Financial Marketers Must Now Embrace ‘Always On’ Sales Mode

No bank or credit union can just run an ad and stop there. Financial marketing today requires having your financial brand in play continually, especially with tailored messaging and offers based on data analytics. Note: Being someone's primary financial institution may mean nothing if your brand is invisible online. And privacy ranks #2 as many consumers increasingly expect personalization.

When Carrie Stapp headed up marketing for a bank holding company a few years ago, she and a young graphic designer on her team were talking about social media. The designer was annoyed because ads for a particular brand of “healthy” ice cream she enjoyed kept popping up on her Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram feeds.

“I already buy this brand every time I go to the grocery store,” she complained to Stapp. “Why don’t they know that? Why do they keep marketing to me?”

For Stapp, “that was a real eye-opener. Consumers now expect all brands to be able to know all about them. They expect that a company will know ‘I’m buying their ice cream and that I’m a loyal customer. So they don’t need to spend their marketing money trying to reach me’.”

“Consumers now expect all brands to be able to know all about them.”
— Carrie Stapp, Harland Clarke

Somewhere along the line, says Stapp, now Senior Vice President-Product Management at Harland Clarke, consumers went from worrying about companies seeming to know lots of personal things about them to not only being very comfortable with the idea, but expecting that degree of knowledge and assuming that it will produce highly personalized service and products.

Mindset Shift: We’ve gone from fearing “Big Brother,” an oppressive omnipresence, to expecting a benevolent corporate caretaker. This carries many implications for the customer acquisition process carried out by financial marketers.

Data-Driven Marketing Increasingly is Expected

Profound change has come to financial marketing. At the least, consumers expect their current banking institutions to know precisely what has been going on in their financial lives and to act on that. “I just paid off my mortgage, why isn’t my bank suggesting how I could be putting that saved money to work?” is the kind of thinking consumers engage in now, says Stapp.

“In the 1980s and 1990s, we didn’t have all the data we have now about our consumers,” says Stapp, “so we routinely blanketed all the mass media in the hopes that we would be speaking to a portion of the audience and get a decent response rate.”

“Sorry, but you are destined to fail with an ‘acquisition campaign’.”
— Geoff Thomas, Harland Clarke

The wealth of data available, the increasing ability to customize and personalize marketing and the explosion of media forms have transformed marketing and consumers’ interaction with it. In a time when ecommerce sites like Amazon routinely react to what you were shopping for moments earlier, financial marketers must adapt or become hopelessly dated in approach and timing.

The watchword for financial marketers today, Stapp states, is “audience of one.”

A second major marketing shift is the advent of “always on” marketing. Gone is the concept of running an “acquisition campaign,” with a definitive start and finish. “Acquisition season”? Say goodbye to that too.

“I’m sorry, but you are destined to fail with an ‘acquisition campaign’,” says Geoff Thomas, Chief Product Officer at Harland Clarke.

“Customer acquisition is something that you must always be in market for,” Thomas, also a former banker, continues. “You always need to be identifying your next opportunity.”

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If You Provide Value, Privacy Issue Fades

Many banks and credit unions haven’t caught up to these changes. Three out of five institutions are not using data-driven household acquisition strategies, according to a poll taken among listeners to a webinar Thomas and Stapp presented. Thomas says this needs to change, because financial institutions will increasingly face nonbank competition that reaches consumers through shared delivery platforms. The nonbanks, such as fintechs, typically make more use of data in their marketing.

“It’s possible that we’re overvaluing privacy and that we’re making assumptions on how consumers value privacy…. Personally, if using my data provides value to me as a consumer, I’m completely fine with that.”

“The industry has to up its game,” says Stapp, and rethink how it uses data.

“Banks and credit unions use data in ways designed for account processing and they value privacy,” continues Stapp. “However, I think it’s possible that we’re overvaluing privacy and that we’re making assumptions on how consumers value privacy. We don’t want to put private data in jeopardy, but if utilizing it provides signals that help institutions understand what consumers need, that’s helpful. Personally, if using my data provides value to me as a consumer, I’m completely fine with that. As long as it drives value it won’t be perceived as creepy.”

