Financial Institutions Use Real-Time Marketing To Drive Sales

The aspiration of most financial services marketers is to leverage the most recent consumer insight available to deliver offers that are both timely and relevant. Greater access to consumer behavior online, and the ability to process and convert this insight into dynamically personalized content and offers, is helping to make 'real-time marketing' a CRM reality for the more advanced banks and credit unions.

Financial services firms generally hold some of the most robust information available to understand consumers’ financial needs, wants and behaviors. Unfortunately, many firms have been challenged by the reluctance to use data that might be perceived as privileged as well being hampered by organizational models where valuable insight is sequestered in silos.

Despite these challenges, bank and credit union marketing executives are empowered more than ever to leverage both internal and external consumer insights to deliver real-time marketing solutions for their customers and members. This is because there are more tools and channels available to process and deliver the ‘next best offer’ with less and less lag time between consumer action and response.

Real-Time Marketing Defined

The promise of real-time marketing is to meet the needs of consumers with the right message … in the right place … at the right time. However, there is still uncertainty in the market around the definition of real-time marketing, and how it can be applied in financial marketing organizations.

To better understand cross-industry marketer thoughts on the definition, challenges and opportunities around real-time marketing, Adobe partnered with the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) to conduct a study of 235 North American marketers entitled, ‘Real-Time Marketing Insights Study.’ According to the study, 61 percent of the marketers surveyed believed that delivering dynamic personalized content across channels or through outbound/inbound channels defined real-time marketing. Surprisingly, only 23 percent believe real-time marketing is about making quick responses to mainstream events or injecting the organization in social media conversations.

While the term ‘real-time marketing’ has had multiple different meanings over time in the media, marketers still think of web personalization as opposed to well-timed communication for the most part.


Some of the other key findings of the study include:

  • 60% of marketers note they struggle to personalize content in real-time, yet 77% believe real-time personalization is crucial
  • Real-time cross-channel engagement (75%) and web engagement (69%) are very important, but most marketers are still in planning stages
  • Real-time email is the highest rated channel – 80% find it very important, and over half are already leveraging this channel
  • Real-time mobile and social lag behind email, web, and cross-channel for marketers
  • Two-thirds of respondents are planning for real-time technologies

Why then aren’t marketers implementing dynamic, personalized content in droves? It may be the challenges that marketers have historically faced in implementing dynamic personalization in real-time.

Real-Time Marketing Challenges

As noted by Epsilon is a recent white paper entitled, ‘Something You Might Want: Real-Time Marketing in Financial Services,’ there is no algorithm that can just take all available offers and all the customer insight, churn them up, and spit out the perfect matches. Instead, financial institutions need to have a strategic framework in place to develop offers, apply a rules engine, and measure the results of real-time efforts.

“The technical capabilities are not enough – marketers will differentiate themselves by how they use intelligence and insight to leverage these tools.”

“In planning real-time offers, financial marketers have to balance the customer-centric view, the product view, and the channel view,” says Jon Casciari, VP of Data Analytics, Epsilon. “While the needs of the customer should dominate, the goals for individual products and channels must also be protected. This requires clear Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for each goal, and a plan to measure those KPIs within the real-time program.”

According to the Adobe/DMA study, there are several challenges to delivering on the promise of real-time marketing, including the personalization of messages, measuring the effectiveness of the marketing efforts, leveraging the data available and the coordination of communications. While the data gathering, analysis, and even the tools may be established at many banks and credit unions for the processing of internal insight such as demographics, product history, prior marketing reach-out and response, most organizations are less adept at leveraging external (big data) insights.

The term “big data” says it all: more information, from a wider range of sources, in different formats, of varying complexity, arriving at an ever-increasing pace. High-performance analytics can help financial organizations glean insights from the noise, but ultimately, organizations will need to transform their customer-engagement processes to effectively monetise this information. This will also require gaining a 360 degree view of the consumer despite internal data silos.


After data is collected, the next step is to turn data analysis into real-time marketing activity. Banks already use customer data to cross-sell products and services, build loyalty, detect fraud and manage risk. The next step is a shift toward real-time relationship marketing. This is increasingly critical as digital financial transactions are integrated into
daily activities and customers visit bank branches less often. By focusing on the customer relationship rather than products, banks can expand their businesses through nimble, well-timed responses to customers’ wants and needs.

