When Impersonal Marketing Hurts Your Brand

Jenn Underwood
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It happens all the time. You received a bulk mailing for home repairs as a renter or a marketing flier for a local veterinarian without owning pets. Junk mail is annoying, although it's understandable when companies target everyone in a given geographic area. 

But shouldn’t your financial institution be different? After all, retail giants have figured out how to personalize their marketing. And your financial institution should know exactly where you’re spending ALL your money which means they should know you the best. But it seems they don’t.

How Did No One Catch This?

Since December, a large national bank has been pushing its new debit card for kids. They’re trying to compete with fintechs like Greenlight and gohenry, as well as challenger banks like Axos and Capital One. But in their rush to get the word out, they may have inadvertently been hurting their brand. 

A friend of FinGoal recently received a marketing email from this top 3 bank showcasing their new kid-friendly debit card, but she wasn’t impressed. She’s banked there for over a decade, and she doesn’t have kids. What’s more, she has a checking and savings account and 3 credit cards at this bank. 

After she brought this to our attention, a quick email search determined this was the third time she’d received the email. Despite their access to customer transaction data, this well resources bank clearly didn’t determine which customers had kids. Instead they likely sent the marketing info to all their customers, or possibly even just targeted females ages 25-45 who they assumed should have kids.

But here’s the real pain point. What if the recipient was struggling with infertility? Recently lost a child or had a miscarriage? Or what if she recently lost custody? The generic marketing blast could have some serious unintended emotional impacts. 

And to make matters worse, this email was sent on February 14. Why Valentine’s Day? There are 6 other days in the week. Plus, the first email this employee received was sent on December 21, 4 days before Christmas. If this was a tender subject, this bank could have ruined not one, but two holidays! 

The Bad Marketing Continues

While this blunder is extreme, there are a variety of other ways that financial institutions communicate that they’re not paying attention to their own individual customers. That same bank sent a customer an ad for private banking - all they had to do was deposit $250,000 in new funds to their accounts and then a private banker would be available to help. Here’s the kicker. Chase is their primary bank. They have total access to all the customer’s income. While they’re not hurting for money, a quarter of a million dollars is a wildly unrealistic expectation. 

And while emails like this don’t have the same emotional impact as the kids’ debit card, they’re not likely to garner goodwill. 

It’s Not Rocket Science

Don’t Treat Customers Like a Number

When you’re blindly reaching out for customer acquisition, there’s little to no expectation. But your customers expect more, they expect you to be paying attention. With the copious amounts of data available to banks, not creating personalized profiles on your members just seems, well, lazy. 

And financial Institutions have a lot to keep up with these days. Consumers are becoming accustomed to targeted marketing and the impersonal email really stands out. Who hasn’t been annoyed by receiving a credit card offer from the bank immediately after you opened a new account or worse, for a card you already have. 

Getting to know your customers personally isn’t new. Credit unions and community banks have prided themselves for generations that they know their community. Now the technology is available to know your members individually, and at scale. And as valuable as consumer data is, it’s surprising banks aren’t taking full advantage of it.

Look At a Calendar

An easy win, that you can employ immediately, is to pay attention to your marketing release dates. Avoid key holidays or memorable events. And consider how the date an item is received will affect its impact. 

BECU recently scored some appropriate timing points with a FinGoal friend. They are planning an international trip and just received an email letting her know that her debit card charges no foreign transaction fees and will refund out-of-network ATM and currency conversion fees. 

They didn’t purchase the airline ticket on a BECU card, but all their credit cards are linked to BECU to use their in-app budget feature. Whether that’s a coincidence or not, they were thrilled to know which debit card to use when withdrawing cash. 

Consider the goodwill you could generate by helping customers avoid fees, rather than just contacting them to promote a new product.


Listen When They Share Data

By not paying attention, you’re communicating that your members are just an account number. But think about how much more effective your market dollars could be if you target your messaging. And if you’re only sending 3 emails a month, how much more valuable would it be to send 3 emails that all apply to the needs of that particular person. 

In 2019, Sallie Mae launched three credit cards.  They could have sent marketing material for all 3 cards, but instead they targeted marketing to the intended audience of each card. One card is designed for students and another focuses on those paying down student debt. Another FinGoal friend paid off their student loans with Sallie Mae back in 2013. While they’ve received multiple Sallie Mae offers, they’ve only received offers for the Sallie Mae Evolve card designed with a more traditional incentive program.

Sallie Mae was on the right track, and yet, two years later FinGoal is still educating financial institutions on the importance of creating a personalized financial experience. If banks and credit unions understood the human behind the account number as well as Amazon knows its customers, no human would be underestimated or underserved by financial institutions again. 

FinGoal builds technology to help you identify key attributes of your members based on their transaction data. Imagine knowing who’s expecting a baby and who has a high school grad starting college, in the fall. How would your marketing change if you knew which members had increasing car repair costs? The information is out there, it’s time to seize the moment.