Stapp and Thomas cite figures supporting this argument:

  • Financial institutions are behind the curve. Consumer research by EverFi indicates that 59% of consumers think banks and credit unions deliver personalized experiences “somewhat well.” By contrast, 81% of consumers give online retailers the same grade.
  • 82% want a personalized customer journey on your website. Web optimization can’t be delivered without extensive use of consumer data.
  • 81% prefer relevant advertising. Targeted marketing means “making the right offer to the right person at the right time,” says Thomas. Having data that enables targeting also helps a financial marketer “get ahead of the noise” surrounding consumers so the institution’s offer has a clear shot at being understood.

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What Financial Marketing Looks Like with a Data Boost

Besides the factors already mentioned, customer acquisition techniques have changed because of the increased role played by consumers’ researching potential purchases early in the process. They tap multiple sources, including friends, family, and peers, but most frequently the internet, where they surf for online reviews and more.

To illustrate how the new marketing cycle works, Stapp and Thomas use the case of “Angela,” a hypothetical Millennial consumer who wants to remodel her home by updating the floors, doors, and windows.

“Angela is going to need to finance all of these upgrades,” says Stapp. “If she is not a current customer, this is an opportunity to acquire her. If she is, then we have to make sure that we retain her, and keep her engaged with our brand.”

“There’s an entire world out there of signals and triggers that give us the insights to be better acquirers and influencers of which financial services are purchased.”

Angela’s journey begins with research to help her visualize what look and feel she wants. This includes Pinterest and home décor sites. Then she’ll visit home improvement brands’ sites, such as Lowe’s and Home Depot, browsing what’s out there that matches the ideas she’s developed. Stapp says the online research will likely be followed by a store visit to check out the goods. More online research may follow, and Angela may talk to people who have recently done similar remodeling.

The Challenge: “At what point along Angela’s path do we want to get in front of her and tell her that we can help her finance her projects?” asks Stapp.

Millennials, and Gen Z consumers, for that matter, don’t want to be sold to, but prefer to be educated. “That’s the way they need to be marketed to,” says Stapp.

Here’s where “always on” comes in. Aiming for education means more than stuffing your institution’s website full of content relating to home improvement loans, home equity credit, and more. The effort also includes being able to answer the questions of confused financial services shoppers in multiple formats — FAQ, chatbot or a real-time chat with a human financial advisor. Today’s consumers want answers immediately.

In addition, Stapp says, financial institutions that want an “Angela’s” business must maintain and digest sufficient data to know what banking services a consumer is currently using and to project what they may want in the future.

“Institutions also have to monitor for leading signals that indicate that the consumer may be ready to buy from us,” says Stapp. “There’s an entire world out there of signals and triggers that give us the insights to be better acquirers and influencers of which financial services are purchased, how they’re purchased, and when.”

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Earning Business Means Neverending Marketing

When a bank or credit union is a consumer’s primary financial institution, traditionally they would hope to hold a good portion of the person’s financial accounts. In a day when the consumer’s “community” is any website in the world, however, that can be wishful thinking.

“We hear this from clients a lot: ‘We’re their bank. Why don’t we get first at-bat when we’ve been giving them a good experience? ‘,” says Thomas.

It’s true that providing a positive experience is mandatory to get the chance to provide additional products and services to consumers, but all competitors need to make themselves very discoverable in web search.

“The experience starts online,” says Thomas. “If you are not present in search, when the consumer begins to look into a service, you almost don’t exist.”

“And remember that they are inundated with information and that they can perform their search in the privacy of their own homes,” says Stapp.

Try this experiment: Google for “personal loan.” The Financial Brand did this (from a suburban New York City location) with these results: The first bunch of results were paid listings from Lending Club, LendingTree, as well as other online lenders, followed by organic links from two local finance companies, Credit Karma and an aggregation page from NerdWallet. Other than a credit union, which was also paying for its spot, the first organic listing by a traditional financial institution was at the twelfth position.

“You must be present where your prospect is,” Thomas emphasizes, “and you must be present there much more than you think. You cannot overcome your absence.”

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