Many financial services companies today are in the midst of a digital transformation. Not only do companies need to meet and surpass challenging acquisition and retention goals, they also must stay ahead of a rapidly shifting marketing and technology landscape.

Today's consumers are inundated with a mix of marketing and advertising messaging from multiple brands across a variety of devices. Behind the scenes, financial services companies invest in a wide range of technologies in order to capture consumer attention while storing mass amounts of disparate interaction data, including the all-important marketing data. With sheer volume of data generated every second, it's hardly surprising that financial service companies struggle to scale and keep up with customer demands.

According to Forrester, only 11% of companies assess their digital strategy as "excellent". It only goes to follow that the industry standard retention rates tend to reflect that assessment. But of course, without fully adopting a digital strategy centered on benefiting the consumer, retention becomes incredibly difficult and costly. So how does a financial customer company create a winning digital strategy that drives the best connected customer experience that retains customers? It all starts with fully understanding your company's current marketing and technology landscape.

To get you started, I've outlined five strategic and technical considerations to help jump-start a winning digital strategy.

1. Be Your Own Customer at Every Interaction

The most important step in creating the best customer experience possible is to understand how your prospects and customers currently interact with your brand, looking at the complete customer lifecycle from initial awareness through to the ultimate advocacy stage. When you start capturing customer interaction moments, dedicate a couple hours for your initial research, followed by an hour each day for a minimum of three weeks. Take note of the advertising, website and marketing messaging, content, call to action(s), process steps, data inputs and duration between communications. PS: It's always helpful to ask your colleagues to help with this exercise! An example to get you started is running a generic keyword search related to your offering, such as "open new 401k account" or "find new auto insurance".

It's important to ask yourself the following: are your data inputs (ex: first name, product interests) used in follow up messaging and website content? Is the product sign-up process digitized or does it require forms and a local office branch visit? If visiting a local branch, what information do they provide you? What questions does the Consultant, Advisor or Banker ask? Do they ask for a mobile number, email, how you heard about them? Do you receive any automated "thank you" communications for visiting?

All these questions and more are just the start of "being your own customer". Focus on uncovering challenges with the goal of improving how a customer will interact with your brand and eventually become loyal. As a marketer, you cannot solve every challenge. However, quantifying how each challenge impacts the organization will help you become an internal champion.

2. Inventory Existing Data Assets & Technologies

The second step is to inventory your existing data assets and technologies, including marketing and advertising. You may be asking yourself why bother with this step when you already know what you're working with?

The answer is simple--it's important to know what technology platforms you have in place and how they impact the customer and their experience and interactions with your company. Any technology platform containing customer data (personally identifiable or anonymous) should be included in the asset list as that data can be used to positively impact the customer experience via marketing and advertising.

Example technologies include transactions, system of records, customer relationship management, email, social, ad serving, master data management (MDM), data management platforms (DMP), etc. It's also important to record what systems have PII, a.k.a. personally identifiable information, ( and/or non-PII (ex:user123).

Lastly, be sure to record what unique identifiers exists in each technology. Examples are (but not limited to) a Customer ID or email. If you're unsure of all the technology platforms in use today, use tools such as BuiltWith and Ghostery to help. Interviewing your colleagues, including IT is another great tactic to build a comprehensive list.

3. Prioritize Business and Customer Use Cases

Now that you've spent some time putting yourself in your customer's shoes and reviewing existing data assets, it's time to prioritize how you'll turn these challenges into opportunities and strengths.

What's key is to focus on three metrics for each challenge so you can prioritize effectively. The metrics are level of effort, business impact and customer impact. You can use a grading score of high, medium, low or 1-5 to help score your challenges list. This helps ensure you focus on quick wins that justify your time allocation while making the case for more resources to tackle the bigger challenges. Common marketing quick wins include creating a digital onboarding series of messages for new customers and anniversary communications (to build advocacy).

In addition, any technology overlap (i.e. multiple email technologies) and technology whitespace (ex: mobile messaging platform) should be documented.

4. Determine Success Criteria

Once your business and customer use cases have been determined, it's time to assign success criteria to each challenge. These criteria can be in the form of business key performance indicators (KPIs) such as net new customer gains, attrition decreases, revenue/profit gains or lifetime value. Common marketing KPIs used for determining success include clicks, opens, conversion, likes, shares, cost-per-acquisition and cost per conversion. A great framework to determine success criteria is the SMART method (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely).

5. Create a Single View of the Customer

At the heart of developing a connected digital strategy is the customer. Consolidating and connecting disparate sets of data is crucial to creating the best connected customer experience possible. After completing an inventory of your data assets, technology systems and prioritizing use cases, you'll start to uncover technology platforms that enable connectivity via integration and data sharing. One common example of a quick win is connecting your CRM to your marketing messaging platform. An even quicker win is connecting your digital analytics platform to your marketing messaging platform. Essentially, you want to connect as many platforms as possible and consolidate where there's overlap.

Connecting disparate data sets and technology platforms will enable a 360-degree profile of your customer, the ability for personalized communications and operational improvement. Using data about your customers to communicate with your customers will ultimately improve customer satisfaction.

Bonus Considerations for a Connected Digital Strategy

These five strategic and technical considerations are just a minor aspect of creating a successful connected digital strategy. Other considerations include, but not limited to, employee empowerment, efficiency improvement via automation, the ownership of a complete digital transformation or overhaul and much more.

For customer success stories about deploying a successful connected digital strategy using the above listed considerations, check out How Calamos Uses Marketing Cloud and the Capital One Demo from Connections 2016.

About the Author: Jeremy Lamothe is an experienced digital marketer, specializing in advertising, data strategy and customer journey management. Jeremy's passion is to help customers succeed at marketing. At Salesforce, Jeremy consults with a variety of financial services companies to transform their digital marketing and advertising strategies.