Banks’ Social Media Challenges

I had the chance to participate on a SMB Boston panel last week on Driving Business Value Through Social within Financial and Regulated Environments, which I think was just a fancy way of saying “social media in financial services.”

The main message of my presentation:

Financial institutions should integrate social media approaches into their marketing and customer service processes.

As I see it, banks (and credit unions) are wrestling with — or perhaps, simply failing to address — challenges regarding social media. And you don’t even need to be a journalist to know where these challenges came from:

  1. What: Banks don’t know what to say in social media.
  2. When: Banks don’t know when to say it.
  3. How: Banks don’t know how to say it.

There are, of course, a couple of other potential challenges, but I think that “Who to say it to” is less of a challenge, and that “Why they’re saying it” is better understood. Regarding “why”, the research that Aite Group has done on social media in banking, bears this out: Most FIs are fairly clear that engaging customers, building brand awareness, and building brand affinity are why they’re involved with social media.

Engagement may be the objective, but I’m not sure, based on what I’ve seen FIs tweet and post, that they know how to achieve that objective.

I saw one FI recently tweet:

Have a new business that needs to grow quickly? Add credit card processing to increase revenues and cash flow. #smallbiz

Here’s another from a credit union:

We are listening. We are not like the BIG Banks. Check us out!

Do people really turn to Twitter or Facebook to see shameless marketing messages, re-purposed from other marketing channels? Are these tweets effectively engaging customers/members/prospects? I don’t know. But I bet the FIs that tweeted those messages don’t know either.

Another thing that struck me reading those tweets, was thinking about why the FIs chose to tweet those messages when they did. Was some marketing person sitting around with nothing to do, and suddenly realize that ts was 30 minutes since the last tweet, so s/he might as well tweet something else? Did something trigger the need for a credit card processing tweet at that particular time? I can tell you this: The credit union’s tweet came 11 days after Bank Transfer Day, so I doubt there was some pressing need to send out that tweet when it was sent.

The tone of these tweets doesn’t sit well with me, either. How many times have you heard the phrase “join the conversation?” Look again at those tweets above — do you know anybody who talks like that in the course of a normal conversation? (If you do, I bet you don’t engage in too many conversations with that person).

This gets at a big issue that marketers (not just in financial services) have to face: They don’t know how to have (or start) a conversation with consumers. Here’s the problem:

Marketing has, to date, been driven by the need and desire to persuade consumers.

But “engagement” isn’t accomplished through persuasion. (Well, persuasion can be a part of it, but it can’t be the only part of it).

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So what should FIs do to address these challenges? There’s a tactical response and a strategic response.

The tactical response: Categorize and test.

A couple of months ago, Michael Pace from Constant Contact wrote an interesting blog post, advocating that Twitter users should periodically do a self-analysis of their tweets. Honestly, I thought that was a pretty self-indulgent thing for an individual to do. But at the company level, the idea has a lot of merit.   

A high-level analysis of your company’s Twitter stream can help you understand how well you’re balancing various types of tweets. And the same could be done with Facebook posts. The challenge, of course, is understanding what impact those messages are having, and if shaking up the mix would improve the impact (i.e., engagement).

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But even if you do this, I doubt that you’ll make more than just a minor impact on your firm’s bottom line. To have a more meaningful impact, you need the strategic response:  Integrate social media approaches into marketing and customer service processes.

In my presentation at the breakfast, I highlighted three ways to do this:

1. Influence preferences. I like what America First Credit Union does on its site (as does @itsjustbrent,  since he either borrowed this example from me, or I stole it from him). The CU incorporates members’ product reviews on the product pages. By doing this, the CU accomplishes:

  • Customer advocacy. Not just in the net promoter sense of the word — but in the more important sense of the word: Doing what’s right for the customer and not just your own bottom line. Helping consumers make better choices — that are right for them — by enabling them to access other customers’ opinions is a demonstration of customer advocacy.
  • Active engagement. I guess that, if a customer follows you on Twitter and reads your tweets, or likes you on Facebook in order to enter a contest to win a prize, you could call that engagement. But I would call it passive engagement. Customers who take the time to post a review are more actively engaged, in my book.
  • Continuous market research. I doubt many firms could capture the richness of information America First is capturing through satisfaction or net promoter surveys. And I know that they can’t capture it in as timely a basis as America First does.

