For bank marketers, the quarterly newsletter is almost a dinosaur. But the value and flexibility offered by a new kind of newsletter that's a mashup of Web delivery, microsites, mobile access and social media is becoming readily apparent to banks such as Watertown Savings Bank.

"I can talk about things that are happening in the next few days now," says Carole Katz, vp of marketing, Watertown Savings Bank, which has just finished a project that's automated much of its newsletter content and delivery. "Before, with hard copy, I could only talk about things that I had a measure of control over for the next few months."

This summer the $1-billion bank started using IMN's hosted SaaS technology to drive the newsletter upgrades. The paper-intensive delivery is gone; the three-to-four times per year frequency of the newsletters has become monthly; and the bank can track who's reading which articles and for how long. Readers can access the content via mobile devices and share them on social networks, and business clients can market themselves through the newsletters by linking to microsites. "We want to be top of mind with our customers, tell them that we're here and remind them of us," Katz says.

Under the old system, in which 20,000 print newsletters were mass mailed (and a PDF version was posted online), the bank had no way to measure readership beyond the 1,000 or so responses from surveys. Now, Watertown and IMN-which didn't reveal ROI based on the first couple of newsletters this summer-can use the tech firm's tracking capabilities on which articles are being read (and for how long) along with click-throughs.

Another part of the new strategy includes mobile access, which at this point is accomplished via a "skin" that converts the Web content for mobile viewing-it's not a native mobile app. "The idea is there are a lot of ways to access information-it's not a desktop or a PC at home all the time anymore," says Craig Capp, a vp at IMN, an e-communications firm that's new to financial services, having done most of its work in the auto industry for about 1,600 auto dealers.

Emmett Higdon, a senior analyst at Forrester Research, says the extension of e-newsletters to mobile phones is a new trend that should increase in use as mobile screens get larger on newer smart phones and handsets. "A 1.5-inch screen for a newsletter isn't anybody's idea of a good time," he says.

Higdon downplays the effectiveness of social-media sharing capabilities, however, saying that articles in a banking newsletter aren't likely to be must-reads among a customer's Facebook friends or Twitter followers.

Capp says the social media takeup doesn't necessarily have to be robust to be effective. "Facebook averages about 130 friends per user [the prevailing industry estimate]. Even with a .1 percent posting rate [for articles] that's a 10 fold increase in the content for that user."

The bank's newsletters typically include a main feature, product stories, reports on the bank's activities in the community and a spotlight on a local business. The IMN model will add content from IMN, as well.

The IMN content is a mix of financial literacy, small-business information and lifestyle information, with the goal of capturing and maintaining interest.

"Newsletters have been notoriously painful for banks," says Capp. "They're too sales oriented instead of content driven."

The next step for the bank is to work with local businesses to produce microsites that enable promos and links to the businesses from the newsletter; and to build out its subscriber base: The bank has 12,000 email addresses out of 24,000 customers.

IMN's part of a growing tech market to supply email, mobile, and social media-distributed marketing and on-demand service content, and includes firms like Responsys, e-Dialog and Knotice.

Enterprise services generally include options to manage opt-in forms, creative strategy and development for materials delivered via microsites, Web, mobile, and print formats. E-dialog, for example, helps deliver content though email and social networks for clients such as RBS and its subsidiary, Citizens Bank.

"To know who opened a story and who read it gives you a better sense of engagement," says Scott Jones, a director at Responsys, which produces editorial and marketing content for Web and mobile devices-as well as tracking-for clients such as Bank of the West, MetLife, eBank and others.

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