Marketing to Women at Citibank

Customer segmentation is a key element of bank marketing these days as companies search for growth in a slow-growth economy. New York City-based Citigroup, for example, has long been focused on women as a segment, maintaining a Website for female customers since 2000.

Earlier this year, Citi revamped and expanded that Website, titled Women & Co., to all women, not just its own customers. In the interview below, Linda Descano, managing director and head of digital partnerships, North America Marketing, at Citi and president and CEO of Women and Co., explains why the bank decided to take this step, noting that consumer engagement rather than an immediate return on investment was the prime strategic criteria.

“In terms of how we chart success, quite frankly, it’s the number of women using our content,” Descano says. “Our goal is to reach more women wherever they are on their financial journey and to ignite conversations about money.”

Q: What caused Citibank to identify women as a particular customer segment worthy of concentrated attention? In what ways were their financial needs not being met by other segmentation strategies?

Descano: The reason we embarked on Women & Co. really came from conversations with women themselves. It was clear that women saw themselves as a community and they wanted to engage with each other and us on the topic of money. We realized that there was a business value in that, especially when you think about how increasingly active and influential women are in terms of their contributions to household income and their influence on financial decisions. We wanted to be able to engage with them in places and in situations they found relevant.

Secondly, what they want is information that has utility – straightforward language that’s very actionable and practical – that will help them think through the pros and cons of each situation or decision. They didn’t want pitches about product. We offer Women & Co. as a free service and it’s not selling anything. We make the information available in a variety of formats and media, such as on the Web, via email, in social media and on mobile through some of Citi’s mobile apps.

Q: Other banks have likewise focused on women as a targeted segment. What makes Citi’s offering stand out from the others?

Descano: What makes us different is our track record in publishing fact-based, objective financial information for 12 years now. It’s not a hard sell. We’re not selling anything, pushing anything or advocating any products. It’s relevant information regardless of your relationship with Citi. We keep it practical and actionable. It’s very focused on how business relates to a woman’s life, her goals, her interests and her money.

We organize the content around the topics that women say matter most, such as their career in business, their family and home, their retirement and investments and their lifestyle. Through our ongoing conversation, we continue to focus on what she’s reading and telling us about. We tap the vast intellectual resources of Citi, which gives us access to some tremendous financial minds.

Finally, we take the human approach in how we talk to women. As you’ve probably seen on our site, we provide content from a first person perspective. We do some “investigative journalism,” but we also share our own financial journeys – our successes as well as our vulnerabilities and missteps. It’s that transparency – we put a face with the name and talk in first person – that brings a different level of emotional authenticity to what we do.

For example, one of the things I wrote about recently was the home improvement project I undertake every year. One year, we wanted to do three different things. After spending weeks of going furniture shopping or picking out tile for a back splash, we couldn’t come to closure. So we hired someone to help us, a renovation coach. And I went through the five things I did when I hired her – checked references, checked to see who pays what, set up the budget, etc. The article was about my thought process, how I got to that point, how it helped me save time and the other things you should consider before bringing in a renovation coach.

Q: From a business point of view, what are you hoping to achieve from the new Website? Attract new customers, for example? And are you focused on any particular demographics among women, such as small business owners or the affluent?

Descano: With our new Website, our goal is to reach more women wherever they are on their financial journey and to ignite conversations about money. Money is the “it factor” of our lives. It fuels our lives. We have come out of such a tremendously challenging time financially for so many families and those challenges continue. We have heard from some women in the community, and it’s been reported in the press and in survey after survey, that so many families felt like they weren’t prepared. That lack of preparation made the journey through the crisis so much harder.

None of us can control the curve balls thrown at us in life, such as the market, or the economy or even love, but we can control how we prepare. So this is part of the broader responsible finance platform at Citi. How are we going to help consumers make the subject of money less daunting? And how do we give people tools to have more meaningful conversations and go from being informed to taking action, so they can build and have more control over their financial future?

We’ve learned with our new site that the appetite for information continues to increase. But women also want less clutter. They are increasingly the CFOs of the household, they have many financial responsibilities in addition to life responsibilities, and they are looking for more straightforward information tailored to them.

We also hear from women that finances can be complex, boring, frustrating and time-consuming, making conversation about money even more daunting. We’re striving through what we do to make the conversation more desirable, meaningful and more fun – and therefore, more commonplace.

I didn’t pay attention to money until I had my own financial wakeup call during my divorce. I kept asking, “How did I get here? Why wasn’t I paying attention to my money?” I didn’t have a Plan B. This has been a true personal passion of mine – that other women shouldn’t be in the position that I was. They should be thinking strategically and owning their own financial health. And we have this tremendous ability through the breadth and depth of Citi to take our learning and experiences and use this platform as a way of helping women and their families be more proactive, feel more confident and take charge of their financial lives.

Q: What financial results or learnings can you share at this point?

Descano:  Women & Co. is not an operating business; it’s funded solely for the benefit of consumers. Our services are available free of charge.

In terms of how we chart success, quite frankly, it’s the number of women using our content, either visiting the site or utilizing the content we supply through other publishers, by engaging with us in social media and signing up for our emails. Our content is distributed through a variety of Citi platforms and properties, so it’s also about that total collective engagement through all the Citi channels.

We would not be here 12 years later through many difficult economic times if we were not adding value to the consumer experience.

Mr. English is a contributing writer to BAI Banking Strategies based in Chicago.