2. Provide collaborative support. I’ve been holding up Mint.com as an example of a firm with collaborative support, but it recently discontinued its Mint Answers page. No worries, Summit Credit Union is doing the same thing, and hopefully, they can become my poster child for this. Collaborative support is giving customers the opportunity to answer other customers’ questions. Dell has been doing it for years. Why provide collaborative support?

  • Reduced call volume. I’m not going to say that you’re going to see a huge volume of deflected calls, but over time, if you market the collaborative capability, it can help.
  • Expanded knowledge base. This is where the bigger value comes in. Customer service reps leverage internal knowledge bases to answer customer questions. Collaborative support helps grow that knowledge base, and helps figure out which answers and responses are more valuable than others. This expanded knowledge base will also prove valuable in training new employees.
  • Active engagement. Similar to the product reviews, customers who participate in collaborative support sites are demonstrating active engagement.

3. Instill financial discipline. This is about using social concepts to get people to change the way they manage their financial lives. Take a look at the research that Peter Tufano has done regarding what motivates people to save.  There are some good examples of this in practice — see Members Credit Union’s What Are You Saving For?. I recently chatted with the CEO of Bobber Interactive, and like what they’re doing about bringing social gamification to how people manage their finances.

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Bottom line: Your firm can putz around with Facebook and Twitter until you’re blue in the face. For financial institutions, this is probably not going to have much of an immediate impact on the bottom line. It will likely take years of experimentation to figure out what to say, when to say it, and how to say it on social media channels.

If you want to engage customers, you have to give them a reason to engage. Mindless, idle chatter on Twitter and Facebook isn’t sustainable. 

The path to making social media an important contributor to bottom line improvement — and sooner rather than later — will come from integration social media concepts and approaches into everyday marketing and customer service processes.

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Stupid Marketing Comments

Every once in a while, I come across a marketing-related claim or statement made in an article, blog post, or tweet that makes me think: “That’s not right!”

Well, hold on. That’s not exactly right.

It doesn’t happen “every once in a while,” it happens all the freaking time.

Keeping track of these stupid marketing comments could be a full-time job. Here are a few that wedged themselves into my field of consciousness over the past two days.

“Mobile Users Click But Don’t Convert”

According to a report from Macquarie Group, search advertisers experience higher click-through-rates (CTR) for mobile phone and tablet search campaigns than for desktop search campaigns. But  mobile conversion rates were at just 31% of the average desktop campaigns’ conversion rates. The study found that the average cost-per-click (CPC) on mobile phone search campaigns was slightly higher than for desktop search campaigns, but that tablet campaigns were slightly lower than desktop search campaign CPCs.

My take: Exactly who do you think “mobile users” are? Aren’t they pretty much the same consumers that use the online channel and tablets? Sure, there may be some consumers who use the mobile channel and don’t use the online channel or tablets, but how big could that segment be?

Not only is it mistaken to conclude that “mobile users click but don’t convert,” it’s not even helpful to point out that CTR or conversion rates differ across channels. Well, not unless you’re comparing apples to apples in terms of the types of campaigns run across channels, and the scope and scale of campaigns.

“Apple spends $5.5 billion on marketing, while Microsoft spends $17 billion. Whose brand is stronger?”

A FastCoDesign blog post claimed that: “The decreasing importance of promotions in a digital economy explains…why Apple can build the world’s leading brand in by devoting only $5.5 billion (out of its 2010 revenue of $65 billion revenue) to sales and marketing, whereas Microsoft spends more than three times as much, $17 billion out of a total revenue of $62 billion and still has a weak, unexciting brand.”

My take: Don’t ever compare what one company spends on marketing to what another company spends. Here’s why:

1) You don’t know what they’re including or excluding in their definition of marketing.

2) One company’s marketing goals and objectives may be very different from another company’s (even a competitor’s) goals and objectives. Apple is a primarily consumer-focused company, while Microsoft is heavily focused on selling to enterprises. The marketing investments necessary to achieve their differing objectives can’t be measured by looking narrowly at their “brand.”

3) At any given point of time, one firm may need to spend more even if everything else was equal. If Microsoft’s only objective was to improve its “weak, unexciting brand,”  then don’t you think they would have to outspend Apple to make up the gap? Of course it would

“Promotion is the one P whose importance is clearly diminishing.”

