By Sheldon Silverman
That ancient Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times,” may have been directed squarely at the check cashing industry of today. With governmental oversight and rules becoming ever more prohibitive and encroachment from traditional big box players, such as Wal-Mart, it is harder than ever for the check casher of today to not only flourish, but also to compete effectively.
That said, the current state of affairs in the industry have opened the eyes of many sophisticated check cashing companies to the advantages of effectively branding and marketing their services to the right customers.
The issue has become not if you will market to your customers and prospects, but rather, how.
It is imperative today to create a clear brand messaging strategy that aligns your brand and marketing across all channels. Along with the well-proven legacy channels such as print advertising, radio, television and email, there is an entire set of new marketing media channels — mobile messaging, social networking, digital out of home networks — that you, as a check cashing operator, need to understand and implement seamlessly.
Over the last 15 years, new technologies have opened up a vast amount of touch point potentials to the marketer. This advent of new ways to “touch” a customer has also been a Pandora’s Box to marketing executives.
When done correctly, brand/direct messaging through channel integration improves response rates, offers up viral components, enhances the brand equity and strengthens the customer relationship.
Done incorrectly, and the result is more akin to herding cats — in theory it could work, but why do it.
This single facet of multi-touch marketing is so important because consumer perception is key and it is easy to abuse their openness to you as a marketer. Studies have shown that overzealous marketing turns off customers. A Yankelovitch Consumer Study found that 61 percent feel marketing is “out of control”, 59 percent say that marketing has “little relevance to me”, and 69 percent are interested in products and services that block, skip or allow them to opt out of marketing.
The “always available” marketability that technology has delivered to marketers has created more “friction” within the marketplace. This friction causes customers to retract from a meaningful relationship with a marketer if the interaction is not resonant with their needs, life-stage or channel.
So how do you create a “frictionless” relationship with those you are targeting with marketing, and how do you engage in two-way communication that allows your customer to be part of the action?
The key is taking a holistic approach to your marketing campaigns and understanding who your customers/prospects are and how to align your brand campaign message across the proper channels.
This may sound complicated, but by taking specific steps, you can combine the science and art of advertising and marketing and create consumer focused campaigns that your customers embrace and drive your business.
While technological advances have promised the ideal of achieving 24/7, 360 relationships with customers, managing this access has created stumbling blocks to a frictionless customer relationship. CRM is viewed as a technology, while true customer relationship management is a relationship strategy that should effectively utilize technologies, not be imprisoned by them.
Effective customer relationship management that leads to customer loyalty is channel-neutral:
• Loyalty-based initiatives must address each customer channel
• Acquisition campaigns should target the right prospects with the highest propensity to purchase and engage
• The channels may be divergent, but the message and tone must be complimentary
• Communications must be tracked across channels so that conflict and dissonance are not created between messages and timing
• Knowing when to deliver specific messages through each channel is more science than art
When effectively done, brand and direct channel integration promises the frictionless customer experience and removes any barriers to commerce, provides an interaction that is painless, and enhances the loyalty drivers for your customer.
The best way to illustrate brand integration strategies in the check cashing industry is to share a successful example from the I.C.E. Visa Prepaid Card (International Cash Exchange Card, LLC). Created and deployed by I.C.E.’s ad agency, Liquid Marketing Inc., the integrated brand and direct campaign employs multiple touch-points that include traditional and new, digital media and focus on extending the brand to the in-store experience.
From the first launch of the card in 2006, a major focus has been on consumer-directed marketing and ways to assist the check casher with both selling the card and increasing usage. A key component is a very strong branding initiative, which I.C.E. pushed into the marketplace to drive traffic to the check casher.
In 2010, I.C.E. launched an interactive text-messaging campaign to increase new prepaid debit card sales at check cashing locations as well as driving on-going usage of those cards. The first step was deciding who the best prospects were to target.
By looking at the existing best customer and prospect demographic and building a comprehensive demographic model, we were able to pinpoint the neighborhoods and commuter routes of these target consumers. With this information in hand, we deployed the SMS Campaign creative into the marketplace.
The out-of-home marketing pieces included billboards, interior & exterior bus insert signs, train station boards, an I.C.E. truck wrap and a branded Twitter page. The creative offer incentivized the consumer to text ICE1 to 99158 for a chance to WIN $100 or a FREE I.C.E. Visa Debit Card.
Each month, I.C.E. randomly selects 10 winners of the $100 promotion and all of the rest of the customers receive a text coupon for a free load onto their I.C.E. card. Both the outgoing texts (winning and conciliation) serve to lure the I.C.E. merchant locator to find the nearest I.C.E. check cashing location to redeem.
Once the customer is inside the store, the next step is for the in-store experience to strongly support your “out-of-home” efforts. In the case of I.C.E., posters, standees, window decals and counter mats all push the I.C.E. brand at the point-of-sale.
If the check casher wants to take a marketing campaign to the next level, one of the most engaging in-store platforms is the screens and hi-def TV ads created for the iCASHtv in-store digital video system designed specifically for check cashing locations.
The state-of-the art system, a commercial grade large screen LCD and in-ceiling speakers, allows the check casher to push not only their brand, but also their services and products, like the I.C.E. card, MoneyGram, Western Union, etc.
iCASHtv cuts through the clutter of the traditional in-store experience and captures the customer at the point of sale — allowing the customer to ask about, or request the card, rather than relying on the teller to sell the service.
Since launching the program in 2010, I.C.E. and its partner check cashers have seen a dramatic up-tick in card sales and card loads that coincide with the monthly SMS text messaging coupons. With the great success of the promotion, I.C.E. is currently planning to expand the campaign and its frequency into other markets.
By embracing modern customer marketing channels and the ability to connect the brand with the check cashing customer, our industry can better embrace the new environment and learn to compete against the non-traditional players that are encroaching on the check cashing industry at every turn.
The question can no longer be “should I advertise my brand and service”, but rather how can I use advertising to better reach and keep my prospects and customers.
Sheldon Silverman is the CEO of SmartBomb Media Group / iCASHtv Network and serves as Board Advisor to International Cash Exchange Card, LLC. He will be leading a seminar entitled “The Ideal Customer Experience – Harnessing In-Store and Mobile Marketing to Increase Share of Wallet” at the FiSCA 2010 convention in October.