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Times were different when DigitalMailer was launched in 2000. Back then, the U.S. economy was experiencing growth, personal computers were running in just half of all homes, and our electronic marketing firm was working hard to promote a single product to credit unions: electronic statements.But that was then. Today, credit unions can access a wide variety of digital communications-electronic check images, e-surveys, online newsletters, e-mail alerts and the list goes on. Online programs are available to help credit unions get information out during crises, grow member relationships and strengthen bottom lines using digital technologies. And while the current-day economy is much more daunting than in 2000, it offers cost-effective opportunities for credit union marketers.Gearing up your marketing during a downturn can really pay off: with many companies reigning in their marketing efforts, your messages attract more attention in the less-crowded the marketplace. And right now, a lot of factors are falling into place to make e-marketing the ideal strategy for credit unions to embrace.Now, in the middle of a down cycle, the timing is right to share nine tips to effectively market online:Know the history. Lots of research shows the success of businesses that step up marketing during a recession. In 1989-91, Jif Peanut Butter and Pizza Hut boosted marketing, and both saw sales growth of some 60%. Compare that with McDonald’s, which pulled back its ads and saw a 28% decline in sales. Companies that keep their message and brand in the public’s eye win over those that don’t.Know the benefits of e-mail over snail mail. Budget woes are causing the tried-and-true post office to make changes, including likely dropping service one day a week and another two-cent postage hike. The best alternative to direct mail is e-mail marketing. It’s cheaper, quicker, more convenient and delivers superior ROI. And it’s open for business 24/7.Know the value of creativity. Today’s technology offers lots of options to make e-mail messages stand out in the crowd. Think beyond just words and static images. Adding animation, audio files, active links, YouTube-style videos and other formats will set your e-mail apart.Know the value of timing. Messages gain added relevance when timed with other related events, such as a mortgage promotion that coincides with news of a nationwide rate drop. Use the quickness of e-mail to make the most of current headlines or well-known events along with the public buzz they create.Know when enough is enough. Smart marketers know that just getting a company’s name in front of consumers isn’t enough. And in the case of e-mail, sending too many too quickly can backfire, leading to never-opened messages-or worse: having e-mails tagged as spam.Know how to target. Use collected e-mail addresses and preference-based e-mail to target large and small segments of members at well-timed intervals with offers that appeal to their unique needs. There’s no need to take a shotgun approach when sending e-mails.Know the CAN-SPAM guidelines. The FTC has ruled that e-mailers must include a simple unsubscribe process with their messages-one that doesn’t make recipients give information other than their e-mail address and opt-out choices and does not require them to do more than send a reply message or visit a single Web page to unsubscribe. You must also include a valid, physical post office address.Know how to measure deliverability. In a world of spam blockers and firewalls, even the best-planned e-mail programs may not get messages to their designated inboxes. When developing an e-mail program, include a process to tests the deliverability rates.Know members’ needs. Needs change during a down economy. Remember, members don’t stop needing financial services; they just become more selective and value-driven when shopping for them. Pay attention to member cues through their preselected preferences.There’s never been a better time to make e-mail part of your marketing strategy. It’s effective. It’s smart. And right now, it’s an opportunity for the taking.

Peter Westerman

Credit Union Times

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