From the same FastCoDesign blog post, comes this claim, regarding the 4Ps of marketing. Per the blog post: “What is interesting about all these forms of promotion [WOM, SEO] is that they, compared to, say, successful TV ad campaigns from the past, are predicated on the existence of a great product. People only recommend products they feel strongly about. PR is hard without something interesting to say. And a site’s position in Google rankings is based on how many hits it gets, which is a reflection of how valuable and interesting it is. Even paid ad words are structured according to relevance and popularity. The promotions of today are nothing without a great offer to back it up.”

My take: Huh? Can somebody translate that into English for me? While Wikipedia might not be the best site to source here, according to the site, Promotion — in the context of the 4Ps of marketing — refers to “all of the communications that a marketeer may use in the marketplace. Promotion has four distinct elements: advertising, public relations, personal selling and sales promotion.”

Even if you only looked at “promotion” in a narrow sense, when you consider the number of firms using Facebook to run sweepstakes and contests, it’s hard to conclude that the importance of promotion has diminished. 

But in its broader definition, it’s hard for me to understand how anyone could believe that the importance of “all of the communications that a marketer may use in the marketplace” has diminished. With the proliferation of channels and ways to communicate — two-ways — with customers and prospects, promotion has never been more important. 

And even that’s a stupid comment. Because the idea behind the 4Ps is that they’re levers that marketers can pull to influence the demand for their product. Arguing that, in some generic sense, one P has disappeared or diminished doesn’t make any sense. The importance of any one P ebbs and flows and varies by product, company, and economic situation.

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If you know anybody willing to pay me to do this full-time, let me know. The number of stupid marketing comments coming down the pike is hard to keep up with.

What Do We Need Marketing For?

In my (very glamorous, high-profile) job as an industry analyst, I’m supposed to be on top of industry trends and happenings. For other analysts, that means talking to a lot of people.

Ugh. Mr. Cranky doesn’t like talking to people. 

So I’ve planted listening devices in the offices of leading financial services execs to hear what’s really going on.

The following is (as best as I can make it out, the audio quality wasn’t that good) a conversation between the CEO and CMO of JYAFCU (Just Your Average Federal Credit Union), on Monday, November 7th, the first working day after Bank Transfer Day. 

CEO: How did we do on Saturday?

CMO: (mumbling) You would know if you had bothered to show up.

CEO: What’s that? Can’t hear you. 

CMO: I said, “wouldn’t you know, we did very well.”

CEO: I read that overall, credit unions pulled in 40,000 new accounts and $80 million dollars in deposits. What did we bring in?

CMO: Well, considering we’re JUST YOUR AVERAGE credit union, we opened 6 new accounts, and added $12,000 in deposits. 

CEO: So that’s like, what? One account per hour that we were open on Saturday?

CMO: Uh, yep.

CEO: And were all branches open?

CMO: Uh, yep. 

CEO: So then, not every branch even averaged one new account per hour. 

CMO: Uh, nope.

CEO: How did we do in the month leading up to Bank Transfer Day? CUNA says credit unions opened 650,000 new accounts and brought in $4.5 billion in new deposits. 

CMO: Well, boss, seeing that we’re JUST YOUR AVERAGE credit union, we opened 91 accounts and took in $630,000 in deposits. 

CEO: Well, I’m no CFO, but something doesn’t seem right to me with those numbers.

CMO: I’m the marketing person. Maybe you better explain it to me. 

CEO: Well, on BTD we averaged $2000 in deposits per new account. As did the industry overall, for that matter. Yet, in the month leading up to BTD, we averaged nearly $7000 in deposits per new account. Why the discrepancy?

CMO: I don’t know. My people are working on it. 

CEO: OK, so let’s recap. Since the end of September, we’ve added 97 new members, did I get that right?

CMO: Sure did. 

CEO: So we currently have how many members?

CMO: That would be 12,783. We ended September with 12, 686, which, interestingly enough, is the credit union industry average. 

CEO: Well, I’m no CFO, but my trusty calculator says that’s about 0.8% growth in the month. 

CMO: That’s correct. 

CEO: Remind me again what our membership growth was from September 2010 through September 2011. 

CMO: We grew by the industry average of 1.7%.

CEO: And remind me again what our marketing budget is. 

CMO: Our marketing budget is 1% of assets, which is about the industry average, which comes out to $1.3 million. 

CEO: And remind me again what we spent to create Bank Transfer Day.

CMO: We didn’t spend anything to create Bank Transfer Day.

