'That Single Marketing Message Can Be Singular Mistake'

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Creating a single product and service brochure to give to new member sign-ups is a mistake, according to one person.

Instead, credit unions must recognize there is a significant boost in response rates to be had by paying attention to where the member is in his or her lifestage, according to Annette Stephens, VP-marketing operations with Liberty Marketing Services in Mounds View, Minn.

Reiterating a theme that has also been emphasized in separate research conducted by the Filene Research Institute, knowing the member's stage in life can be critical to response rates, said Stephens.

That's especially true in direct mail marketing, Stephens told The Credit Union Journal's SEG & Business Development Conference. Even the most readily embraced mail, that from charities, is read by just 55% of recipients, she noted. Direct mail for financial institutions is thrown away by two-thirds of those who receive it.

To offset that, or at least get the mail opened, Stephens showed as part of her presentation marketing pieces from several credit unions in which cover art and message was changed according to the person's life stage, i.e., student, young adult, married with children, approaching retirement and retired.

There are other ways to goose responses, too, she noted. For instance, personalizing a piece increases response by 44%. Adding four color increases response by 45%. Adding name and color increases response by 135%. Adding data base information increases responses by 500%.

"That is huge; it is so significant,"" said Stephens. "That's something credit unions can capitalize on quite effectively."

Stephens offered four other pointers when marketing to members, whether it be in print or online:

1. Be Direct. Headlines are 80% of the offer.

2, Be smart. Put the member first. "As a valued member we are pleased to offer you a pre-approved loan."

3. Be specific. "Your research should contain twice what you read about."

4. Be warm. "Use a lot of you's, I's and we's. Colloquial expressions are OK."

Such print-based marketing, she acknowledged, is giving way to electronic communication with members. She cited research showing the average person spends 65 minutes per session on the Internet, a figure skewed somewhat because not everyone has Internet access.

"Why do members return (to the credit union's site)?" she asked. "Because we made it interesting and exciting."

Stephens urged credit unions to put in place a process to optimize website performance, including defining site objectives, establishing support objectives, and testing and leverage the best performers.

What kind of activities do members use online? Stephens cited research showing most frequently used are e-mail (93%), search engines (79%), research (63%), contests (59%), news (53%) and instant messaging.

Questioning her audience, Stephens found widespread agreement that the biggest issue in electronic marketing is maintaining quality e-mail addresses.

And how often do members want to get e-mails from their credit unions? Research showed 9% said daily, 34% indicated weekly.

That same research shows that the member category with the strongest interest in buying financial services that are customized to needs and tastes are consumers age 25-39, followed by those age 18-24 and then those age 30-39.

It isn't just credit unions that are chasing business online.

"When you think of your competition you think of the bank across the street or the credit union with the new community charter," said Stephens. "But the Internet has changed that." Case in point, said Stephens, is the biggest branch competitor to credit unions is now State Farm Insurance, every office of which can access online financial services.

Whatever means is being used to market the credit union, electronic or print, it's important to note how consumers are changing, said Stephens.

She noted that in 1960, four in 10 people over the age of 25 had graduated from high school, and 1 in 10 from college. In 2004, eight in 10 have high school degrees and three in 10 are college graduates.

"So we have a higher educated market that we are trying to attain," noted Stephens.

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