TBT: Functional is so last-decade


Originally posted July 15, 2014.


Things have flipped. Not long ago the likes of Starbucks and McDonald’s enjoyed a competitive advantage by providing free onsite Wi-Fi. Today, that’s pretty much de rigueur. Providing onsite Wi-Fi is not so much a competitive advantage as not providing it is a competitive disadvantage.

Likewise, offering mobile banking, once the sign of a forward-thinking financial institution, no longer impresses. To do that, mobile banking must do more than function. It must connect.

We have made strides since the original hardware-delivered bank experience known as the ATM. Though you could name them, paint them, network them, and install more of them in more places than the competition, still, an ATM was pretty much an ATM. Today’s digital banking, however, needn’t be so clone-like. As yet, not too many banks seem to realize that. Unlike old ATM technology, today’s digital technology and devices allow for positive interactions, even personal ones, with a strong brand.

Here’s a quick look at how a few forward-thinking financial institutions are breaking out of the “Functional Only” box.

Tip: People will spend time on your site—when it’s fun. Walk into any public place and watch the number of people interacting with portable devices instead of with each other. While you’re at it, note that no one is making them do it. People willingly engage with the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Minecraft, Flipboard, and more because, well, these virtual places have personality, and they’re fun. Some financial institutions have given their websites social and entertainment appeal, and found that clients return more often and linger longer. Need I point out that returning more often and lingering longer build loyalty and present a marketing opportunity?

Get ’em young. Ordinary financial institutions stew about attracting rising generations once they come into money of their own. Smart financial institutions start earlier, when those generations are still kids. They load their sites with educational pages, games, social tools, and more. By the time young people with no money morph into young adults with careers and money of their own, they have been already won over.

Personalize the impersonal. At first it seemed that the use of technology in banking would eliminate the personal touch; instead, it turns out that technology can convey it. A good interactive system connects clients with bank people via live chat, tweets, social media, and even, when desperate times call for it, telephone. A screen is no longer a barrier. It is a conduit.

Check register? What’s a check register? Even the staunchest paper defender must concede that checks are obsolescent. If the majority of people do not want to write checks, it follows that the majority do not want to write their transactions in a check register, either. But that doesn’t mean they want to give up oversight and control of their money. Hence the rise, indeed, the inevitability of online Personal Financial Management (PFM) tools.

I dare to you to show your laundry. It’s becoming increasingly fashionable for companies, financial institutions included, to post client reviews on their websites. But if readers suspect that you parade the praise while conveniently hiding the pans, you lose all credibility. At that point, posting reviews is no more effective than not posting reviews. That is why some brave banks post negative comments right along with positive ones. With the negative ones, they also post the bank’s response as to how it plans to make things right. This validates the rave reviews, which creates trust, and shows clients how you deal with problems, which, if you handle them properly, also creates trust. Don’t worry about the occasional irrational client who can’t be pleased. Your customers are on to them more than you think.

There are two problems with ideas like the above. First, they cost money. But then, it costs more not to make the investment, thereby losing clients to a competitor who does. Second, they require vision, which, let’s be honest, is often what “can’t afford it” really means. If someone anonymously printed this article and left it on your desk, you know who you are.

For details and examples of the above plus other ideas, I commend you to the The Financial Brand post, “12 Technology Trends Shaping Financial Marketing.”

To the Swiftest Go the Spoils

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WHEN YOU SEE WORDS like “estimate” and “90 percent” flung about without supporting data, it’s wise to assume you’re dealing with a guess landing somewhere between wild and educated.

But when no less than IBM does the flinging, I’m inclined to pay attention.

IBM recently suggested that 90 percent of all data has been produced within the last two years. Whether the statement is informed or speculative, and regardless of what they include (or don’t) in “all data,” the point is well taken. We are compiling data at breakneck speed. There is no reason to believe the trend will slow, and there is every reason to believe it will accelerate.

“Accelerate” is the operative word. Marketers aren’t just upping the speed and volume of data accrual. Sophisticated tools analyze on the fly, cutting response time to seconds. The goal? To show up on mobile devices in hopes of influencing customers in the very moment they are thinking about buying.

In an article by John Adams, Ross Christi, manager of LoyaltyEdge at American Express, has this to say: “The volume of data isn’t necessarily the challenge. It’s about using it intelligently and managing it in an efficient way.”

Keeping and analyzing customer data isn’t new. Savvy marketers have done it since the early days of direct mail, the original interactive medium. They didn’t call it data back then, but a rose is a rose. Data at the time pretty much consisted of name, address, purchase type, frequency, and average spend. In today’s interactive and mobile world, data comprise much more. And while at first it seemed as though privacy fears and laws would curtail data gathering, something interesting happened, and fast: consumers began volunteering the very data that fear-mongers had earlier convinced them marketers should not be allowed to obtain on their own. Mobile device users willingly reveal the merchants and products they like, where they’re shopping or dining at the moment, what UPCs they’re scanning, and more. Add up enough of those voluntary data points (and, for existing customers, overlay them with established buying preferences), and a picture emerges of who is where and thinking about buying what. Respond to the picture fast enough with a compelling offer sent to a mobile device, and you increase the odds of winning customers while they’re still at the point of purchase and, hopefully, still in a buying frame of mind.