CEO: OK. Now remind me of one last thing: What do I need you for?

CMO: Huh? What do you mean?

CEO: Between September 2010 and September 2011, we spent $1.3 million on marketing which produced 216 new members. That means we spent about $6000 per new member. According to that Net Promoter guy from Bain, it costs 6 to 7 times more to acquire a customer than retain one, isn’t that right?

CMO: Ron Shevlin says that’s quantipulation.

CEO: When Ron Shevlin writes a bestselling management book, I’ll listen to what Ron Shevlin has to say. In the meantime,  I have to assume that the vast majority of our marketing budget is focused on member acquisition and not retention. So, even if the part of the marketing budget that went to acquisition was just $1 million, we still spent more than $4600 in the past year to acquire each new member. And what you’re telling me is that in the past month we acquired 45% of the total number of members we acquired in the previous 12 months — at absolutely no cost to us. I ask you again:

What do I need marketing for?

Quantipulation In Action: Inbound Vs. Outbound Marketing

Mashable (that highly reputable source of marketing theory and research) recently published an article called Inbound Marketing Vs. Outbound Marketing, which claimed:

“Thanks to the Internet, marketing has evolved over the years. Consumers no longer rely on billboards and TV spots — a.k.a. outbound marketing — to learn about new products, because the web has empowered them. It’s given them alternative methods for finding, buying and researching brands and products. The new marketing communication — inbound marketing — has become a two-way dialogue, much of which is facilitated by social media.

Another reason why inbound marketing is winning is because it costs less than traditional marketing. Why try to buy your way in when consumers aren’t even paying attention? Here are some stats from the infographic below.

–44% of direct mail is never opened. 
–84% of 25 to 34 year olds have clicked out of a website because of an “irrelevant or intrusive ad.”
–The cost per lead in outbound marketing is more than for inbound marketing.”

My take: Total garbage. This attempt on the part of people looking to differentiate the “new” marketing from “old” marketing completely misses the boat. 

Let’s look at this point by point:

“Consumers no longer rely on billboards and TV spots — a.k.a. outbound marketing — to learn about new products.” Who said that consumers relied on billboards and TV spots to learn about new products? Marketers relied on billboards and TV spots to make consumers aware of their products, to increase recall of their products, and create positive affinity. As long as people continue to drive along the highway (how’s the commute in your city? Yeah, sucks in mine, too) and watch TV, marketers will find that billboards and TV spots to be at least somewhat effective at those objectives. 

The new marketing communication — inbound marketing — has become a two-way dialogue, much of which is facilitated by social media. Got news for all the inbound marketing alarmists out there: Marketing has always been a two-way dialogue. It just wasn’t as easy to execute as it is today. Marketers have relied on various mechanisms — postcards, focus groups, toll-free phone numbers — to encourage feedback from consumers. Claiming that the “old” marketing was “one-way” is false.

44% of direct mail is never opened. First off, how do they know that? Think about how much direct mail you get. I challenge you to come up with even a reasonably accurate estimate of how much of it you open and how much you throw away before opening. Second, even if this were true, then I’d say: WOW! More than half of direct mail is opened. That’s pretty damn good in this marketing environment!

84% of 25 to 34 year olds have clicked out of a website because of an “irrelevant or intrusive ad.” What the hell is wrong with the other 16%?

The cost per lead in outbound is more than for inbound marketing. Stupidest claim I’ve heard all month. Just because there is no measurable media cost associated with this thing you call “inbound” marketing doesn’t mean there aren’t costs associated with the efforts. Somebody has to create and manage the social media site, right? Or, if the inbound marketing channel is the phone, do the costs of staffing the call center not count as part of inbound marketing efforts? And given the incredibly inexact science of attribution in the marketing world, how does anyone really determine that a generated “inbound’ lead wasn’t influenced by outbound marketing efforts?

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The infographic included in the Mashable goes on to claim that in the “old” way of marketing, marketers rarely sought to “entertain or educate.” Seriously? The ad industry has a RICH history of attempts at being funny and entertaining. Print ads have LONG been focused on education. 

The article also tries to differentiate “new” marketing from “old” marketing by claiming that in the new marketing, “customers come to you”, while in the old marketing, marketers sought out customers. 

