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Digital Personas


March 2014 – Vol: 37 No. 3
by James Robert Lay

CUs have plenty of data to profile members, but will marketers be able to use it effectively?

Network of digital peopleNo, a digital persona is not the picture you use on your favorite social network. But the fact that you use a social network is a part of what makes up your entire digital profile.

In today’s humanized digital economy, credit unions can digitally profile both members and consumers in general to help move them through the buying process from intent to conversion and beyond. The practice of using personas and profiles for 1:1 targeting is common outside the CU industry and is slowly gaining adoption from within.

The idea of moving from mass marketing tactics to very targeted and focused digital lead generation strategies built around consumer profiles, personas and segments can be intimidating for some credit unions. This is because many credit union business models are optimized for face-to-face interactions in physical environments as opposed to digital engagement.

Furthermore, traditional market segmentation performed at credit unions is done based on demographic data such as age, gender, occupation, income, etc. However, research from the Journal of Financial Services Marketing presents a case that a demographic-based approach is ill-founded for the marketing of financial services.

In our 2014 State of Digital Marketing for Credit Unions and Community Bank research, we found that 52 percent of credit unions responded they have not yet defined marketing personas of their ideal members. 70 percent of credit unions said they segment their membership using demographic data. Comparatively, we found that 32 percent of credit unions used transaction data for segmentation, while only 13 percent of credit unions responding used psychographic data.

When combining different data types, such as transactional, psychographic and digital behavior, CUs can begin to put together digital personas and profiles that can be used as part of a greater digital marketing and lead generation strategy. These profiles can provide focus for developing specific content that educates consumers and complements different financial products or services. Furthermore, these profiles can help in designing consumer journeys to nurture a lead from intent to conversion and beyond in the digital buying cycle.

Take a moment and think of how Amazon profiles consumers based upon their previous buying history as well as by the products consumers view or put in their shopping carts. Recommended products and offers evolve as the consumers’ shopping patterns and behaviors change. Amazon’s proprietary digital platform and recommendation engine is a key digital asset in its business model.

I believe organizations have a responsibility to use the data provided by consumers in an ethical manner to provide a direct benefit to consumer themselves. This provides direct application of the credit union’s core philosophy of “people helping people” in a humanized digital economy.

While some may argue that digital is making interactions less personal for credit unions as face-to-face engagements and interactions with consumers decline, I believe CUs can humanize the digital experiences they have with consumers. However, they must first identify potential opportunities confronting them.

There are many growth opportunities to be found for credit unions that begin to explore how they can build and use consumer profiles and personas. Well-defined digital consumer personas and profiles help a credit union lower the total cost of acquisition for new members while increasing product adoption and overall profitability of current members.

Imagine how many loans and new accounts credit unions could close if they knew which members were shopping for cars this month or if they knew the kinds of cars members prefer. Think about the increased number of products or services a credit union could effectively offer to a member as part of an onboarding or cross-selling process if they knew more about each new member’s life. Envision the number of referrals a credit union could generate by offering personalized referral incentives based upon a member’s buying habits.

All of the above is attainable using well-defined digital profiles and consumer personas. These ideas can now become reality, thanks in part to the improved digital technology available to CUs.

Three Areas of Opportunity

Before diving into ways credit unions can begin to build digital personas and profiles for members and consumers, let’s take a look at a few ways to deploy marketing for digital personalization.

It is important to consider research from Gallup that revealed 66 percent of fully engaged customers felt the most recent offer they received from their bank was very general and could have applied to other customers. Additionally, 41 percent found the offer annoying and, surprisingly, 53 percent of customers already had the product being offered by the bank.

Gallup defined these banks’ fully engaged customers as “those who are rationally and emotionally connected to the bank with which they do business” and “are the group that is most likely to be put off by these ‘one size fits all’ marketing offers.”

1. Kill Mass Emails

Many CUs currently use email marketing to share offers to members. I believe, however, that the success of email marketing lies in how a credit union is currently sending emails to members and consumers. A vice president of marketing for a billion dollar credit union once told me they send an email to “everyone because at least we will hit someone who is receptive to our message.”

This comment mirrors a disturbing trend we found by monitoring the email efforts of different CUs that would send the same email message to every member on their email marketing list. No email segmentation or personalization was being performed.

This batch and blast strategy can ultimately reduce the effectiveness of a CU’s email marketing efforts. For example, let’s assume a CU launches an email marketing campaign that promotes an auto loan and is sent to every single member of the CU. How many members view this email as irrelevant as they already have an auto loan from the CU and have no intention of purchasing a new auto anytime soon? The risk is that these irrelevant emails will turn off your members.

Challenge: Based on our analysis of email marketing campaigns, as consumers receive too many irrelevant emails, they may become less receptive to future email marketing even if it is personalized.

Opportunity: Begin using highly-targeted, personalized and relevant email marketing offers, derived from well-defined digital profiles, personas and market segments. Read on for details about building profiles.

