Andy Kahl, Director of Data Analysis, Evidon
Financial services brands spent US $5.2 billion on digital advertising in 2013[i]. Despite their reputation of privacy and security, they, like their peers in other verticals, are active in collecting and using data with a host of technologies. These tools provide information about site performance, the makeup of the site’s audience, allow users to share on social networks about their activity, and allow brands to engage visitors elsewhere on the web. But they can also slow the performance of the site and run counter to a customer base sensitive about privacy. Strategies for balancing these online marketing trade-offs vary among the world’s top financial brands.
The most obvious trend that emerges in this study, which examines third-party data collection activity during the first full week of 2014, is the vast difference between the relatively large number of third-party tags deployed by US financial sites in contrast to the activity of their global counterparts. US financial brands partner with an average of 67 data collection companies each. This is more than four times the number deployed by non-US based banks in our study, which averaged 16 distinct data collection partners per site.
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American Express deployed tags from 102 distinct partners, the most among leading financial brands. The tags encountered most frequently were designed to “segment” users as interested in financial services. These segments are commonly used to later match these users with specific advertisements elsewhere on the web. This is a reflection of credit giant’s place among active advertisers – annual statements place their marketing budget at US $289 million.
Deutsche Bank’s marketing budget for the same annual period was US $282 million. Yet, Deutsche Bank, who deployed tags from only 9 partners, focused mainly on site analytics. These tags are designed to measure user activity and site performance with a focus on how the site can be better organised or engineered to increase customer satisfaction. There was very low volume from tags associated with advertising campaigns. .
So such variance in third party technology strategies between two brands with equal digital advertising budgets must be driven by other factors. We will look at two: varying cultural sensitivity about privacy and site performance management.
First, historically, the EU has enforced privacy regulation more strictly than the US, particularly Germany, which has limited the amount of data collection taking place. However, there is evidence that consumer awareness is changing the landscape. Research suggests that an average web user’s opinion about data collection is influenced most by the transparent disclosure of the activity. In a study conducted among US and UK web users in 2013, over four in five UK and US consumers (84% and 86% respectively) have a more favorable opinion of businesses and brands who are honest, open and disclosing of their data collection activities. This compares to the research conducted in 2012, which shows that just 54% of UK consumers and 57% of US consumers, thought more favorably towards businesses who are honest. So as the concepts of data collection become more mainstream and privacy becomes more of an informed concern, transparency is the key to a satisfied customer base. Banks with a traditionally sensitive audience may find that there is room for more robust strategies around data-driven marketing, if those strategies are designed to be openly disclosed and explained.
Second, while third-party tags can often impact response times, this can be mitigated with routine auditing and tag management solutions designed to optimise performance. Most of the sites with the most third-party tags in our study perform with similar response times to those with fewer partners, indicating that third-party activity is not a liability as long as it is properly managed. Removing the obvious outliers (China Construction Bank was unusually quick to respond and BNP Paribas was particularly slow), the remaining sites in the study were within 470 milliseconds of one another. This illustrates that third-party data collection can be implemented carefully without detriment to site performance.
Long-term cultural norms among potential customers and a dedication to site performance among a web operations teams are certainly not simple obstacles to overcome. But as the world of brand promotion becomes more data-driven than ever, it will be important for global financial brands to manage these concerns while maintaining their place in a competitive market.