Customers come to you? Really? And how do they find out about you? Simply by word-of-mouth? Good luck with that. Listen to what Groupon had t say:

“After a two-year holdout, we finally decided to run real television ads. In the past, we’ve depended mostly on word-of-mouth and limited our advertising to online search. This year, we realized that in spite of how much we’d grown, a ton of people still hadn’t heard of Groupon, so we decided to give in to our Napoleon complex and invade the rest of the world with a proper Super Bowl commercial.”

Bottom line: Trying to make inbound marketing sound like something superior and new is total BS. Marketing is a complex process. There are parts of the process that are inherently outbound and parts that are inherently inbound. There are new channels of communication that create new opportunities for both outbound and inbound communication.  Oh, and real marketers don’t take marketing advice from Mashable. 

I Regret To Inform You That My Blog Fees Will Be Going Up

Many of you have been reading this blog for the 2+ years of its existence for no charge. Well, my little freeloading friends, this is the end of that party.  Beginning December 1, I will be instituting the following fees for reading this blog:

  1. Blog reading fee. Lifetime free readership will no longer be available. Per the terms of our agreement — that the end of anybody’s lifetime allows us to revoke the offer — free readership of this blog will no longer be offered. Starting December 1, you will be charged a $.25 fee for each blog post you read, whether you link directly to the site, view it in a reader, or are simply subscribed to it at the time it was posted.
  2. Subscription reversal fee. Requests to unsubscribe from this blog will be assessed with a $25 premature disconnect service charge. At this time, subscription reversal requests cannot be taken online, as my eCommerce site is currently down for scheduled maintenance. Please mail your requests to the home office address, which can be found on my eCommerce site.
  3. Inactive reader fee. For every week that goes by in which you do NOT read a blog post, you will be assessed a $.50 fee. For any month in which you do not read a single post, a $5 charge will be levied.

In an effort to be transparent, however, I think it’s important that I explain why I’m forced to institute these fees:

1. Higher debit card fees. Starting October 1, new debit card interchange fee regulations took effect. Even though these changes only impact banks with assets greater than $10 billion in assets, I figure that if this excuse works for Redbox, then it should work for me.

2. The Barbara Lee effect. Ms. Lee, a member of the House of Representatives, recently commented that she doesn’t use the self-checkout lanes at supermarkets because  “that’s a job or two or three that’s gone.” If there are more people like her out there — who stop using self-checkout lanes, ATMs (because they take away bank teller jobs), self-service gas stations (because they take away gas pumper jobs), or E-Z pass on the highway (because you know we can’t afford to lose any more toll taker jobs) — then the result will be higher prices for lots of things. In anticipation of this mass lunacy, I’m afraid I have to raise my prices.

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In a little more seriousness, there is a message here for marketers.

While I fully support the right of any business in this country to raise its prices, and shoot itself in its foot (or head) by doing so, firms that feel the need to raise prices WITHOUT committing PR suicide must do so with caution, transparency, honesty, and proactive communication.

Redbox’s announcement is shameful. They might have well as blamed foreign currency fluctuations in Uganda. There’s a large financial institution (who shall remain nameless lest they find out I’m blogging about them) that should’ve been a bit more sensitive about how it announced its recent price hikes. I would mention Netflix, but I have a professor/ad agency friend in the LA area who would jump all over any comment I might make about them.

Price changes are lightening rods. You might be able to mute the thunder, but people still see the sky light up. And then like to point at it and talk about it.

The Hidden Costs Of Social Media

I’m really tired of hearing social media gurus preach about how social media will transform marketing. They usually can’t explain why this will be the case. And when asked for examples, they often cite people in the Middle East tweeting during a revolution. Which is great, but has nothing to do with marketing. 

If there’s a transformative potential for social media, it lies in this: The incremental cost of communicating with customers and prospects is, for all intents and purposes, zero. 

This has, until very recently, never been the case. 

Prior to the advent of email, the cost of communicating was high. Marketers either used mass media avenues (TV, radio, print) or direct mail. The cost per message was high. 

As a result, the return on investment per message was important. Each message had to pay its way. And that’s why obsessed over response and conversion rates.

Social media brings the cost of messaging way down. As a result, marketers don’t have to obsess over the ROI of each message, allowing them to shift the nature of communication from persuasion to engagement. In a world where every message doesn’t have to have an ROI, we can actually carry on a conversation with customers and prospects. 

But most marketers are missing something important as the economics of marketing change:

Costs shift from message distribution (dissemination) to message creation.

