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How financial institutions can use mobile for contextual marketing

July 26, 2010

Carl Tsukahara is vice president and chief marketing officer of ClairMail

Carl Tsukahara is vice president and chief marketing officer of ClairMail

By Carl Tsukahara

This year has been widely proclaimed as the year that mobile banking will move into the mainstream.

With projections of 46 percent of the top 600 banks offering a mobile banking solution in 2010, it is important to remember that the mobile channel offers more than just the option to check your balance or make transfers.

Beyond key account capabilities, mobile banking creates the opportunity for banks to deliver contextual marketing via the mobile channel.

If you have ever forgotten to alert your bank that you were traveling abroad, seen suspicious activity in your accounts or even been charged an overdraft fee, you know the frustration of being out of sync with your financial institution.

Now, thanks to the mobile medium’s capability for real-time alerting, financial institutions can greatly reduce these customer stressors while also increasing their revenue through the power of contextual marketing.

Card sharp
Many customers have had their credit cards automatically shut down due to suspicious activity, resulting in the hassle of unavailable funds. However, this situation could be avoided entirely if they were connected with their bank via the mobile medium.

Instead of automatically disabling accounts, banks and credit unions can alert the customer of the potential fraud, and ask for verification that the transactions were valid. If the activity is authentic, the customer can simply reply via text or phone call with a yes, and momentarily continue on with their spending.

If the customer replies with a no, and the activity is in fact fraudulent, the financial institution can then escalate the situation as needed to resolve the issue. In this case, the bank has also found the perfect opportunity to market a fraud protection product: when the customer needs it most.

Another mobile marketing scenario involves geo-targeted messages based on customer behavior.

For example, say a fictional regional bank knows that Jane often shops at high-end retail stores, usually paying with her debit card. This bank can have an automatic messaging system set up that targets Jane the next time she is searching for stilettos, reminding her that if she used the bank’s Savvy Shopper’s credit card, she would receive points or rewards for her spending.

Text is context
Google has already proven that contextual advertising works on the Internet. Its AdSense empire is built on the simple premise that people will be interested in buying what they are searching for.

With an estimate of $54 billion in economic effect generated through AdWords in 2009, it is clear that contextual marketing is a proven strategy for creating revenue.

What is more, there is reason to believe that contextual marketing via mobile could be more effective than on the Internet.

It is estimated that while 76 percent of the U.S. population uses the Internet, 91 percent owns a mobile phone.

Furthermore, studies have reported that around 90 percent of text messages nationwide are opened – meaning real-time marketing message are highly likely to be read.

Financial institutions would be wise to use the SMS channel before it becomes saturated with messaging like email is today.

Also, financial institutions using the mobile medium can make the process of contextual mobile marketing automatic and simple through built-in, opt-in preferences that alert consumers as they need banking products.

The concept of contextual marketing via mobile is not a revolutionary idea. But it is one that, when applied correctly, will serve to increase both revenue and customer loyalty for financial institutions.

Carl Tsukahara is vice president and chief marketing officer of ClairMail, San Rafael, CA. Reach him at

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