Banks hit the Net as traditional efforts fail

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Two of the largest U.S. banks, Bank of America Corp. and Wells Fargo & Co., are overhauling the way they direct market their corporate products and services by turning to Internet-based strategies.

The banks are taking action because they believe traditional direct marketing tactics have lost their effectiveness.

Mass mailing and printing costs are increasingly prohibitive. Personalization in a large-scale, paper-based environment is difficult to attain. And while a piece of direct mail will usually get near its target, it will probably never be read by that person.

To combat this bleak scenario, the banks are planning portal launches, tailored e-mail campaigns and industry-specific Web sites. Bank of America, the nation's second largest bank, and Wells Fargo, the fifth largest, are also enhancing their direct marketing programs with off-line and online personalization efforts.

The strategy is to reposition direct marketing as a customer service tool, instead of a pitching opportunity, said Scott Gable, Wells Fargo's senior VP-wholesale marketing-product management. Mr. Gable oversees Wells Fargo's marketing targeted at companies with annual revenue of $10 million or more.

Wells Fargo sheds paper

Wells Fargo, Minneapolis, will over the next several months overhaul its corporate direct marketing program, moving from a paper direct mail system to an Internet-based model, Mr. Gable said. The effort will be augmented by a direct marketing portal.

Wells Fargo will send direct marketing materials by e-mail rather than paper to customers who give the company permission to do so. The company will carefully mine its profiling data to be sure that corporate customers receive e-mails only that are relevant to them, Mr. Gable said. "We can manage it without spamming them," he said.

Customer service and providing information will be the focus of the portal, he said, noting that the existing Wells Fargo corporate marketing site is "mostly brochure ware."

The company's Internet-based direct marketing program will also target b-to-b customers with automated e-mails, based on their transaction patterns, Mr. Gable said.

"If a [corporate customer] has a lot of overdrafts, we could suggest a program to [remedy the situation]," he said. Wells Fargo representatives will follow up e-mails with phone calls, he added.

The company is undertaking the Internet initiative, in part, to save money, Mr. Gable said. It is also conducting the overhaul because internal studies have indicated that while the lion's share of corporate executives do not read paper direct marketing pieces from banks, 80% do read e-mail, he said.

Wells Fargo has hired Annuncio Software, a Mountain View, Calif.-based developer of automated Web marketing campaigns, to assist in the bank's direct marketing overhaul, Mr. Gable said. He declined to provide cost figures for the effort.

E-mail advertising

Bank of America is testing ways to use e-mail for direct marketing and advertising, said John Mauney, director of marketing communications, who oversees marketing for the bank's corporate customers.

One model that Charlotte, N.C.-based Bank of America is considering is industry-specific e-mails that would be sent to corporate customers, detailing bank-administered transactions in that industry, he said.

Should corporate customers be interested in finding out more, they could drill through the e-mail to a tailored site that details Bank of America's record and capabilities in a particular industry.

"[Customers] can get a fuller story on what B of A can do on energy, for example," Mr. Mauney said. Like Wells, Bank of America will target only those customers who have given the bank permission to send them direct marketing e-mails.

Bank of America also has recently begun sending e-mail that touts upcoming bank-sponsored conferences being conducted by various bank units, such as the Global Treasury Services Group, Mr. Mauney said.

The idea is to integrate e-mail into all the bank's corporate marketing programs. Bank of America is working with Kelley Habib John Integrated Marketing, a Boston consulting firm, on its Web site efforts, said Mr. Mauney, declining to provide costs.

Getting personal

Bank of America and Wells Fargo are also looking to personalize their corporate direct marketing efforts, on the Web and off. Often, such efforts are designed to appeal to a high-end corporate customer, in a form that will get it past the personal assistant.

For example, Bank of America recently sent walnut boxes with golf balls and tees to 80 CEOs slated to attend a bank-sponsored conference at the Pebble Beach Golf Links, Pebble Beach, Calif.

The boxes contained announcements of a deal completed this summer by Charlotte, N.C.-based Banc of America Securities L.L.C. For that deal, the company represented Pebble Beach Sports Group L.L.C. in its acquisition of Lone Cypress Co., the parent company of The Pebble Beach Co., which owns the famous golf course.

Bank of America recently rolled out a personalized direct marketing program that includes sending handwritten notes that explain bank initiatives to key industry CEOs. For example, Bank of America last month sent notes that outlined the bank's new, $11 million ad campaign on integrated business banking, Mr. Mauney said.

"Usually we just sent an FYI on campaigns," he said. The handwritten note was accompanied by a longer explanation of the campaign.

Inclusive marketing

Another Bank of America corporate direct marketing technique entails creating out-of-the-ordinary mail. The bank earlier this year sent out a passport-shaped pamphlet that detailed its corporate services involving the European Economic & Monetary Union and the transition to the euro.

For Wells Fargo, personalization means integrating direct marketing into an inclusive marketing package, Mr. Gable said. The bank makes sure its corporate sales teams' projects are accounted for when direct marketing programs are devised, he said. "[Wells Fargo] links what's in our salespeoples' heads, what they are currently doing and the previous interests of their customers."

Messrs. Gable and Mauney stressed the importance of data integrity in building personalized, Internet-based direct marketing programs.

It is impossible to establish a targeted direct mail system without fully integrating all data to make sure the right person is getting the right materials, Mr. Mauney said. "[Bank of America] has triple- and quadruple-checked to make sure that data are correct," he said.

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