In the old world, marketers did spend a lot of money in crafting their message (witness the size of the advertising agency business). Despite this cost, more was spent on disseminating the message than creating it. After all, the message was created ONCE. Then tested, revised, and launched. And then the bulk of the marketing cost was in getting the message OUT.

Marketers in the new world have new mechanisms for getting the message out thanks to social media tools and channels. Tools and channels that radically slash the cost of dissemination.

But what too many marketers don’t realize is that there’s a new cost in town: The cost of message creation. 

Too many marketers don’t have a clue how to have a conversation with a customer or prospect through social media. Either they tweet or post their tired old marketing messages, or they deal with customer service requests. But marketing messages designed for mass media channels are inappropriate for social media channels.

I guess I can only speak to the financial services industry here, but there’s not a single financial institution that I’ve talked to — and I talk to a lot — that consciously think about the mix of messages they disseminate through social media (i.e., the mix between marketing messages, educational content, news alerts, and other types of messages), nor do they test and refine the messages they disseminate. 

Thanks to social media, the cost of marketing is shifting from message dissemination to message creation. And that’s not a grammatically correct sentence, since it’s about messages — in the plural — today, not the message. 

Seth Godin wrote that “marketing is the story marketers tell consumers.” That’s simply not accurate. It’s “stories” in the plural (and if you want to be even more correct, it’s not about the stories marketers tell, but the stories that marketers get consumers to tell). 

It’s hard to equate a tweet or Facebook posting to a story, but this is mincing words. It’s about the message. More frequent — and more meaningful — engagement with consumers, means having more frequent and meaningful messages and things to say. 

The cost of creating those messages, and understanding which ones are most effective, is the hidden cost of social media.

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Check out Snarketing 2.0: A Humorous Look at the World of Marketing in the Age of Social Media (print or Kindle format):

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Are You A Snarketer?

By my calculations, if I can sell 23.7 million copies of my new book, Snarketing 2.0, within the next two to three years, then I can retire.

That would require everyone who qualifies as a Snarketer to purchase 2,370 copies of the book, however. So it doesn’t looks like I’ll be quitting my day job any time soon.

This is the problem with trying to get rich writing business books: There’s a limited audience. There are only so many people who are even potentially interested in the topic.

I’ve got an even bigger problem: My audience is more narrow than the typical business audience. The target audience for my book is a group of business people known as Snarketers. Are you a Snarketer?

You are if you meet three qualifications: 1) You have an interest in marketing; 2) You have an unusually high degree of intelligence; and 3) You have a warped sense of humor.

For your friends who can’t process that intellectually, show them this picture to explain to them why they don’t qualify.

I’ve done the research, so I know that there are only 10,000 Snarketers in existence. If you’re in the club, you’re part of a dying breed. Our increasingly politically correct culture is stifling warped senses of humor. And thanks to our “everyone gets a gold star” educational system, there are fewer and fewer people who meet the intelligence hurdle. On the other hand, everyone and their mother thinks they’re good at marketing.

The challenge in trying to identify Snarketers is that it’s not visually obvious — it’s not like being tall, or having blond hair. So how do you, dear Snarketer, let the world know that you’re part of this elite and prestigious club?

You buy the book, moron.

And then read it on the train on your way to work, or when you’re on a plane, sitting in first class showing off how many frequent flyer miles you’ve run up because you don’t have a real life.

If you do buy it — and post a review online (I don’t care if it’s a positive or negative review) — then I will give you the next book for free (yes, there will be another book, the subject of which will be Quantipulation).

Here’s my game plan: Real Snarketers who post reviews might convince some Snarketer-wannabes to purchase the book. If you don’t think the “find a sucker” strategy works, just look at how many banks now charge customers a fee to use a debit card. 

Where do you get the book?

If you want the print copy (you show off), go here:

For an eBook version, you can get it from one of two sources: At Lulu.com, or click on the icon below for the Kindle version.

If you buy the book, thank you. If you buy and review the book, double thank you.

UPDATE: If you order from Lulu by October 20, you can get free shipping:

Update #2: Apparently, there’s a formatting problem with the Kindle version. I’ve pulled that “off the shelf” for now (and disabled the link above).

Maybe Bank Of America Has A Plan

Maybe — just maybe — Bank of America has a well-thought out plan behind its debit card fees.

Maybe it actually WANTS customers to leave.

