How this banking group tackled a digital marketing transformation

National Bank of Canada shares the technology investment made to become a digital marketing powerhouse, and why people and process were vital to any tech success

Putting in place a comprehensive marketing technology stack is not what determines digital marketing success and data-driven thinking. It’s having your people skilled up and in the right mindset to employ the tools to what they do on a day-to-day basis.

It’s this process and people switch that has dominated digital marketing transformation at National Bank of Canada, according to its practice lead for digital marketing, Eboni Boicel. The banking group has spent the past three years endeavouring to become a digital marketing success story, implementing the major of Adobe’s marketing technology stack in order to improve the way it approaches campaigns and engagement.

The original driver was an ambition to standardise content management systems across various parts of the group, which has been built up largely through acquisitions. With that came disparate technologies and platforms as well as a decentralised approach to marketing, Boicel told CMO at the recent Adobe Summit in Las Vegas.

The transformation has seen the bank centralise marketing activities into one team. That in turn, made it important to find one unified platform to roll out, Boicel said.

Boicel and his team implemented Adobe Experience Manager, Analytics and Target in order to lift, personalise and optimise digital engagement and media targeting. The rollout took two years and was followed by Adobe Audience Manager. National Bank of Canada then worked with TubeMogul, which became Adobe Advertising Cloud, and in November 2017 licensed Adobe Media Optimiser for search marketing.

At National Bank of Canada, the transformation office drew the blueprint and was in charge of approving big projects. Afterwards, a team of analysts and product manager with IT deployed the technology. With core services and tag manager in place, Boicel was then able to incorporate a lot of other technologies more rapidly and without that dependency on IT.

What’s been vital to Boicel is giving staff time and a clear process to adapt to the technology. The bank initially skilled up at least one expert within each field, and at the same time, employed Adobe’s core service to minimise integration issues.

The problem for most organisations investing in martech stacks is finding resources with expertise. Boicel said the focus has to be on transferrable skills. “For example, look at people that have done tag manager or analytics – that’s a lot more accessible. Then it’s a question of training in-house,” he said.  

“We have an agency we consider our digital partner that has some expertise in different platforms. What I do as the people in my team learn the tools is have the agency support them. They become our second-level support. Today, we have reached the same level as our agency in terms of expertise. Hopefully we’ll become even better.”

Putting in place a technology is not what determines success, Boicel said. “Having the ability to ramp up your people to use it, is the most important factor,” he said.

“It’s like a Bugatti – you can build one, but if you don’t have any drivers, you’re not going anywhere. That was working in parallel, activating our different solutions, but also making sure our users are always up to date, know where to get information, and that we’re fully utilising what we purchased.

“I can’t say we’re at 100 per cent, what we did is we were very lean in terms of every platform only had one expert. Today, I can start to now increase the bandwidth. We’re adding people, but the knowledge is already there and the processes are in place. Now it’s a question of heavy lifting.”

Delivering results

Getting buy-in for significant tech investment is also about people ultimately. The biggest challenge with investment in technology like this is executives expect you’ll get returns on day one, Boicel commented.

“If you tell them it’ll take X amount of time, they won’t buy in. But after that, when you do deliver, you have to try and get as much value as you can in the short term,” he said.  

“I’m not sure many projects actually get there. And that’s because many don’t take into account the training of your staff, or realignment of processes, or the big learning curve you have to go on because you’re using new technology and practices.”

As you deploy more technology and the business starts to see the value you’re bringing in and trusts you, it becomes a lot easier to sell in, Boicel said. “And the pressure to immediately get a return on investment decreases,” he added.  

Once Analytics and Target were in place, Boicel looked to bring in Audience Manager to bring media buying in-house. Historically, media buying was done through agencies and their platforms.

“So the first step was… about making sure for example with Audience Manager, that we’re using the marketing ID and we’re enabling that on all our platforms,” he said.  

