A Smart New Way To Approach Old Marketing Challenges

Smart Financial Credit Union’s new approach to marketing yields quadruple-digit returns.


Two years ago, Smart Financial Credit Union ($550.7M, Houston, TX) faced a tepid economic environment and fiercely competitive loan market. The credit union was fighting for every loan it made, and as times became tighter, Smart Financial evaluated its expenses. At the time, the credit union was spending a lot of its marketing budget on mass media and TV and newspaper ads. Although these options provide brand awareness, they are notoriously difficult to track and even harder to measure in terms of bottom-line results.

So the credit union decided to follow a different strategy and track the return on investment for every marketing campaign.

Targeted Solutions

To successfully embrace this strategy, the credit union had to start with data. It had a marketing customer information file (MCIF) system in place for more than a decade but never used it to its full capacity. After it converted its core, Smart Financial was able to look at all of the data it had available on existing members. The accessibility of such data spurred the credit union’s decision to revamp its marketing strategy.

Instead of spending the majority of its marketing budget on mass media ads, the credit union now targets its approach with multiple, ongoing matrix mailings to existing members. The credit union has 10 to 12 different matrix mailings going on at any given time so it can customize messages to various membership segments.

Beyond the typical demographic data and product usage statistics included in most MCIF systems, Smart Financial brings in supplemental psychographic data to zero in on delivering the right message to the right audience.

“It was amazing how well the members responded to this approach,” says Susan Chapman, vice president of marketing strategy for Smart Financial. “We started with an onboarding program for new members, then we reached out to members who hadn’t done business with us in the past six months and so on.”

The credit union’s outreach now also includes thank you letters to members for opening new accounts or paying off loans. Even the newsletter, which the credit union distributes via email to half its membership, incorporates personalized URLs (PURLs) to help the credit union clearly see which members are responding to which articles. 

With this targeted approach, Chapman is able to track results and show the CFO as well as other executives exactly what the credit union earns on individual marketing campaigns. Now, instead of fighting for marketing dollars, Smart Financial’s marketing team is able to show what its investments earn. As such, it is more likely to receive the funds it needs to achieve the credit union’s goals.

According to Chapman, her accounting background is an important asset for her role, which combines IT, marketing, and accounting. And as the credit union’s marketing strategy changes, so too does the composition of the marketing team. For example, the team’s latest addition is focused on e-Commerce, mobile banking, and website optimization.

Trackable Results

Now that the credit union measures each campaign, it knows one-third of all loans originated are directly attributable to the direct mail campaigns it began two years ago.

Smart Financial’s average campaign ROI is 1400%, which means the credit union is earning $14 for every $1 it spends on marketing. Even that number might be on the conservative side, as the credit union calculates ROI over a single year instead of over the average life of the loans, which is often considerably longer than one year.

Although the credit union primarily focuses on existing members to drive organic growth, new member acquisition campaigns are also successful. The average ROI for those campaigns is 1200%. 

Smart Financial has pulled back from its mass media advertising but it ensures a continued brand presence by sponsoring select events in its community. Last year, the credit union partnered with a minor league baseball team for a two-day promotion that helped lower-income students attend a game. The sponsorship was largely a public relations activity, but the credit union still created a way to track the results of its participation.

The credit union has also partnered with a car dealer on a sweepstakes for a new car. It tracked activity on Facebook, its own website, and during the event itself. People opted into an email campaign when they signed up for the sweepstakes. Although some campaign recipients were existing members, many were new and the credit union was able to follow up with weekly email campaigns after the event was over.  

Looking forward, the credit union is focused on incorporating and tracking search engine optimization through its new website. It also plans to continue its data-driven marketing approach to drive growth and calculate ROI on every campaign.




May 20, 2013


  • Congratulations Susan and team - outstanding job of recognizing all the success you've earned. Well done!
    Mike Bartoo