Crazy talk, you say? Not sure about that. After all, ING Direct has been lauded for “firing” customers. Bank Technology News wrote this a while back:

“To promote customer homogeneity and keep costs down, ING Direct won’t hesitate to fire customers who demand too much. Better to win over customers with shrewd marketing and good rates wrought by the cost efficiencies of doing business online.”

So, rather than flat out telling unprofitable — or potentially unprofitable — to close out accounts, BofA figures, “hey, we’ll slap a fee on them, and if they don’t like it, they’ll leave. And if they stay, they become more profitable.”

And wouldn’t you know it, but Durbin opens his mouth, and HELPS BofA by telling those customers to “walk with their feet.” Talk about effective word-of-mouth marketing!

So what happens if 1 million customers leave BofA?

If they’re truly the least profitable customers, BofA’s average customer profitability increases. And with less unprofitable customers to serve, the bank can more easily shrink to a more manageable size.

But you know what else happens?

Unprofitable — or potentially unprofitable — go join credit unions or open accounts at community banks. The credit union folks think this is great because it probably means the average age of members goes down. Hooray!

But oddly, the credit union’s profitability is adversely affected. Because if it’s low balance accounts  walking in the door, the income accelerator — the revenue generated on deposits beyond the spread and fees — is diminished. (This by the way, is one of the key reasons why high-yield checking accounts are more profitable than no-interest accounts. See my report on Why High-Yield Checking Accounts Trump Free Checking).

Let’s look at a  scenario: Assume you have 100 customers, equally split across 4 segments. Assume that the average profitability per customer of segment 1 is $1, segment 2 is $2, segment 3 is $3, and segment 4 is $4.

You’re making $250 in profits with average customer profitability at $2.50/customer.

If, thanks to BofA, 25 new Segment 1 customers walk in the door, profits go up to $275, but average profitability declines by 12% to $2.20/customer.

If the four segments represent the generations, it’s possible that you will lose Segment 4 customers (Seniors) over time. So let’s say 25 new Segment 1 customers come in thanks to BofA, but 10 Segment 4 customers are no longer with you. Profitability still goes up, to $255. But average profitability declines to $2.13, a 15% drop.

And if the ratio of customers in the four segments doesn’t change — that is, if segment 1 customers don’t become as profitable as segment 2, 2 as profitable as 3, and 3 as profitable as 4 — over time, then your FI is in trouble.

Oh sure, you can hold hands and sing cumbaya and hope those customers become more profitable over time. But smart firms don’t do that.

———-

So maybe BofA’s plan is to drive out customers it doesn’t think are — or can be — profitable, and let some other FI deal with them.

I’m sure many credit union marketers are thinking that this is great, that they would love to have those relationships, and grow with them over time.

Maybe they can. But if the BofA rejects….oops, I mean defectors….are the younger, less affluent, Gen Yers, then it may take some time for them to have a material affect on the CU’s profitability.

I’ve heard CU cheerleaders talk about being more open to extending credit to younger and less affluent consumers, and finding ways to help those consumers manage their financial lives without the high rates and fees that the big banks charge.

But there’s a reason why those consumers either don’t get credit or have to pay higher rates and fees to get credit, loans, and accounts. They’re higher credit risks, and they bring less funds to the table, resulting in less profits.

Seems to me there are a number of people in credit union land ignoring those realities.

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But, back to BofA, maybe the imposition of fees on debit cards is a smart move for the bank. I wouldn’t have advised the bank to do what it did, instead, I would have told them to levy fees on writing checks.

Why Google Won’t Become A Bank

Search Engine Watch published an article titled Why Would Google Become A Bank? and basically answered the question in the first paragraph by saying “Because that’s where the money is.” The article goes on to list a more specific set of reasons including:

  1. Increased value for AdWords ads.
  2. The power of the coupon just got better.
  3. Further diversification of revenue streams.
  4. Data.
  5. Android and Chrome usage increases.

My take: Don’t hold your breath waiting for Google to become (or launch) a bank. It isn’t going to happen. Here’s why:

1. It’s not where the money is. The prospects for mobile payments is certainly bright. But the question that remains to be answered is: Who’s going to make money from these payments? If you, your bank, or anyone else thinks that consumers will pay a fee or a premium for the “privilege” to make a mobile payment, you (and they) are sorely mistaken. Banks’ ability to make money from transactions — mobile or not — has seen its ups and down in the past few years (up on credit cards, then down on credit cards, up on debit cards, then down on debit cards). Retail banking is simply NOT “where the money is.”

