COLUMBIA, S.C. – A combination of attitudes and technology ismaking marketing to members through the electronic channel nopicnic in the park. Giving them the option to opt in or out ofreceiving marketing messages has long been the standard way to tryto make sure members don't feel spammed, but the growing use ofe-mail filters is complicating things Filters not only screen outmail by keywords, but also by the origination of the e-mailthemselves. The problem is exacerbated by the growing use offilters by Internet service providers, including the major vendorslike America Online and MSN, whose latest versions include built-inspam blockers that can stop a lot of what members and their creditunions consider to be very legitimate traffic. The big boys havegood reason to intervene. Unsolicited commercial e-mails, spam,comprises an estimated 70% to 80% of the traffic at largecommercial domains like AOL and MSN, and about 50% of all e-mail,says Alan Mosher, research director at Probe Group, a NewJersey-based telecommunications research and advisory firm. “Spamhas forced ISPs to implement additional tools that give subscribersgreater control over what messages reach e-mail in-boxes. They havealso had to add third-party services to intercept the bulk of spambefore it reaches subscriber in-boxes,” Mosher says. Credit unionsmight be well served to advise their members on how to use theirISP's options to change their settings to allow e-mail in fromtheir credit unions. “It's not spam if the member asks for it,”says Ron Daly, founder of Digital Mailer, a Virginia-based vendorof e-statements, electronic surveys and other member services. “Butveteran CU e-mail marketers now have to seek ways back into thevery in-boxes they have permission to use.” That includes askingmembers to add their e-mail addresses and Web sites to the“approved” list in their spam blocking software. Daly also advisescredit unions to run their outbound e-mail through differentfilters before sending them out. Regulators also are weighing in,Daly points out. “Emerging state regulations and penaltiesregarding spam and controlling the amount out there, with my homestate of Virginia leading the way, will mean CUs want to stay outof the spam category,” the Digital Mailer founder says. “You mayhave noticed the new ADV: code on the subject line of some youre-mails, or will soon. I have set my spam filter to run all e-mailswith ADV in the subject line to go directly to my junk e-mailfolder. But I'm nice. Most members let the software automaticallydelete filtered mail before reviewing,” Daly says. Please, Not HereMembers may not be so nice. While generally unwelcome anyway, spamis particularly inappropriate for credit unions, given theirspecial relationship with consumers, and that in itself presents achallenge in today's electronic marketplace. “As credit unionsincreasingly venture into the world of electronic communicationswith members and the communities they serve, it is imperative thatthey maintain their strong position founded upon trust, greatservice and good rates, and differentiate from other services,including financial services, by NOT engaging in unsolicited e-mailmarketing campaigns,” says Stephanie Shah, vice president ofmarketing and product management for Harland Financial Solutions.“More so, for their electronic delivery strategies to besuccessful, credit unions must be able to engage with membersonline. All the more reason to avoid spamming members,” Shah says.Brian Siegel couldn't agree more. “It's extremely important thatmember don't perceive our e-mails as spam,” says the vice presidentof marketing and e-commerce at $2.5 billion Wescom Credit Union inPasadena, Calif. “And as the volume of spam increases, consumersare becoming increasingly intolerant of e-mail thought to be spam.”Avoiding that perception goes beyond letting members decide whetherthey want to receive the mail in the first place, Siegel says. “Wetry to position our e-mails with a friendly, informative tone, withno-hard sell tactics,” he says. “We also try to target e-mails atmembers who are likely to be interested in the offer. For example,we would make sure that only homeowners would receive an e-mailpromoting home equity loans.” That's also the philosophy at $1billion Northwest Federal Credit Union in Herndon, Va. “First andforemost, we don't send unsolicited e-mail messages to our members.They must first opt in to receive them,” says Casey Krol,e-marketing specialist at NWFCU. “Second, we make sure that themessages we send have value for the member, whether we're informingthem about an upcoming first-time homebuyer or retirement planningseminar or a reduction in auto loan rates,” Krol says. Even so,there's the issue of filters. Krol says NWFCU has had a problemwith e-mails being returned as undeliverable, “due in part tospam-filtering technology. To combat this, we try to educate ourmembers about the technology by placing information on our Web siteabout what they need to do to change their Internet settings toallow our e-mails through.” Wescom also has had to deal with thatissue. “When putting e-mails together, we're conscious of the keywords and phrases that trigger spam filters,” Siegel says. “Forexample, we try to find ways to say `free' without using that word.And before we send an e-mail to members, we send a test to accountsat Yahoo, MSN and other providers to make sure we're not beingtrapped by their spam filters.” The need for such tactics is notlikely to vanish soon or without some effort, including creatingnew standards, industry participants observe. “There is an ongoingbattle between spammers and filters, and the good guys are caughtin the middle,” says John-Ashley Paul, vice president of marketingfor CUTech Inc., which provides e-mail marketing and membercommunications technology to several of Harland's large ULTRADATAcredit union clients. “There will have to be some sort of codifiedcertification for opt-in only e-mail systems that spam filters willhave to recognize for opt-in only e-mail systems that spam filterswill have to recognize and automatically let through to users inthat specific domain,” Paul says. “Because consumers that opt-in toreceive electronic services will be a key factor in this process,look for more opt-in e-mail services working on standards that willbe supported by ISPs and spam-filter software vendors,” he says.-

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