Financial Marketers Can’t ‘Personalize’ Anything with Junky Data

All the talk about artificial intelligence, personalization and one-on-one marketing flies in the face of the reality at too many banks and credit unions where 'knowing the customer' is limited at best. Data first, marketing second should be your mantra in today's high-stakes marketplace. The change will take time and effort but can begin with some simple steps.

Many bankers love to say they know their customers by name. In person, that might be true. But if “we know your name” is part of your brand, you must deliver on that promise not only in person, but online and by mail. Otherwise you’ll be left standing still while competitors zoom past you.

Customized customer communications should be first in the rulebook for financial marketers, yet this is often an area that gets glossed over.

Case in point: An employee recently left our company and her corporate credit card was closed. The letter sent to our office confirming the account closing was addressed to her. Here’s what it said:

“Dear Cardmember,
Thank you for contacting XXX Bank regarding your account. We at XXX Bank have valued your relationship and regret your decision to close your account.” … etc.

Her decision to close the account? This was a corporate card, but the letter was obviously written to an individual. The bank had no clue about their relationship with her or with our company. They looked foolish.

Many consumers have experienced something similar, or have seen some or all of the following from their financial institution:

  • The email that has their name wrong or no name at all, just [FNAME] in the supposedly customized greeting.
  • The direct mail piece promoting a product that doesn’t interest them or fit their lifestyle.
  • The “You might like” popup offers upon login that have no connection to the customer’s needs.

This makes customers feel you don’t know them after all.

This Is Not Just Marketing’s Job, It Will Take a Team

It’s essential for marketing, IT, customer experience, HR and frontline bankers to be working together to consistently create the winning, personalized customer interactions that build business. Every financial institution team has valuable information so they must have a seat at this table. Yes, it will take you more time this way. But it will help you build better solutions for customers and better results for your institution.

First, get the basics corrected. Start with cleaning up your data. Ensure that you have the correct types of relationships connected to each customer. Make sure you have their names, spell them correctly and cross check across multiple databases.

Once that’s accomplished, you’re ready to work together to identify things like spending and saving habits, loan usage and types of loans, low or high balances and excessive fees. You can also slice and dice looking at the length of time customers have been with your institution and the number of account relationships they have with you.

Demographic information like whether or not there are children in the household can also flag services customers need.

“It can feel like more fun to brainstorm creative promotional ideas than to wade through data, so data analysis falls by the wayside.”
— Martha Bartlett Piland, Banktastic

There’s much more of course, but even with the above basic information you now have opportunities to craft customized messages about life events and products your customers in different segments care about.

Leverage what you know using fintech solutions and marketing programs that will help you meet customers where they are in terms of a current need. For example, new parents can be educated about college savings plans. Small business owners can be offered promotions on major equipment leasing, expansion loans or working capital. Empty nesters can learn about downsizing or purchasing a vacation home or recreational vehicle.

Bonus points for going deeper. Your customers are subtly and unintentionally telling you a lot. All you need to do is listen, mine and interpret the data to anticipate their next financial need. For example:

  • Maturing auto loan holders may soon start shopping for a new vehicle.
  • Low-use online banking account holders may be shopping for a new bank.
  • Repeat users of the loan calculator on your site may be shopping for a refi or a major purchase.

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You know this stuff, Why Isn’t It Being Done?

Sometimes marketers jump right to the glitzy parts of marketing first. It can feel like more fun to brainstorm creative promotional ideas than to wade through data, so the hard work of data analysis falls by the wayside.

Better use of data isn’t necessarily that hard to change. It could be as simple as checking the workflow process in your marketing department. For example, how do you go about checking your work before launching an email campaign or a variable-data direct mail piece? A round of tests and an extra round of proofreading will likely catch “Dear Cardmember” goofs and other errors before they go live.

In other cases, the cause is a gulf between the people in IT and the marketing department. That can be a bigger hill to climb, but whether it results from people protecting turf or simply an oversight, you must bridge this divide.

It may feel daunting to get started. Nonetheless, this should be your priority. Set a specific timeframe to get it done rather than have it kicked forward again and again. The 1-2-3 approach, below, can set you up for success.

1. PLAN: Initiate a strategy with key leaders in your institution

Expect to have multiple meetings and spend some time doing deep thinking about how to better serve your customers and build toward the goals in your financial institution’s strategic plan.

Establish goals and the metrics you expect to achieve. What can you invest, and what’s the payoff? For example, simply saying you want to deepen relationships with customers is not enough. Be ready to quantify how, when and where these relationships will grow.

Many hands make light work may be a cliche, but it’s still quite true. Since you’re assembling a team of leaders in your institution, it will be easier to break the assignment into pieces to move things forward faster. Your teammates in other departments are subject matter experts. They can alert you to potential pitfalls and opportunities. Make sure they have a seat at the planning table to ensure that you’re getting, and building, their buy-in.

Working in concert doesn’t mean being a “Yes man,” however. Ask questions. Then ask more questions and be ready to listen.

Starting with a plan makes everyone’s jobs easier later in the process.

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2. RESEARCH: Do your due diligence to find out what products can meet the needs of your customers and your institution

Here’s how three departments can contribute to this effort:

Technology: Find out how you can leverage in-house capabilities and build within the technology framework already in place. Ask your tech gurus to help identify what information they can help you pull from your existing customer data and where they need outside help. Find out what’s on their wish list for building the institution’s tech capabilities and share with them the outside sources you’ve been evaluating. This will be music to their ears. It’s possible they’ve been itching to build some innovative new systems. Or, they may be leery of adding anything new if you’ve just completed a core conversion. Either way, getting them involved on the front end is essential.

HR: The most brilliant marketing campaign in the world will fall flat if employees are unaware of how they each fit into this new way of serving customers. The HR professionals in your institution can help you work through the issues and challenges of employee training on these new ways of doing business.

Frontline bankers need to know how to use the data so they can appropriately counsel customers who have questions or new financial needs. You also want them to know they’re part of making your marketing efforts successful. Don’t let them be caught unaware — or worse, embarrassed — when customers mention a particular promotion that the staffer doesn’t know about.

Financial institution employees who work behind the scenes are also vital the success of this endeavor. They’re the ones processing, connecting departments and making things run smoothly. A “quick turnaround” loan offer will disappoint unless all the mechanics are in place to fulfill that promise.

Marketing: No matter what you do, you’ve got to make sure the work you’re doing and the systems you implement build your institution’s brand. Fiercely fight sameness. Don’t be perceived as a commodity.

If you decide to purchase some off-the-shelf solutions, be sure they can be white-labeled. Ask: Can the customer experience match the brand you’ve been working so hard to build? Your offers may appear confusing or copycat to customers — especially those who have multiple banking relationships — unless the technology you install is seamless with what they’re accustomed to using.

3. TEST & IMPLEMENT: Will you roll out all at once or by audience segment?

Consider using your institution’s board of directors, advisory board and possibly a specialized outside advisory board (such as one made up of Millennials) to try out your proposed changes and give feedback so you can:

  • Gauge how easy it is to use, understand and adopt.
  • Measure the perceived value.
  • Learn whether others think it supports your brand promise.
  • Find out whether it makes your institution more relatable to customers.

Ultimately, each marketing effort must make your institution stickier and more profitable. Testing and listening can help you know whether you’re ready to launch, make refinements or start over.

Now you’re ready to start your marketing. No more “one size fits all.” You can develop campaigns, outreach, communications and promotions that suit your customers.

Further, your institution’s team members — both customer-facing and back-of house — are ready to help make the customer experience seamless and personal. As an institution, you are far more likely to deliver results.

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