Speaking directly to customers with personalized, targeted messaging through a medium that they value and pay attention to - it's the Holy Grail of TransPromo and the driving vision behind many sophisticated statement message management systems.

A key element of harnessing this potential, however, is understanding the different types of messaging, the roles of each, and the effect that these have on how the messages should be used on a statement.

Gathered into three broad categories, messages are generally promotional, account- or information-based or regulatory in nature. Understanding the three core types of messaging and creating a plan for how to use each effectively in the context of your particular document is the first step in developing an effective messaging strategy.

Promotional messages, the big ROI driver for statements (if they're done right), need to be customized and driven by a well-thought-out strategy. The proper placement of promotional messages on the page is a delicate balance between being prominent enough to be noticed and being so conspicuous as to interfere with the main purpose of the document (telling people how much their bill is or how their investments are doing) to the point of annoying readers and turning them off.

The content should be as personalized to the individual reader as possible, reflecting their unique situation, activities and interests. This information can be gleaned from the data elements in your CRM database and by using things like life-stage analysis. (Don't tell the young person getting their first mortgage about home equity loans, as they likely have very little equity in their home. Instead, tell them how they can pay their mortgage down faster or reduce their monthly payments.)

And keep in mind that customizable content includes the offers or information itself, but also the language and imagery, each of which contributes to the overall sense that a message has truly been customized to my needs and interests as a customer.

Account or informational messages are helpful messages about account features, money-saving tips or answers to commonly asked questions. While they're not directly promotional in nature, they can go a long way to improving an organization's relationship with their customers by reducing frustration (in the case of helpful tips and explanations) and by helping customers get more out of their account with you (for example, a message suggesting that based on the customer's account activity, a different plan with lower fees might meet their needs more effectively).

Unlike promotional messages, which typically have a distinct spot reserved for them on a statement, account or informational messages are ideally integrated into the section of the bill to which they correspond. For example, the lower fees message might be integrated into the summary section of the bill, where the fees are first presented and where readers are most likely to notice the message.

Regulatory messages are the Brussels sprouts of the messaging world. They need to be there, but nobody but the legal department likes them, and very few people read them. Given that, these should be written as clearly as possible and then placed as unobtrusively as possible. In some situations, it is mandated that certain messages appear in particular areas of the document. When this is not the case, the end of the document following the transactional information and other messaging areas is often appropriate.

By understanding the different types of messaging and how to use each effectively, document designers and content managers can develop a strategy that makes the best use of the limited messaging space that is typically available on statements and other data-driven documents, maximizing ROI and building loyalty with their customers.

Scott Watkinson is a senior communications consultant specializing in the writing and design of customer-focused business documents. Send your comments to scott.watkinson@primus.ca.