According to Epsilon, this requires an investment in a robust offer decisioning and delivery solution. While many elements of this engine are similar to traditional marketing platforms, speed and the ability to act on insights from various channels distinguishes the real-time offer engine. The objective is to be able to deliver a personalized solution to the consumer at the best possible time according to their individual behavior and needs as well as the ability to respond to needs even as they migrate across channels.

“If the data isn’t evaluated fast enough, and the offer isn’t served up immediately, it doesn’t matter if it’s the most relevant offer in the world; you’re likely going to lose that opportunity with the customer,” says Todd Denton, VP/GM, Financial Services, Epsilon. This is particularly critical in the digital and mobile-first environment, where messages must be presented almost instantaneously. Even provided the right tools and systems, however, there are still several barriers to success according the the Adobe/DMA study.


Real-Time Marketing Benefits

While there are many challenges and barriers to success with real-time marketing, the benefits of successful implementation are thought to be worth the effort according to most marketers. In fact, many of the benefits of real-time marketing are in alignment with the vision that most marketers want for their marketing organization … better targeting, improved customer satisfaction and experience, increased cross-sell, up-sell, retention and revenues as well as improved marketing efficiency.

The good news is that the ability to effectively and efficiently process and apply big data is getting easier every day thanks to new technologies and the effective utilization of digital channels.


Real-Time Marketing In Action

According to Epsilon, it is critical that the financial marketers balance personalization with discretion, so that offers are relevant and timely, but they do not seem intrusive. Unlike the retail or consumer products industries, where consumers have come to expect highly targeted offers, personalization in the financial services industry may require being less personalized than actual capabilities allow. As a general rule, the more explicit a consumer has been in sharing information or preferences, the more direct the marketer can comfortably be in demonstrating use of that data.

“The shift away from calendar-driven, campaign-based marketing to real-time action requires significant change to the skills and mindset of the organization.”

In addition, it is recommended that marketers should recognize that personalized messaging should not be overly prescriptive because the consumer will still want to have the flexibility to explore alternatives. As a result, communications should usually create clear access to other related offers.

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While the chart below represents how real-time marketing is being deployed by marketers across industries, the relative importance of each channel does not appear out of line with the channels being used in financial services with the exception of social channels which are most likely over-represented. This channel distribution still provides a good guide for channel prioritization for financial marketers.


Some examples of real-time marketing by financial organizations today are most easily found on the credit and payments side of the business, where immediate response to changes in credit utilization or recent transactions provide real-time opportunities.


Source: Comperemedia, 2014



Source: Comperemedia, 2014



Source: Comperemedia, 2014

Getting Started

“Experience has proven the benefit of executing by starting small, while at the same time ensuring the vision and the capabilities have longer-term rollout in mind.”

As with any significant financial marketing initiative, the first rule for success is to ‘just do it.’ While building a real-time marketing organization is definitely not as easy as flipping a switch, doing nothing is not an option. Once you have decided to move forward, success will depend on prioritizing the needs and perspective of the customer ahead of the organization or specific product lines since, by definition, real-time marketing is all about customer centricity. Epsilon agrees with this perspective, stating that when defining the overarching strategy for the program, customer benefit should trump the goals for individual products or channels.

If done correctly, real-time marketing for banks and credit unions meets the following criteria for customer centricity.


Secondly, it will be important to have a 360 degree view of the customer or member for a real-time marketing initiative to be successful. Any move to break down well established silos will require a solid business case, with the ability to move beyond the promise of real-time marketing being rooted in smaller ‘quick win’ initiatives. Through an iterative process of testing, learning and persuading, lessons learned from initial experiences can be applied to more ambitious projects.

Finally, financial marketers will need to restructure their team for more data-driven, responsive, and flexible marketing approaches. The team and leadership at the organization need to invest in the tools and training necessary for the move to real-time marketing, while at the same time embracing the benefits of leveraging insight and delivering offers that improve the organization’s value proposition and customer experience.

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