Data was another part of this equation, and Boicel pointed to Web, media and analytics data as one pot, versus known customer first-party data. National Bank of Canada is in the process of a massive Hadoop warehouse overhaul, aimed at bringing all customer data sets together. In the interim, it was important to try and get return on investment with the digital-based data sets available, Boicel said.

Phase two was to then connecting the DMP (data management profile) to the bank’s customer’s profile. “That allows us to enhance even more through inclusion lists, clients we don’t want to target in the acquisition process versus those to cross-sell and upsell to,” Boicel said. “Even in mass channels, this is about using the information we know on them, such as if they have a bank account but no credit card, for instance.

“With targeting, we were creating lists in Unica, and using those for email, direct mail and call centre activities. What we’re able to do is take that same list and inject it into the [digital marketing] core service. That means we got moving and didn’t have to wait for the Hadoop work to be completed.”

The bank’s first initiative was acquisition-based. “For a very long time, the bank has done cross-sell and upsell using the client base. Bringing in digital marketing opened up whole new possibilities to acquire new clients,” Boicel said. “Now, it’s changing the way we do marketing and having an engagement strategy and acquisition strategy that are separate.

“Prior to this, we were trying to always integrate both at the same time. Talking to new clients, but just in case they’re existing clients in some way, we’d add in extra messaging. And it just gets messy.”

National Bank of Canada is striving to follow a customer journey, defining what messages to bring in depending on where an individual is at. “Tools like Target enable us to perfect at that moment how we deliver the message,” Boicel said. “Whether it’s the layout or messaging, those are the thing we’re using it for.”

Business surprises

For line-of-business leaders, what the digital marketing transformation has done is brought data-driven decision making to the fore.

“When you’ve been working in product so long, you start to think everyone sees it the way you do,” Boicel said. “Our work to date has been a huge eye-opener. In our marketing campaigns, for instance, they’d emphasise how to position the product. But looking at our analytics, how people are searching, it made more sense to angle things in different ways, or position product B instead of A. We do A/B testing and show the data around actual clients and what they’re choosing in terms of the way the products are being offered.

“This is where it changes the culture. We went from everyone knowing what they’re doing, to testing everything.”

It took a good year to foster more informed data-driven decision making, Boicel said. Having the ability to tap data in-flight has been vital to building this maturity.

For Boicel, personalisation is really about A/B testing on the fly, letting the machines make choices and activating the right offer to the right person. The work done to date means there’s now trust in doing these types of tests.

“We want to now scale it at every touchpoint, so it’s not just the site, but testing in emails, banners, call centre scripts,” he said.

The other part is realising that sometimes you can have a 200 per cent lift, and sometimes you have a 30 per cent drop. “It’s important to recognise not all hypotheses have success, but every one helps us understand whether what we’re doing is good, or if it’s time to try something we haven’t previously done,” Boicel said.  

Given National Bank of Canada is only in the beginning phases of personalisation, the emphasis is on relevancy. For example, a customer coming from a nursing or engineering association will see imagery, content and context relating to their industry.

“One of the things in finance you are very careful with is how personal it gets before it gets too creepy,” Boicel said. “Especially in finance, where information is very private, you want to make sure you help the customer in their experience without necessarily making them feel you’re using their data to get very niche on the offer.”  

The strongest success story for Boicel has been around pension plans acquisition. Through testing, his team were able to convince line-of-business to employ terms clients are using, rather than product-centric language.

“We saw a 90 per cent lift in the number of people opening up forms and applying. Apart from the results, it changed the way we now build our campaign offers,” he said. “That was an ice-breaker in terms of changing the culture of the bank.”  

Next up is changing email capabilities, and exploring Adobe Campaign. “After that, it becomes about orchestration, and how we orchestrate all offers and touchpoint, what channels we use and when, and getting to an always-on approach,” Boicel concluded.

- Nadia Cameron travelled to Adobe Summit as a guest of Adobe.

Read more of CMO's in-depth case studies on digital marketing transformation:

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