How To Keep Newsletter Out Of The Circular File

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The member newsletter has become a time-honored, credit union tradition. In fact, production has become almost ritualistic as most marketers diligently produce new and unique issues on a quarterly, or even monthly, basis. The unfortunate reality is that an increasing number of members immediately clean out statement envelopes by discarding all collateral except for the actual statement, if they open the statement at all. Ironically, the more we succeed at migrating members to home banking, the more irrelevant we make statements-further limiting the reason to open them and see any insert, including the newsletter, inside.

Since many credit unions invest considerable time, money, and effort into each newsletter issue, it seems logical that the ultimate goal behind the newsletter should be to increase product and service participation through higher readership. To achieve this, a content shift in most newsletter publications may be warranted.

The opportunity for increasing newsletter value clearly exists. In fact, according to most Member Research surveys, the newsletter is perceived as the most effective method of marketing communication. The survey findings represent member opinions of peer credit unions with more than $100 million in assets. The following percentages reflect "Excellent" or "Very Good" ratings for the most prevalent member communications methods:

Newsletter 58.1%

Statement inserts 47.0%

Special offer mailings 36.2%

Credit Union employees 27.1%

Lobby signs 24.9%

Web site 23.1%

Newspaper advertising 9.7%

Television advertising 8.9%

Radio advertising 8.6%

In the same survey, members were also asked to identify the importance of specific newsletter content items. The most preferred topics, from highest to lowest importance, were determined:

Interest rates

Helpful financial hints

Loan information

Retirement information

New products/services update

Credit union news

Credit union employee news

Generating interest in the member newsletter can be achieved by providing desired topics and information in each issue. Through qualitative research, members have offered up additional suggestions pertaining to optimal newsletter content and layout:

* Adopt a "light copy" strategy

Since many readers do not have the time to peruse the entire newsletter issue, credit unions are encouraged to deliver the quickest read possible by highlighting core benefits and features. Use plenty of white space, large font sizes, and consider bullet points.

* Use the newsletter cover to promote interest rates

Members have indicated significant interest in regular rate comparisons via rate round up charts. Select the competitors in your area and present side-by-side comparisons of your rates versus those of the competition. Utilizing charts and graphs is an effective way to break up heavy text and illustrate the savings of your credit union's pricing.

* Tailor content to member demographics

Consider the average age and targeted age of your members when developing newsletter topics. The practice of slanting copy to appeal to Baby Boomers or mature audiences is effective. If your membership represents many different age groups, present a broader range of topics and consider surveying members to identify the best content for your readers.

* Keep internal news to a minimum

With the exception of important information such as operating and financial performance, board nominations, and annual meeting details, credit union news should not be spotlighted in the member newsletter. Service accomplishments and survey results may be appropriate if they are presented as ways that the credit union is performing well for members.

When developing newsletter content, the most telling way to ascertain whether or not articles will be read is to ask: "what will this information do for the member?" Before your credit union devotes valuable newsletter space to heritage, tradition, or internal news, take into account how the content will directly benefit your readers. Deliver articles that have meaningful impact for day-to-day financial management. By keeping member interests top-of-mind, your newsletter can be viewed as a financial resource, rather than "just another statement insert."

Neil Goldman is president of Member Research, Los Angeles. Mr. Goldman can be reached at (888) 2-Research or ngold1

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