Cover Story : First Dates, Sans Coupons
Bank of America's BankAmeriDeals retains customers and their trustFebruary 2014 By Heather Fletcher
Jason Blackhurst wants every BankAmeriDeals experience to feel as good as a first date.
That's the premise behind one of Bank of America's (BofA) latest offerings to its customers, says Blackhurst, the bank's SVP and e-commerce product executive. BankAmeriDeals uses data in bank customers' accounts to find out what they buy, then partners with merchants to offer them deals on products and services—much like loyalty programs, but directly linked to their bank debit cards.
During the past two years, BofA has served 1.5 billion offers to its 30 million online and 14 million mobile banking customers. Blackhurst believes the Charlotte, N.C.-based bank has seen enhanced retention and engagement because BankAmeriDeals has helped customers save more than $20 million dollars since the program began in 2012. Indeed, BofA's retained 30 million online banking customers since January 2012, and the number of mobile bankers increased by 4 million since May 2012.
"We actually believe one of the compelling points of BankAmeriDeals is what we call the 'first date' phenomenon, which we talk about publicly, is that nobody knows you're using a BankAmeriDeal," Blackhurst says. "When you use it at a restaurant or you use it at a store, the only person who knows you used that offer is really you and Bank of America in data that we get from the transaction. The merchant doesn't know you, as an individual, used that offer." Therefore, he explains, unlike Groupon or social media marketing deals, which require the user to show a piece of paper or smartphone screen with the coupon so it can be scanned, nobody can tell the customer is using a BankAmeriDeal. And, "on your first date, you probably don't want to be ripping out coupons, because it might be your last date."
How They Met
"The idea came up, really, in 2009," Blackhurst says. "We understood that the customer was going to be engaged in a different way in the future—i.e., where 'payments' is going and how mobile was going to change the paradigm of it."
At the time, group deal sites were all the rage. While popular, those discount programs were going to age badly, he knew.
"We thought it was the wrong model," Blackhurst says, "because it was obtrusive, not a real targeted-type event, and we were already seeing [that], just in our own personal lives, … Groupon rapidly became just another version of spam for most of us. And so what we knew at that point was, if we wanted to engage our customers, we needed to build something that was specific to our customers and not just sending out non-stop pedicure, manicure-type things to people like me, who've never in their lives been to a pedicure or a manicure establishment. So it became really, really important to us that getting relevant offers to the right people for the things they want to go shopping and buy was the real driver for us."