2. Nobody in their right mind wants to be regulated to the extent that banks are. For the past few years, regulatory changes have hacked away at banks’ ability to make money. The Card Act, Regulation E, Durbin’s Folly, the list goes on. From a new entrant standpoint, it’s simply too risky and unpredictable to enter the industry. Firms like BankSimple and Movenbank are getting into the industry by either leveraging other firms’ bank charters or by avoiding the need for one altogether.

3. They don’t have the support infrastructure. Google isn’t a B2C company, it’s a B2B company. It has no competency — let alone capability — to provide transactional customer support. So I hear you say,”but they’ll outsource that.” No, they won’t. Outsourcing a critical business function doesn’t absolve you of the need to know how to manage and integrate that function into your business

4. It doesn’t fit with the firm’s business model. Even if you argue my three previous points away, the most important reason why Google won’t become a bank is that it just doesn’t fit with its strategy and business model. Google’s strategy and business model is unique and ambitious: It aims to be the center of the universe in INFLUENCE.

Why did Google acquired Zagat? To influence your choice of restaurants. Why did Google launched Google Advisor? To influence your choice of banks.

Google doesn’t want to process mobile transactions, open bank accounts, and deal with your stupid little banking questions.Google wants to influence who you do business with. And not just in banking and financial services, but everywhere.

When Google is influencing all of your day to day decisions, then every provider in the world will be kissing Google’s shiny black boots looking to participate. And THAT’S how Google will make money. Not by becoming a bank.

More Likely To Purchase: Quantipulation In Action

How many times this week have you heard about some research study that found that one consumer segment is XX% more likely to purchase your products than another segment?

These studies and claims come out every day. And every one of them is a shining example of Quantipulation: The art and act of using unverifiable math and statistics to convince people of what you believe to be true.

The problem with these “more likely to purchase” claims is that they’re leading you to make bad marketing decisions.

For example, it’s popular these days to claim that Facebook fans are an important segment of your customer base because they’re “more likely to purchase” than other customers are. DDB (a very reputable advertising and marketing services firm) conducted a study last year and found that:

“Facebook users who like a brand’s page on the site are thirty-three percent more likely to buy a product, and 92 percent more likely to recommend a product to others. “Fan status is indicative of high purchase intent, especially when compared to any traditional form of advertising, and is an even greater predictor of advocacy with over 90% noting that being a fan has a positive impact on recommending a brand to friends,” said Catherine Lautier, Director of Business Intelligence at DDB.”

The implication of this is that: 1) If marketers can drive up their brands’ Facebook fan count, then more customers will become more likely to buy, and 2) Marketers should focus their marketing efforts on Facebook fans because of higher purchase likelihood.

But there are a few problems here:

1. What does “more likely to purchase” mean? If in a survey Customer A (Facebook fan) says he’s “very likely to purchase” and Customer B (non-Facebook fan) says he’s “somewhat likely to purchase”, what does this really tell you? How much more likely is “very likely” than “somewhat likely”? Isn’t timeframe important? Is that very likely to buy in the next 2 weeks or very likely to buy at some point in the future? Even if Customer B says “not likely”, does that mean we should give up on marketing to him? Really? People don’t change their opinions? After all, he’s already a customer — and isn’t the cost of acquisition 5x higher than the cost of retention?

2. The absolute numbers might not be compelling. In the DDB study, only 36% of Facebook fans said that they were very likely to purchase. Which means that 27% of non-Facebook fans were very likely to purchase (you do the math). Assume that your company has 10 million customers, of which 1 million are Facebook fans. That means you’ve got 360,00 Facebook fans who are very likely to purchase, and 2, 430,000 non-Facebook fans that are very likely to purchase. Which group do you want to market to?

3. Causation versus correlation. Do Facebook fans become “more likely to purchase” after becoming Facebook fans, or did the fact that they were already “more likely to purchase” lead them to become Facebook fans? Granted, their act of becoming a Facebook fan helps marketers better identify them out of the pack. But if — as the numbers above indicate — the differences in likelihood to purchase aren’t that compelling, then it’s simply not a very helpful segmentation tool.

Bottom line: Don’t be quantipulated into believing these “more likely to purchase” claims.