Christian Financial CU Finds Clicking Is Better Than Stamp-Licking For Its Marketing Efforts

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ROSEVILLE, Mich.-Christian Financial Credit Union here is commonly throwing out direct mail campaigns in favor of Internet advertisements at Google and Facebook that deliver bigger hits and better returns.

"GoogleAdWords and other search advertising are still heavily underused by credit unions," suggested Lauren Vance, VP- strategic development and product delivery at the $242-million CU. "Our ad budgets are not nearly the size of the big players in banking, but search advertising is a place we have an opportunity to somewhat level the playing field."

Christian Financial (CFCU) is spending 200% more on digital advertising since 2007 and has dropped direct mail by 75%, said Vance.

Google ads delivered 5% of all new members to the CU during a membership drive in January, Vance said. A corresponding direct mail campaign was responsible for only 0.9% of all new members, she said.

CFCU paid just .002 cents every time someone clicked on the Google ad. Meanwhile, the direct mail piece cost about 45 cents per household. The Google ad appeared nearly 185,000 times, whereas the direct mail was sent to about 10,000 households.

Search-engine and social-network ads allow CFCU to "be more selective in our demographics and achieve a reach of several times that of a direct mail piece," Vance explained. "And you know when an Internet ad is being seen by the person seeking info on that particular product or service."

Google and Facebook report the number of times an ad appears and how often someone is "interested enough to seek out more info by clicking," said Vance. Digital ads can be "easily modified as you go if you notice that they're not getting the traffic you'd like."

With print, "once it's out in the mail, you can't modify it." continued Vance. "And mailing is expensive, so narrowing the target audience is critical for budget reasons alone." Mail may also be sent to bad addresses, get thrown out without being seen by the target person, or never be delivered.

Paper can't "go viral" like Internet advertising, she added. One of CFCU's certificate promotions online caught fire in 2008 when a blogger saw the Internet ad and posted the promotion at his site. "That campaign elicited 255% more 'click-thrus' than the recent January membership drive, and our final new deposit dollar totals were 300% above our anticipated results."

Vance's advice on winning the search advertising game? "You might beat out the big banks if you've got a better rate, your information is easy to find on your website and you keep an eye on your ad position and your keyword successes," she said.

Christian Financial will lean more heavily on digital advertising this year, said Vance. "I'm planning to continue to increase dollars toward electronic channels, and the other channels will either be maintained or reduced." She'd also like to try to juggle multiple Internet campaigns that promote diverse business initiatives.

Print campaigns will help catch people who don't use the Internet search engines or social media, she said.

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