2. Upgrade Brochure Websites

Regardless of the kinds of offline and online marketing a credit union implements, at the end of the day, most consumer journeys will lead back to a CU’s website. However, from our perspective found in the ongoing analysis of CU websites, many are still glorified online brochures with the simple goal of providing information to consumers.

They often lack modern, personalized lead generation and conversion systems and frameworks employed by highly successful digital companies found primarily in the e-commerce retail vertical. For example, companies like Amazon are using personalized product recommendation engines, guided selling functions and marketing automation platforms.

What happens if a member or consumer visits a credit union website and is shown the same promotional and marketing messages on a homepage as everyone else?

Challenge: Based on our analysis of CU Web traffic trends, when consumers visit a CU’s website and see irrelevant messaging, they begin to disengage with the CU’s content and promotional items.

Opportunity: Begin to track and use consumer Web behaviors to provide highly targeted and personalized offers, complemented by relevant educational content, to measure the intent of consumers while moving them through the digital buying process to conversion.

3. Focus on Small Data

There is no shortage of data with which credit unions can begin digitally profiling members and consumers. Credit unions have captured data ranging from basic demographic findings to transaction history.

Thanks in part to social media and other digital tools, some CUs are even beginning to use psychographics that tie in consumer personality, values, attitudes, interests, and lifestyles preferences.

For example, attitudes could reflect consumers’ need for status and views on the role of money. Are they more thrifty or a free spender? How do they spend time with friends or family? Interests, for example, could be tied to a favorite type of sport and related sports team. Alternatively, lifestyle could be used to identify a consumer’s favorite kind of movie or music genre, food or restaurant, or preferred travel destination. Finally, values could be related to their own personal and unique life goals.

Challenge: Per our conversations with credit union leaders, a credit union may not know where to begin, what to look for or even have the resources to begin to compile, review, analyze and offer applicable insight on how to best use the data they have.

Opportunity: Start by focusing on smaller and more manageable pieces of data like birthdays, transactional patterns and digital referrals.

Build Digital Personas and Profiles Beyond Demographics

Use the following questions to begin to build member profiles.

1. Digital behaviors provide insight into what members and consumers are doing on a CU’s digital channels and social networks. Digital behaviors can be found by using a unique tracking cookie placed on an individual’s computer. Use the cookie data to answer:

  • What pages has a member or consumer viewed and at what frequency?
  • What digital channels does a member or consumer prefer to engage or interact with?
  • Have they started or abandoned a loan or membership application?
  • Has a member or consumer downloaded a buying guide or checklist?
  • What videos have the member or consumer watched?
  • Has the member or consumer used any keywords in social media posts?
  • How has a member interacted or engaged with an email?
  • Did a member or consumer attend a recent webinar?
  • Has the member left a rating or review about a particular financial product or service?
  • How big is the member’s or consumer’s social network?
  • Has the member referred friends or family to the credit union?


2. Transactional behaviors provide insight into how a CU member shops and buys as well as interacts with the CU for different financial tasks. Transactional behaviors can be found by using debit, credit card or bill-pay data as well as data aggregated from within a personal financial management platform to ask:

  • What third-party loan payments are being made by a member?
  • Are there any third-party fees the member is being charged?
  • Does the member pay a third-party insurance company?
  • What common spending patterns can be identified for a member on a weekly or monthly basis?
  • How can these spending patterns be grouped and categorized?
  • Does a member use remote deposit capture?
  • How often does a member use online or mobile banking?
  • Does a member use bill-pay or e-statements?
  • How often does a member visit a physical branch location?
  • How many products or services has a member adopted?


3. Psychographics provides insights into personality, values, attitudes, interests and lifestyles of members to help better understand the benefits or value a CU provides them. Gained from the review of transactional data, social data or the use of progressive profiling—a process that allows a credit union to control which questions appear on an online form based on what they already know about a consumer or member—psychographic traits can be found by learning individual members’/nonmembers’:

  • hobbies,
  • favorite sport teams,
  • media consumption methods,
  • preferred TV shows, music or movies,
  • restaurant preferences,
  • favorites stores and
  • fitness habits.


Also find out:

  • where individuals want to travel;
  • who is the actual decision maker for this type of purchase;
  • what values and attitudes play a part in this type of purchase;
  • who they look to when making purchasing decisions;
  • what they like or don’t like about a credit union;
  • what they like or don’t about a competing financial institution; and
  • what emotional aspects impact their financial choices.


With the additional data and information mined using the above questions, CUs can begin to compile more rich digital consumer personas and profiles.

When combined with technology platforms, such as marketing automation and customer relationship management, credit unions can deliver offers enhanced with related educational content relevant to each digital persona or profile as part of a digital lead generation strategy.

James Robert Lay is CEO of CU Grow, Pasadena, Texas. He believes that digital is the future of lead generation for CUs but that does not mean lead generation has to be impersonal. In 2013 he was honored to be named to the first class of CUNA’s “Credit Union Rock Stars” and was also named a “CU Times Trailblazer 40 Below” in 2012.

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