Advertising on bills makes a statement

While paper bank statements and utility bills remain in vogue, new research demonstrates that marketers should seek to use such financial documents as vehicles for promotional activity.


Statements and bills are infamous for being the items of mail that consumers are most likely to dread, but they may present an opportunity for savvy brand marketers to place targeted messages and reach consumers with personalised offers.

Despite bills’ bad reputation, 74% of consumers value the financial documents they receive in the post, according to a study of 1,219 consumers by Forrester Consulting on behalf of InfoPrint Solutions Company, a joint venture between IBM and Ricoh. The same number believes that personalised, relevant advertising messages on them are useful.

Allen Thrasher, marketing principal at InfoPrint Solutions EMEA, explains: “Most people read these highly involved documents a number of times, no matter which channel they use. So the opportunity to present them with relevant ads based on their transactional data is perfect for capturing eyeballs and hopefully rewarded with additional custom.”

In the survey, conducted in August this year, Forrester asked consumers in which format they would prefer to receive information and which types of advertising they might be open to seeing on such sensitive documents.

The study found that even with the shift to electronic communications, more than 60% of consumers in France, Germany, Italy, the UK and US read the bank statements they receive in the post, even if they are heavy internet users.

Younger consumers

In particular, younger consumers do not seem to be moving away from paper – 70% of consumers aged between 25 and 34 who receive bank statements read them on paper, compared to 63% of consumers aged between 50 and 64.

Across all ages, most printed documents are read more than once and often for an average of three minutes, with 67% of consumers saying they read their bank/building society documents in paper form; and nearly 30% admitting they also view their statements online. By contrast, 26% of consumers only read their online statements.

It appears people also prefer to receive relevant marketing messages on their paper statements (32%) rather than by email (19%), web (8%) or direct mail (6%).

Thrasher says: “Consumers’ desire to have both online access and printed statements shows the importance of multichannel communications.” The interest of consumers in seeing personalised marketing in paper formats indicates there may be “an overlooked opportunity for marketers to increase brand and customer loyalty with promotions on bank, utility company and mobile phone statements,” she adds.

A number of advertisers have been looking to capture interest at the point of cash withdrawals in recent months, with Tesco, Pizza Hut, Subway and Orange all launching ATM machine campaigns.

But Thrasher says marketers are still sceptical about using bills as marketing tools. Indeed, the report states: “Traditional and interactive marketers question the acceptability of marketing on important documents, asking will consumers accept such marketing, will it detract from the other content on the document and will consumers act on such messages?”

Forrester says more needs to be done to educate marketers in the efficacy of such personalisation methods. “Despite so many technological innovations in these areas, marketing departments continue to take a limited view of the possibilities such targeted advertising on documents could offer,” Thrasher says. “This is mainly because it differs significantly from the types of marketing they are accustomed to.”

The study reveals that UK consumers may require more sophisticated targeting than their counterparts in the US and Europe. While 57% of UK respondents say they would have a more positive view of the company as a result of receiving targeted information, 22% admit that even relevant information from advertisers is unlikely to sway them because they pick what to buy based on price.

Thrasher says the key to getting personalisation right is matching the offers as accurately as possible to the insight gathered from a customer’s transactional data. “It’s all about being unique and suiting the character of each individual consumer across multiple channels. The objective of any marketer is to see an increase in return on investment and response rates and conversion,” she says.


Transactional documents

“There is no easier way to do this than by relying on the data that your customers routinely give you. Transactional documents enable analysis, segmentation, manipulation and integration of data to deliver one-to-one promotions. In turn, this can enhance brand perception and improve customer satisfaction and loyalty,” she adds.

While some marketers are trialling this potential (see Frontline, page 25) others are less keen and the jury is still out on whether this marketing method should be used.

But Thrasher remains confident that it has got legs and concludes: “Just like customer relationship management makes use of data and embeds loyalty, this could offer new touchpoints for customers to interact with and feel engaged.

“Transactional data is another paradigm shift in marketing and through education like this, we can eradicate the ‘can’t do’ attitudes and help companies realise how to effectively market to their most valuable customers.”

The frontline

We ask marketers on the frontline whether our ‘Trends’ research matches their experience on the ground


Clare Watson

, Brand communications manager, Pizza Hut

Being relevant to customers is the critical factor in any marketing activity. We know a relevant, personalised message can build brand affinity; even more so if it is in an unexpected but non-intrusive environment. It says: “This brand really understands me, my life and my needs.”

However, personalisation should be treated with caution. Consumers know that database technology is widely available and, as a result, addressing a customer by name can actually be seen as overfamiliar, especially if they are not an existing customer.

While a tangible paper copy of the marketing message adds longevity to a message, assuming customers will keep it and return to it, salience is again key – if it is the right message, it will be remembered and acted upon, regardless of the media in which it was distributed.

We use personalisation to target customers in pay weeks, when we know there is increased traffic to ATMs. We use the printouts to inform customers of their nearest Pizza Hut restaurant, which we think is a non-intrusive, relevant and helpful build on the digital information given at the ATM terminal.


Kate Rowland

, Head of customer, M&G Investments

We believe that our customers definitely value personalised communication regardless of whether it is delivered online or offline. Get it right and you open conversation, which can grow and develop over time. But get it wrong and you risk shutting down the dialogue before it’s even begun. This certainly can be an overlooked opportunity, especially in organisations where the departments dealing with the “service” documents are removed from the marketing department.

It is important to see every customer touchpoint, regardless of the nature of the communication, as an opportunity to increase customer and brand loyalty. The key is in critically assessing each opportunity to create the appropriate message, which is relevant to the customer and delivered accurately.

A move away from paper statements to multiple methods of communication or online alone provides new challenges and also opportunities. Personalised relevant messaging in customer communications is likely to grow in value as the use of the internet increases – it can be the difference between dialogue and monologue.

Any time your company is in front of the customer, it is an opportunity to reaffirm the brand, products and services of the company. If the message benefits the customer in some way, be that service or sales, the message can be a positive enhancement in the mutual relationship. If the message is of no relevance or delivered in a sloppy way it will, at best, be ignored and deemed an irritant that potentially sends the customer looking elsewhere.


Rahul Patel

, Senior brand manager, The Mileage Company, which operates the Airmiles and BA Miles reward schemes

The value of our personalised marketing to members is clearly demonstrated by open rates of up to 97% for paper statements and 70% for estatements.

Personalised marketing can increase brand and customer loyalty when targeted properly. Earlier this year, we received response rates of over 50% on a voucher promotion that was featured in the paper statement for one of the scheme’s collection partners.

As members self-select their preferred method of communication, it means we’re able to target our members with a highly relevant message. The opportunity to drive acquisition and loyalty is reliant on us knowing our scheme’s customers inside out and using this information to deliver one-to-one communications.


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