This Message Is Just for You. So Why Aren’t You Listening?

Here's a step-by-step guide showing you how to effectively customize marketing messages for maximum impact and ROI.

Let’s all admit it. A lot of the time, we get it wrong.

We send pre-approved home equity acquisition mailings and about 2,000 prospects tell us “no” for every one who opens an account. And with targeted online display checking offers, it might take as many as 20,000 impressions to generate a single new account.

Before you get totally depressed, the good news is that you only need to motivate one extra person to buy and you have doubled your incremental response. Okay, that may be over-simplifying things a bit, but by increasing the relevance of your message when someone is in the product consideration phase of the buying journey, you can dramatically improve results.

What’s the solution? When financial marketers only have limited information about the people they want to reach, the obvious choice is to either:

(a) try to find out more about the consumer at the point of interaction, or

(b) focus on those you know more about (HINT: low-hanging fruit).

Inbound vs. Outbound

If consumers reach out to you, you can usually determine their needs and stage in the buying journey, based on the questions they ask you or by the answers they give you. The information you learn will vary depending on the touchpoint (e.g. search, chat, website, call center, in-branch conversations, mobile app).

If you are reaching out to consumers in an unsolicited manner through various media channels (e.g. direct mail, email, telemarketing, display ad, in-branch signage or ATM), you are much less likely to know what they are thinking and which phase in the buying process they are in.

What you need to do is prioritize your efforts. You should start with your current customers, and for the two following reasons: (1) The more information about them that you get, the more you can personalize messages and increase their relevancy; and (2) If you don’t cater to your customers (i.e., customize the experience), you could lose them. The worst thing that could happen with a prospect is that they don’t become a customer.

So, with all this in mind, you should focus your efforts in this order when defining which segments to target with more personal, tailored and relevant messages:

  1. Customers who reach out to you.
  2. Customers with whom you have time-sensitive information inferring need (e.g. large deposits or withdrawals, adjustable-rate mortgage adjustment, large credit card charges at home improvement centers, change of address, direct deposit sign up, new account).
  3. Prospects who reach out to you.
  4. Prospects about whom you have time-sensitive information.
  5. Everyone else.

Read More: You Ask Customers Questions, Then Ignore Their Answers?

Building a Strategy to Personalize Marketing Communications in 6 Steps

Okay, time to roll up your sleeves.

Conceptually, you are going to map what the consumer likely wants to hear at each touchpoint, then determine if you have the necessary information to provide a customized message… and whether you should do so.

For each of the five segments outlined above, you should follow these six steps:

Step 1 — What are their needs? Knowing someone’s needs enables you to talk to that person in the appropriate context (e.g. new home vs. retirement) and anticipate their questions. Make a list of all the possible needs for your products and services.

A borrowing need may be to reduce monthly payment amount, to reduce interest charges by consolidating debt, or to pay for college, a home renovation, or a sudden emergency. For deposits, needs may be to find a closer bank, lower fees, or a higher interest rate.

Step 2. What questions or concerns might they have? The questions a consumer will have depends on his or her specific needs and phase in the buying process. Your message should ideally address the question or concern, not the need. Make a list of all the possible questions related to each need (group them into categories to simplify the process).

For a home equity line or loan, some questions might be:

  • General Education — What is the difference between a line of credit and a loan?
  • Specific Education — Which product would best fit my needs?
  • Affordability — What are the upfront costs?
  • Fear — Will I be rejected?

Step 3. Where are they in the buying process? This is relevant for both messaging and where you want to invest your resources. Would you rather spend time generating more leads or increasing your conversion rates? Modify the list below to match how you view the buying process and highlight the stages you want to focus on:

Need recognition → thinking about possible products/services → active information gathering → product-set consideration → provider-set consideration → purchase decision → purchase → post-purchase reflection

Step 4. Which touchpoints do you have both the resources for and information to enable customized messaging? When considering resources, take into account ongoing maintenance and the number of message versions. Since the amount of available information will vary based on multiple factors, touchpoints should be chosen separately based on the situation. Create and prioritize a list of touchpoints by need, question, and buying stage.

Step 5. Decide on your custom messages (and whether to use them at all). This is the most time-consuming part and will require a really big piece of paper (or just a spreadsheet). For each of the factors in the previous steps, create a multi-dimensional cross-tab (i.e., a matrix). At the intersection, first decide if it makes sense for a custom message or is even feasible. Is the financial gain large enough to justify the effort? If you gave it the green light, then write a custom message concept (you don’t need to get the creative folks involved quite yet — just a basic overview will do).

Step 6. Test, test, test. Just because you can customize a message does not mean it is more effective than a generic one. The only way to determine this is by implementing a random test of a custom and generic message to see which generates more of your desired results.

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