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The 5 Cs of Communication Comprehension

July 2017: Vol 40 No 7
Lynne Viccaro O'Leary
If you don't manage the message, the message will manage you.

A child speaking into a tin can phoneA Google search for “communication,” will yield over 1.5 billion results. Of those results, the majority of articles about effective business communication describe why communication is important or the methods of communication (i.e., social media platforms and other new delivery channels). And while professor and media analyst Marshall McLuhan astutely pointed out that “the medium is the message,” it seems that the importance of the message itself has gotten lost in the shuffle.

The goal of communication is to ensure message comprehension. The message needs to be understood by its intended audience to be effective. Otherwise it is merely noise.

Consumers are being communicated at multiple times every minute—but what actually gets through? It’s a constant challenge to figure out what resonates and with whom. Often it’s a timing issue: The wants, needs or desires of the audience at a given time governs whether they are open to the message. Credit union marketers should ask themselves if they are being strategic in defining their audience, or if they are employing a buckshot approach and hoping for the best.

More Isn’t Necessarily Better

 Communication is often cited as a top challenge for organizations, both internally and externally. The usual response to this challenge is creating more channels of communication—emails, newsletters, meetings or bulletin boards—assuming that more access to information is the solution. The real solution is to better define the message itself, rather than increase the methods.

Credit unions have tended to be more passive in their outreach—in years’ past they had protected SEGs and a loyal member base. The need to communicate with a more diverse and rapidly changing market has changed the method of communication for CUs due to increased competition and multiple platforms. The top-down method is no more, as information flows in and out at all levels of the organization.

The 5 C Communication Formula

Instead, it would serve credit unions well to follow the 5Cs of communication to ensure their message is appropriately created and comprehended by their intended audience. The formula is as follows:

Communication = Content + Curation + Context + Consistency + Comprehension

Content: The content is where it all begins. The current era of credit union content marketing has a strategic focus on membership growth, lead generation, brand awareness and brand perception on a much larger scale than ever before. Marketers have to decide what is it they want to say and who they want to say it to. Is the goal to tell members about a new product or service? Or maybe announce a new branch opening? Write the message in the most direct, jargon-free language as possible, incorporating the who, what, where, when, why and how. Once those questions are answered, the basis for the message is established.

Curation: The next step is to curate the communication. Tell the audience what they need to know and edit out the extraneous details. Do they need to know about the logistics of how the credit union’s management team picked the location of the new branch, or how much the permits cost? No—they need to know where it is, when it will open and who will be running it.

P.S. Don’t forget transitional phrases; otherwise, the prose will read like a grocery list. One way to prevent this is to read it out loud to ensure proper copy flow.

Context: Context is key. Don’t make members or potential members guess at what you are trying to say to them or how the credit union’s product or service helps them. Marketers also need to figure out what delivery channel makes the most sense to ensure message delivery to the appropriate audience. For example, if a credit union was going to conduct a seminar on the best financial services products for retirement, it would probably not promote the seminar on Snapchat, as the interests of the demographic that uses that social media platform would not likely match the subject matter.

Consistency: Now that the content has been created, curated and put into context, it needs to be delivered on a consistent basis. Remember to walk the line between informing and bombarding. One email or two social media posts a week, for example, should be the rule of thumb. More than that is overkill and will result in the dilution and probable dismissal of the message.

Comprehension: The previous four steps should lead the credit union’s audience to comprehension. How do you know if members received and understood the message? Ask them when they come into the branch or contact the call center. Increased membership, loan growth or a huge turnout at the new branch opening are sure-fire indicators that the message was comprehended.

Applying this formula to the credit union’s communication plan should help marketing professionals achieve their goals. If comprehension seems to be lacking, go back to any of the previous Cs and fine tune them. And remember, communication is transmitted via a channel—meaning it should flow both ways. Audiences don’t want nor expect to be preached at anymore—there needs to be a two-way line of communication to allow for feedback and response.

Lynne Viccaro O’Leary is VP/marketing for Hauppauge, N.Y.-based Teachers Federal Credit Union, a 270,000-member credit union with 25 branches and over $5 billion in assets. She can be reached at

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