Pilot, Test, And Assess: How Marketing Drives Growth At Hudson Valley Credit Union

A marketing road map guides product promotion, development, and execution at the New York cooperative.


Top-Level Takeaways

  • Hudson Valley Credit Union rolled out marketing road maps in 2018 that include detailed campaign briefs as well as time to pilot, test, and follow-up on programs.
  • The road maps also guide inter-departmental partnerships.

For the past three years, Hudson Valley Credit Union ($6.1B, Poughkeepsie, NY) has relied on six-month road maps to execute marketing campaigns that drive demand for products and services.

They help us build multi-layered campaigns to drive sustained growth using all the tools we have at our disposal, including digital, social, email and content marketing, product enhancements, special pricing, and public relations, says Kelly Outwater, the assistant vice president of marketing and digital strategies who has been on the marketing team since 1999.

According to Outwater, the credit union creates the maps several months in advance to provide sufficient time to gain buy-in from internal stakeholders and build the campaigns.

Kelly Outwater, AVP of Marketing and Digital Strategies, Hudson Valley Credit Union

During a typical year, we’re building continuums for the first half of the upcoming year in October and by April are creating plans for the second half of the year, Outwater says.

However, the marketing professional is quick to note that solid planning does not translate to inflexibility.

Although it’s important to be prepared, it’s just as important to be agile, Outwater.These plans are subject to change as conditions warrant.

The Power Of Partnerships And Planning

To ensure the malleability of projects, the product team meets monthly to review updates and ensure the plans remain aligned with organizational priorities and available resources.

For example, loan growth is currently a high priority for HVCU, so the product team’s consumer loan specialist is working closely with the assistant vice president of consumer lending.

Their strong partnership elevates overall performance, Outwater says.These interdependencies cross product lines as it relates to the member journey. For that reason, there’s a natural symmetry in also working closely with the AVP of insurance services as consumer lending and property and casualty insurance go hand-in-hand.

Regular contact is a major part of each campaign, which begins with building a road map and winning approval from marketing leaders. From there, the product team reviews the maps with relevant internal stakeholders. Then, product specialists create comprehensive campaign briefs that include information such as the target audience, points of differentiation, messaging, graphic needs, and recommended marketing mix.

They’re an essential ingredient that force us to think through each idea before we impact other resources across the credit union, Outwater says.

The campaign briefs takes the form of a template that answers the following:

  • What are the specific goals of the campaign?
  • Who exactly is our target audience?
  • What do we want them to do?
  • What is/are our key point of differentiation(s)?
  • What, if any, operational considerations need to be addressed?
  • How will we integrate this into our retail channels?
  • What is the estimated budget?
  • What are the key deadlines?

Download the template HVCU uses to create campaign briefs. This and other documents covering compliance, HR, marketing, corporate governance, and more are available for download in the Callahan Policy Exchange.

Team Structure Follows The Road Map

Outwater and marketing vice president David Dirks introduced the marketing road maps in 2018. Outwater and Dirks plus three product specialists handle marketing outreach. Two are responsible for all consumer areas, with one of them specializing in membership, accounts, payments, and wealth management. The other takes the lead on campaigns for consumer and real estate lending and property and casualty insurance.

The product team at Hudson Valley Credit Union. Top left to right, Kelly Outwater and Kate Rabe. Bottom left to right, Ashley Arias and Roy Wilkins.

According to Outwater, the third product specialist is dedicated exclusively to business-to-business work, from membership and accounts to business and commercial loans.

Each specialist is responsible for maintaining a deep knowledge of their product line, encompassing the economic and competitive environment, profitability and performance, and most importantly, how well their product lines meet member needs, she says.

To ensure that happens, they work closely with other marketing team members on public relations, research analytics, digital marketing, graphic design, and member experience.

Piloting, Product Testing, And Post-Campaign Assessments

HVCU uses pilot projects, product testing, and post-campaign assessments to gauge how things are working and polish processes.


Hudson Valley Credit Union
Data as of 12.31.20

HQ: Poughkeepsie, NY
MEMBERS: 307,649
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: -10.5%
ROA: 0.77%

We like to experiment, so positioning something as a pilot allows us to test ideas while mitigating risk, Outwater says.That could be introducing a substantial promotional offer for a very short period so we can assess results and either refine as needed or relaunch on a larger scale. Or it could mean testing it in one geographic market before expanding it to others. It’s also a great way to get buy-in from stakeholders who might be hesitant to introduce on a larger scale without some initial results.

Then there’s A/B testing, which involves introducing one variable element into the marketing activity and splitting the audience so one segment receives version A and the other receives version B. Outwater says the variables are not always the same and can include the subject line in an email, the headline on a landing page, an image in a digital ad, or even the offer itself.

The results help us measure which version yielded better results, and we can use that information to further refine a campaign, the HVCU AVP says.When our timelines are compressed, it’s easy to want to skip the A/B test, but it’s valuable to push forward and create two options.

Post-campaign, the road maps calls for amarketing 360 to measure results versus goals and to glean insights on how to improve the campaign in the future.

These 360s enable our team to leverage previous campaign performance for their own planning, which makes it easier for staff to transition from one product line to another, Outwater says.It’s inevitable that promotions will arise with an urgent implementation date, so the ability to obtain prior results at a moment’s notice is invaluable.

4 Tips To Build A Marketing Road Map

Kelly Outwater, AVP of marketing and digital strategies at Hudson Valley Credit Union, shares four ways her team makes the most of marketing road maps.

  • Keep them simple. Don’t overcomplicate plans; focus on the key products lines for the year.

  • Take the high view. Keep plans fairly high level or they lose their value.

  • Let product leaders shine. These staffers are the resident marketing experts; give them the resources they need, remove obstacles, and get out of the way.

  • Be prepared to pivot. Marketing plans aren’t written in stone and should serve as a jumping-off point for conversations throughout the year.

365 Days. 52 Campaigns And Counting.

The continuum team is continually busy.

During 2019 our last typical year marketing implemented 52 different campaigns, Outwater says.We’re on pace to far exceed that metric in 2021, so we rely on these tools to focus valuable resources on the campaigns with highest potential impact.

It’s a rigorous process, Outwater continues.There are certainly faster and easier ways to launch a promotion. The continuums serve a higher purpose, though, which is to build greater depth and breadth in our overall strategy because marketing is so much more than simply launching promotions.

Outwater says this is particularly true in the financial services industry, where marketing plays a major role in making complex subjects easier to understand and more accessible to consumers and businesses.

We’re proud of our output, but we don’t do it in a vacuum, Outwater says.We leverage data and partner insights to create a plan of action.


April 19, 2021

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