements in spite of the challenging economy.

Burnell said a good portion of the credit must be given to Fairfax, Va..-based credit union consultant Paul Lucas.

"Prior to working with Paul in 2007 we had no real direction with our marketing," she recalled. "It was one idea at a time, whatever sounded good that day, with no forethought as to what the credit union needed, the time of year, or how we provided information to members, which probably was confusing to them."

Lucas was brought in to consult for the first time three years ago. Burnell said he introduced the CU to a graphic artist and got it started on a direct mail campaign. More importantly, he strengthened its brand identity by updating the logo and adding a new tag line, "Better Banking Begins With Membership."

But then, "We lost our marketing director, who had been working under Paul's plan," she continued. "We diverted from the plan Paul set us on, specifically always using a professional designer. We got back on track in early 2009."

Horizons North currently focuses on two campaigns each quarter, with both of those promoting revenue-generating products for the credit union, such as checking accounts, loans or HELOCs. Burnell said the direct mail component uses large post cards that gives HNCU a "presence in the mailbox." Each post card is sent three times in a quarter to members for whom it is most appropriate.

In addition, the CU uses a targeted e-mail blast that has the same look at the direct mail campaign. Posters in branch likewise match the look of the campaign, as does the newsletter, so the message is consistent, she said.

HNCU said it now has a "clean, straightforward" visual brand identity that highlights its logo and colors. "This makes our mailers, posters, statement inserts and all messages instantly recognizable to our members. Quality creative is an essential element in our best practices. Consistently marketing to members does more than sell products; it helps HNCU develop a relationship with members that is essential to getting more of their business, and to getting members to refer us to friends and family."

Lucas said he has been consulting for 10 years, "and although every credit union is different and marketing should be different, there are some constants."

One constant for success is leadership, which Lucas said needs to be "strong and focused."

"I rebranded them years ago, got them going, but absent strong leadership so many things can go wrong," he said. "Brad and Krista saw there were things they needed to do to get things focused and on the right way, and now the results are clear. Leadership and focus are the ingredients for any successful company."

Credit union marketing today needs to focus on values and benefits that help the individual. Lucas assessed. "It should be looked at from the angle that a single person would think about values and benefits. Focus is key, because marketing should focus on the most profitable products and the ones that will cause consumers to jump to the credit union."

Lucas said CUs should concentrate on retail messaging that is based on value benefits that are easy to see, read and digest. "This isn't rocket science, it is just about doing the right marketing and the right messaging."

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