Rocket Fuel Vertical Blog Series: Let Big Data Put a Charge in your Credit Card Marketing

In the past decade, the financial-services landscape underwent a seismic shift to digital. But while the migration online has simplified most people’s lives, it’s been jarring and disruptive for credit-card marketers. They’ve seen their once-consolidated key audiences disperse across several online channels. And a once-linear purchasing process become maddeningly complex and inconsistent. 

As recently as only a few years ago, credit-card companies’ primary customer-acquisition strategy involved a centuries-old adage: The best way to find someone is by just knocking on their front door. No, they didn’t use door-to-door salesmen, but they did reach people in their homes with something just as effective (and a lot cheaper): Direct-mail campaigns.

For a long time, direct mail was the most preferred customer-acquisition method because it delivered a tangible, attention-grabbing marketing asset to a consumer in the flesh. Not only that, a home address (typically sourced from a third-party list provider) provided the data needed to ensure the offer or promotion was appropriate for the financial needs of the homeowner.

Today, while still a useful tool, direct mail has lost some of its luster. A recent Rocket Fuel study found that only 21% of respondents pay attention to direct-mailings when choosing a credit card. This has caused a drastic decline in response rates—especially for those most qualified for financial products.

According to Gil Biegacz, Director of Category Strategy, Financial Services at Rocket Fuel, consumers are now “much more likely” to research and apply for financial products online—especially the affluent, tech-forward, and Millennial segments that will likely fuel the industry’s future revenue growth.

But with no way of identifying individuals on the Internet, how can companies attract the right audiences for their products? Making matters even more challenging is the competitive nature of the online marketplace. Direct mail was a perfect way to ensure exclusivity with a potential customer. Now, in addition to finding a way to attract the right audience, marketers must also differentiate their offer from hundreds, if not thousands, of others.

The answer: if you can’t beat them, join them. Marketers should actually leverage this new level of transparency using data—and lots of it. According to a study from Forrester, consumers crave transparency when in the market for a card. In fact, “fee clarity” was the number 3 overall factor driving card decisions. One of the top complaints logged by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is customers not understanding their cards’ terms and benefits.

So with these concerns top-of-mind for consumers, and rewards programs or special offers shown to be most effective at generating conversions, it gives marketers plenty of opportunity to introduce and help explain promotions and programs that let their offers rise above a crowded field.

But who are these people? According to the Rocket Fuel study, affluent people are not only the most tech-forward, thus having the strongest online presence across all channels, they’re also most likely to be in the market for a new card. It found that 44% of consumers reporting an annual household income in excess of $150,000 planned to apply for a new card in the next six months. That makes them nearly 50% more likely to do so than consumers reporting an income of less than $50,000 per year.

So now that we know who we want to find, how do we find them? Let’s get back to the data: Because marketers can’t match an actual name to a financial profile, then send them something nice and tangible to look at until they’re ready to convert, they need to instead pay attention to how these potential customers act. In the digital age, those who behave like a typical customer online also fit the mold of someone who qualifies, and is likely to apply for a particular card.

Therefore, being able to synthesize petabytes of data necessary to identify these audience profiles is obviously important—but being able to do so in real time is paramount: The study found that people are most likely to convert late at night (between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m.) during the weekends, with most acting within the first three impressions seen.

How do you find these consumers, and then capture them within such a minute timeframe? In the case of Rocket Fuel, artificial intelligence learns about the attributes of responders to determine which consumers are likely to convert, and potentially, how valuable that conversion is likely to be.

This goes far beyond classic “lookalike modeling” and into the higher-value “act-alike” modeling of consumer behavior. After all, twins separated at birth—while they look the same—rarely act the same. This is because of their environment and upbringing. The same rules apply to online behavior.

It’s never been more exciting time to be a financial marketer. Armed with the wisdom derived from Big Data, financial advertising with Rocket Fuel offers tantalizing clues about consumer behavior and superior results for discerning marketing professionals. That’s why eight of Fortune 500’s top 10 financial-services companies trust Rocket Fuel to activate high-value accounts.