Fear-mongers are still at work doing their best to decry fast-responding marketers as manipulative or sneaky. Nonsense. Sound marketing is a win-win. Marketers win by creating or growing customers. Customers win by receiving usefully timed information and offers on products they actually care about. And, of course, no data is shared without express permission from the customer.

John Knuff, general manager of global financial services for Equinix, said (as quoted by Adams), “What we are seeing now with intelligent targeting is more data mining is going on and happening within the customer session—so if a consumer is getting instructions on what to do to access or redeem an offer, a lot of the information to drive that has to be transferred in real time.” Knuff adds a caution: “… if the data set is on the West coast, but the session is on the East coast, the data has to traverse three to five vendors and has to travel three thousand miles several different times during that session. That’s really going to bog things down.”

Time has always been money. But in the marketing arms race, shaving—by even an insanely infinitesimal amount—the time it takes to turn data into a well-executed marketing response will give the marketer a serious advantage over competitors.

Posted in Marketing Mobile Banking Social Media by Matt. Comments Off on To the Swiftest Go the Spoils

Mobile payment and the business of predicting

For a while it looked as though Google Wallet was going to take the world by storm. At least, last year many an expert predicted as much. This year, they are predicting instead that the likes of banks, Visa and Paypal will grab and run with that ball.

In Gigaom.com, Kevin Fitchard writes, “Google and the carriers had their chance. Now it’s the banks’ turn.” He bases his prediction in part on a question Cheaton Sarma Consulting recently put to selected mobile industry leaders: “Who will define the mobile payment/commerce space?” Nearly 40 percent selected the answer, “Financial guys, e.g., Visa.” Less than 15 percent voted for Google, and only about 3 percent chose Apple.

I draw a couple of insights from survey results like that, one of them being that predicting the future is tantamount to setting yourself up to be inevitably wrong. The future has a habit of making hairpin turns even that even experts are powerless to foresee.

This is especially true for high-tech industries, which evolve blazingly fast. Not long ago, no one would have predicted that Apple Computer would one day drop “Computer” from its name, much less  turn the music, publishing, banking, photography and other industries upside-down by introducing—of all things—a phone. Or that, given its late start, the Android platform would have an iota of a chance in catching up, much less giving Apple a run for its money. Or that, speaking of late starts, old-tech Visa might stage a comeback and threaten to retake the reins of the electronic point-of-purchase future after all.

In that spirit, here is my other insight for mobile payments: Regardless of predictions, it’s decision time for banks. As Amir Tabakovic from BAI states, “Whether they fly solo or with partners, financial institutions need to begin placing their bets in the mobile wallet game.”

Top changes in financial marketing trends

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Financial institutions have been forced to make considerable changes to their marketing strategies in recent years, due to the economy, new regulations and technological innovations. As a result, the same tactics most individuals grew accustomed to in earlier years are starting to be phased out as banks look to new ways to appeal to their current consumer demographic and attract new types of customers.

One of the most prevalent and notable trends that has emerged in recent years is a stronger reliance on social media services and mobile banking, as opposed to in-branch services. In fact, many larger institutions, such as Bank of America, have announced that they will be closing many ATM kiosks or branches across the country as online and mobile banking options have made it more costly to keep these locations up and running.

Instead, consumers are being encouraged to take advantage of new innovative online and mobile channels, which allow customers to engage in online chats with banking representatives, transfer funds, download alerts, access saving tools and remotely deposit checks, according to the Financial Brand. Further, banks with a strong online customer base may have a more affordable cost-basis than those whose business is primarily done in-person. As a result, more institutions are offering to exempt customers from fees and other costs if they enroll in online banking or agree to sign up for e-statements. While most experts dismiss the claim that banking branches will one day become obsolete, recent years have shown a dramatic decline in the number of physical branch locations.

Banks are not only changing their marketing strategies, but also the demographics they try to attract. Historically, most institutions targeted younger demographics of Generation Y because this age group presented banks with opportunities to acquire new customers. Members of Generation Y are typically undergoing significant life changes, such as purchasing a home, shopping for new credit products, raising a family and making large-scale investments.

As a result, most banks shaped their marketing initiatives to appeal to this group of consumers. However, analysts are now noticing a shift toward the underbanked Americans who lack traditional credit and banking products, the news source reports. In recent months, some banks have rolled out new prepaid debit cards and other products that are typically associated with underbanked Americans as a way to entice potential customers to view other products.

Posted in Marketing Mobile Banking Social Media by Matt. Comments Off on Top changes in financial marketing trends