Marketing optimization: Five lessons learned at a major US bank


Five years ago, banking’s Holy Grail was knowing customers and providing them with the best offers. Today, the goal is still knowing customers — but the ultimate goal is providing the best customer experience. That may involve an offer – or it might be something else. And figuring out what to do with that customer, in real-time, across a growing number of products, services and channels (mobile, online, call center, branches) is no mean feat.

So how do banks decide what an individual customer needs at the exact moment she logs on to the website, phones the call center, opens the mobile banking app, or walks into the branch? One of the largest banks in the US set out to answer that question using marketing optimization. Their goal was to integrate their marketing communications, in real time, and provide the best customer experience with every interaction across channels.

One of the bank’s executives spoke at The Premier Business Leadership Series in Orlando, FL to share how they did it, five lessons they learned along the way – and their vision for the future.

Counting the cost When they started their marketing optimization implementation, his team budgeted for the resources they knew they’d need, things like staff, technology and time. But there were a few surprises …

Five lessons learned that we didn’t factor into the bill of materials:

  1. It’s a long term commitment (they’ve been at it 5 years) and the tech build is the easy part. “If you lose a key team member along the way, you have to re-educate a new or existing team member, and it’s a huge set back,” he said. “Retention is key in an endeavor like this: You have to take care of your people and make sure they stick around.”
  2. If the people that matter aren’t with you, nothing else matters.The bank’s executives were sold on the plan – that wasn’t the problem. The problem was that the leaders of each channel felt they were the best at optimizing offers on their channel and were resistant to a new system. The team could’ve given a mandate: “You have to put out the offers we tell you, according to our marketing optimization model.” Instead, the optimization team wisely made an offer: “Let us take a 25% population test case, run optimization and quantify the results.”“When the channel leaders saw the undeniable improvement in response rates, they got onboard,” he said.
  3. If you can’t agree on what success looks like, prepare for a long winter. If you tell someone in card sales that selling a card to this customer isn’t the most profitable move, they’re not going to care. Their objective is to sell cards. The team had to instead present the cost of one activity versus another and the cost to the business. Once they had that information, they were able to work with the business units to move forward with what was best for the bank as a whole.
  4. Make sure your plan is heavy on what you can do now, not on selling what the machine will do. “Sure, you want to build your system to do many great things – but you have to provide the right balance of doing and building,” he told the audience. For example, when a customer came in to the bank to speak with an associate, the associate entered the person’s name into the system, and the system spit out a ton of data – up to four screens worth – way too much for associates to process when they were trying to service customers.The team used the marketing optimization system to provide a solution: One short, targeted message of customer stats for associates. Replacing four screens with one message gave associates the best starting point for speaking with (and selling to) customers. “Have someone on your team who’s using your marketing optimization capabilities to fix little problems along the way. It builds credibility and helps you prove the value of the system – key in today’s environment,” he told the audience.
  5. Know who’s driving – and how many spare keys exist. “It’s vital to know the inputs into your optimization routines,” he said. “If you don’t know what’s going on with your inputs, you might think that everything is great – but you may not be getting the data needed to get the best answer for your customers.” His bank spent substantial time this year understanding who has access to change variables, inputs and values.

Vision for the future: high-performance marketing optimization “We have so much data. We have data sources that are internal, we have third-party data sources, and for all of our channels (mobile, online, call center, branches), we have interaction history, transactional history and offer history — all of that data goes into our marketing optimization models,” he told the audience.

“When we first engaged with SAS on marketing optimization, we expected to run 500 million decision variables. That’s grown to 13 billion decision variables as we’ve gone from just the banking centers, to the phone channel and now to digital.

“We have a real-time rules engine that determines what we do in each channel to be as effective as we can. But even with that, we see much more room to grow. Right now, we’re optimizing the channels independently across products,” he said. “High-performance marketing optimization would allow us to optimize for the customer across products and channels, in real time. So that’s the next big thing for us.”

Want to know more about marketing optimization? Download the white paper: Improve ROI with Marketing Optimization


About Author

Anne-Lindsay Beall

Senior Editor

Anne-Lindsay Beall is a writer and editor for SAS. Since joining the company in 2000, Anne-Lindsay has edited print publications, Web sites, customer success stories, blogs and digital publications. She has a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a master’s degree in English from North Carolina State University. You can find her on LinkedIn at:

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