Marketing Automation Goes Deep

By Ray Parenteau

Automating your marketing program is a dream come true. Set up the messaging content, schedules and reporting then let it rip and watch the business flow in. The recent proliferation and popularity of online marketing automation services makes the process sound compelling and simple.

“Simple” works great for lead generation and nurturing. But for banks, the opportunities and ROI potential for automation goes much deeper, and result in major (positive) impact on marketing, operations, and general customer experience.

Despite the dramatic shift to digital, banks are still driven by calendar cycles and repeated processes that occur as part of transactions. What has changed with digital banking is the customer expectation of the response cycle. The phrase “This will be on your next statement which you’ll receive on or about the 25th of the month…” just doesn’t cut it anymore. Customers expect real-time or near real-time notifications and confirmations. They also expect to be sold or told about new services in a timely, relevant, and personalized manner.

Fortunately, email is your customer’s favorite communication channel by a wide margin. With a well-planned email automation program, you can simplify and repeat tasks that used to take days of manual or process-based communications.

Here are some of the tasks that can be automated with email:

  • Targeted email campaigns (from your core or other business intelligence system)
  • New customer “Welcome” and onboarding programs
  • New service follow-ups (activation, instructions, FAQs)
  • Surveys (customer experience, Net Promoter Score, branch visit follow-up, service assessment)
  • Customer birthday and anniversary greetings
  • Alerts and notices (such as e-statement notifications, balance alerts, payment receipts)
  • Transactional messages (e-receipts, confirmation emails)
  • Operational notification (privacy notices, CD rollovers)

And, like those marketing automation platforms, you can automatically respond to web visitors and inquiries (lead generation / nurturing). Add automatic notifications to your sales team and you have a formula for success. What’s not to like?

Implementing and sustaining these types of programs does require some planning and effort. But the payoff and positive impact is nothing short of astounding. Some typical benefits include reducing time cycles; eliminating error-prone manual tasks, delivering a better customer experience, and reducing expensive paper and postal costs.

As an example, one bank converted from paper-based branch experience surveys to an automated email survey invitation. Tracking just the response, survey completions jumped nearly 10-fold by using more timely (and easier to complete) email invitations. Eliminating postal, print, and manual processing also resulted in thousands of dollars saved each month.

How Does Email Automation Work?

Understanding the mechanics of email automation can help you get creative, while being realistic about what you can achieve. There are two basic methods available: trigger or event-based (sometimes called auto-responders) and sequenced programs. Very often, a triggered event will set a sequenced program in motion. An example is a Welcome Series, in which a new customer is sent a sequence of emails with various information and calls-to-action (visit product page, complete a survey, etc.) This is typically accomplished by having specific lists and messages / templates already set up with your email program (you do have an email program, right?). You then add “subscribers” the specific list (the “trigger”), which starts the sequence associated with that list.

Sequenced programs are typically driven by a pre-determined workflow. Some workflows can be simple – send a series of messages at intervals of 10, 30 and 60 days. Others can be more complex and actually include subsets of triggers or events. For example, the 10, 30, 60 day cycle above can include sub-sequences that launch based on the recipient’s actions. If the recipient clicks on a specific link in one of the messages, this triggers yet another response or sequence that is specific to that links. Other functions such as delays, conditional logic and dynamic content can increase the targeting and timing precision to improve campaign performance.


Adding customers to a list is a common way to launch and an automation process, and can usually be done manually, programmatically, or via batch automation.

Manually: In this scenario, an automated sequence can be triggered by manually entering one or more records into an existing automated process. This is acceptable for infrequent updates (monthly or even weekly), but is typically not sustainable for more frequent update cycles, or programs with short sequence intervals.

Programmatically: This involves using an API (Application Programming Interface). This is one of the most misunderstood acronyms in use today. Non-technical users often use the term to describe any automated process that takes place after a web form is completed and triggers an auto-responder and/or sequence. While this often does involve an API in the background, APIs on the market today typically connect applications together. So, if you want your loan application to initiate a welcome series, or insert the information into your CRM system, an API “call” from the loan application would serve either of those functions.

APIs are often used when real-time communications are required. The confirmation emails you receive when you complete an online order are typically driven by an API that passes along information about your purchase into the email message. While APIs are great tools, implementation typically requires some technical expertise. Also, most APIs tend to be function-specific and may require multiple interactions to achieve a complete set of communications.

Batch Automation: Most bank systems are already geared up for batch type of processing, so the road to automation can be shorter and less bumpy with scheduled batch transfers. In addition, batch file transfers can offer more flexibility on record-processing – more data can be passed, and once received, automated routines can do additional processing such as aggregating multiple records or converting codes to actual variables to insert into messages. Scheduling batch transfers is relatively simple, and can be effected at any interval – hourly to monthly.

Any method used must work bi-directionally. This ensures that record errors and other types of reporting gets back to the source. For instance, if an email is undeliverable, that event and information should be sent back to the originating source automatically so that the record can be updated or flagged.

Assessing which approach is best for your automation project involves answering some basic questions. In many cases, multiple methods are used to support various tasks. In that case, making sure that your messages have a consistent appearance and sender identity is important to ensure maximum delivery and customer engagement.

In any scenario, making sure that you can produce consistent data records on a reliable basis is the key to success. Involving your IT team early and testing records from various sources to ensure data standardization is vital, and will avoid unpleasant surprises down the road.

Email automation is a catalyst to getting more out of your marketing and customer communications. Going deep requires some planning, guidance and a bit of effort, but it can generate significant impact once it’s running. This gives you more time to work on that endless to-do list.

Ray Parenteau is founder and president of ClickRSVP, a full service email communications provider specializing in financial institutions for more than 15 years. He may be reached at [email protected].

Online training in digital, mobile and social media from ABA.