I have just returned from our Forum For Marketing Leaders in San Francisco, and am now looking forward to being the host at Forrester's Forum For Marketing Leaders in London (May 13-14). Our analysts are excited to share with the European audience our latest Forrester thinking on brand-building in the post-campaign era and how to balance achieving business objectives whilst delivering highly contextual, real-time customer value. We will be joining forces with key industry keynote speakers such as Kristof Fahy, Chief Marketing Officer at William Hill, Amy Nelson-Bennett, President at Molton Brown Global, and Francesca Nieddu, Managing Director, CRM and Sales Planning, Intesa Sanpaulo.

As we make our final preparations for the event, I caught up with Francesca Nieddu from Intesa Sanpaulo about the marketing opportunities and challenges specific to retail banking. Here's what she had to say:

Q: Retail banking marketers aren't typically known for being customer-centric as they tend to focus their marketing efforts around products. What was the biggest barrier you faced as you attempted to pivot?

The main challenge is to put ourselves in the customers' position and to feel what it is like to walk in their shoes! Once this shift is acknowledged as the core guideline, the entire pivot is much easier to accomplish. Not only our marketing team, but legal, compliance, security, as well as credit departments get a better understanding and are able to follow through on the mains points of the challenge. In fact, the firm as a whole will be redesigning its processes around our customers, rather than focus on products. 

Given this new perspective, people in the bank feel more engaged and their focus naturally shifts to better serving customers. We use personas and aim to detect the potential needs of each customer through an extensive analysis of data we collect, on the way a customer uses our products and different touchpoints. This information is also shared internally to help design (new) products, services and touchpoints. A holistic approach is crucial to enable a seamless dialogue with the customer across different touchpoints. Channel management and CRM tools must work together consistently, in accordance with the customer experience guidelines.

Q. The program you're going to share with us at the Forum largely hinges on a new approach to customer insights and segmentation. Was it difficult to make the business case internally for the new investments required?

After the economic crisis, many banks have been facing a massive redesign of their revenue mix. For many of them, the 'old' model – which was based on intensively offering a small number of high-value products to a small portion of customers – does not allow them to reach their business targets anymore. Hence, the case for the pivot at Sanpaolo naturally stemmed from the bank’s business plan: to raise revenues through the extensive coverage of the current customer base, and more successful acquisition strategies.

In our view, being comprehensive at a reasonable cost of contact requires a significant change of marketing and sales approaches. Focus on customer needs rather than on products; take an integrated approach in CRM, product and channel management, instead of a siloed one; adopt new KPIs for sales performance, based on contacts, meetings and cross-selling; leverage customer data and analytics to increase relevance of leads and optimize contacts.

Q. As you think about the future, how much of a role do you expect customer journey planning and insights to play a key role in Banca Intesa Sanpaolo marketing strategies?

We are convinced that customers stay with us because they are satisfied with our products and services. Products do remain at the core of our marketing strategy, but with a different angle: the customers’ one. So products are relevant, but just as a part of the whole experience. We believe in looking at our products through the lens of a customer journey framework is a meaningful perspective. This is about every single journey, from customer engagement while researching products, to product/service configuration and subscription. In the post-sales phase, banks today still have an advantage compared to other retailers since they can keep talking to the customer, and strengthening the relationship.

In our view, marketing today is about engaging customers and taking care of them in a seamless dialogue. This will prove out much more effective, relevant and timely, than 'old' marketing campaigns based on products. Furthermore, customer journeys represent the new blue print for consistent capital investment in technology, design of new processes, continuous innovation of products and services. Given this path, customer journeys will soon be acknowledged as the marketing's core guide for the day-by-day customer dialogue, embedding campaigns and service communications across all touchpoints.

Q. For a brick and mortars bank like Intesa Sanpaolo, what is the challenge of being omnichannel leveraging on digital touchpoints?

Our bank has 4,100 branches and 11,1 million customers. With 4.4 million customers on digital channels, today Intesa Sanpaolo is the leading 'online' bank in Italy. We want to grow further in order to be a true omnichannel bank – which is set to provide consistent experience to customers across different touchpoints – as we believe we must stay where our customers are, and be ready to serve them extensively. In 2017, we plan to further reduce the number of physical branches by 800 entities and to provide full service to customers across branches and digital channels. Being effective in the frontline of omnichannel engagement will be crucial to ensure high quality of service to all customers.

Interested to hear more from Francesca on the transformation at Intesa San Paolo? Join us at Forrester's Forum For Marketing Leaders, May 13-14 in London. For more information and to register, visit our event website here. I look forward to meeting you there!