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[Ask the DM Experts] Direct Mail + Video = Success for Kalispell Credit Union

Josh Wilson, Vice-President of Marketing for Whitefish Credit Union (Kalispell, Montana)

By Susan K. Jones
Susan K. Jones & Associates
and Ferris State University

Q. We direct marketers know full well that direct mail is far from dead, but rumors of its demise continue to swirl in the business world. Do you have any recent examples of direct mail success?

A. It was a pleasure to hear Josh Wilson, Vice-President of Marketing for Whitefish Credit Union (Kalispell, Montana) speak at the recent Integrate conference at West Virginia University. This event is sponsored by WVU’s Integrated Marketing Communications and Data Marketing Communications master’s degree programs.

Josh focused on the importance of using data to define markets and their motivations, meanwhile containing costs through pinpoint targeting. He mentioned four types of data to track and utilize:

  • Audience Data (demographics and psychographics)
  • Transactional Data (shows spending habits, primary products and services purchased, frequency of purchases)
  • Behavioral Data (data about the prospect’s actions on your own digital platforms, often enhanced by third-party data)
  • Intent Data (based on online research that can indicated a prospect’s intent to buy)

Josh’s rules for data use include:

  • Data has to be democratized (not shielded or hidden from those who need it)
  • Define your domain (brand) – test and re-test
  • Obtain inferential data (if this is true, then the inference is that something else is true)
  • More information reduces uncertainly as long as it meets the first three points here
Direct Mail Testing Yields Results for Whitefish Credit Union

Josh shared a great example of how Whitefish Credit Union’s data practices led to impressive results when the firm introduced its first credit card last year. Whitefish is the largest Credit Union in Montana with $1.5 Billion in assets. It has an older membership base.

Top management announced that they wanted to introduce a credit card, but that it would not feature some of the popular features like rewards, travel perks, cash back, or an introductory rate. Not to be foiled by these limitations, Josh went to work identifying the benefits the card could provide, and the target group that would most appreciate those benefits. These included low rates, no annual fees, no cash advance fees, and no balance transfer fees. Who would need those perks? Josh focused on couples age 25-50, dual income, with children. They use their credit cards as a sort of emergency fund that they pay off as soon as they can. That said, many of these couples carried fairly significant credit card debt at high interest rates.

Josh was able to zero in on about 1000 current customers that were most likely to appreciate the new credit card for its low interest rate and other benefits. He split that group in half and prepared a two-part direct mail test: one traditional package and one video package.

The video package cost $10.00 per unit plus $1.00 to mail. To see the video, search the Whitefish Credit Channel on YouTube and then click on the “Awesome Credit Card” link featuring Josh in a bit of a parody of both the Old Spice “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” ad and the Dollar Shave Club “Our Blades are F***ing Great” video. Both the traditional mailer and the video mailer had impressive results:

Video Mailer Traditional Mailer
528 mailed 526 mailed
6.8% response 4.9% response
36 new loans 26 new loans
$176,000 loan balances $115,000 loan balances

The most compelling benefit to these new customers was the cut in their interest rates from as much as 20% down to 8% or a bit more depending on their credit rating.

How This Regional Credit Union Leveraged the Super Bowl

Whitefish Credit Union ran two Super Bowl ads on a local/spot TV basis this year – one before kickoff and one after halftime. The pitch was for Eco Checking. Some organizations call this a “green checking account” because it’s 100% paper-free, but because of the outdoors-loving residents of Northwest Montana, Josh and his agency opted for a winter ski theme to introduce the checking account.

They recruited celebrated local athletes who are long-time credit union members with the message that Eco Checking offered customers the financial freedom to explore the beauties of Montana. The Super Bowl ads were supplemented by print ads and billboards with the same theme. The Super Bowl ads can be seen on the Whitefish Credit Union YouTube channel, while the theme continues on the Eco Checking web page at

Ask the DM Experts is a monthly adMarks feature. Professor Susan K. Jones draws on the knowledge of CADM members and other authorities to answer your questions – so tell her what you want to ask the experts! Contact Susan at or follow her on Twitter @sjones9200.

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