Karen Larrimer, chief marketing officer of PNC, is applying the science of analytics and the discipline of finding a return on investment to marketing.

"Marketing used to not be so worried about return on investment," says Larrimer. "We're challenged to compete."

Larrimer, who spoke at American Banker's Banking Analytics Symposium last week, says the bank has been moving from being product centric, with each product manager focused on pushing out his or her own products through the sales force, to customer centricity.

"Every new product and offer has to go through the customer lens before we spend a penny on even thinking about it," Larrimer says. "If it passes through that it gets to the first step, which involves intense analytics and research."

She notes that banks don't have the opportunity to interact with customers face to face as they used to. Only about 20% of consumers use branches frequently, she estimates.

"Virtual domiciled" and "online heavy" consumers don't need branches any more, and represent almost 40% of the U.S. population, a slice that's growing. "The virtual domiciled come in the branch maybe two times a year because they want a $100 bill at Christmas or something." Therefore the insight into customer behavior has to come from transaction and customer history data.

The analytics and customer focus stemmed from a request from the bank's CEO to come up with a plan to "become a great bank." Larrimer briefly engaged Deloitte consultants, who took her through common marketing archetypes for successful companies.

One model, for instance, was that of the "iconic brand builder" like Harley Davidson. "Harley has fans with passion," Larrimer says. "Did I think that would work for PNC? Not really. I couldn't imagine anyone walking around with tattoos of PNC or any financial institution."

Another, "product/service innovator," seemed like a tough space to play in every day. "We don't always want to always be first to market," she notes.

"Customer experience" or "sales driven" were two other archetypes, but neither seemed like an area in which Larrimer wanted to invest the majority of her marketing budget.

She chose "customer information and insight" for PNC. "It was where we wanted to be and it has a halo effect on all the others -- how you make decisions about products and improve sales initiatives," Larrimer says.

To execute, the bank has put together 40 initiatives for better data insight to drive return on investment. It has segmented its seven million customers into groups.

Every new marketing idea now has to pass through four hurdles, Larrimer says: Is it desirable through the customer lens? Is it true to the brand? Is it economically viable? Is it technically feasible? "Any one of these can kill an idea," she says.

One new product that has emerged from analytics-linked thinking is called Auto Check Ready. It lets a consumer apply for a car loan online and get an answer in about 15 minutes. "In customer experience it's a winner and in marketing cost it's a winner," she says. "It's increased production outside the branch."

And working with Pegasystems, the bank has developed what it calls "customer interaction management." "It's an intelligent hub that tells us how to interact with customers the next time we have the opportunity," Larrimer says.

For instance, if a customer only uses the ATM and online banking, that information is in the hub, along with the times of day and frequency of that customer's transactions. Offers and sales and service interactions are also stored in the hub. The data is crunched to produce the most relevant message for a customer. It could be on the service side, letting the customer know a card was compromised, for instance. Or it could be a home equity line of credit message with an attractive rate delivered to a recent homebuyer.

The hub has helped call center agents know what to say next to a customer on the phone and it's being expanded to new uses, Larrimer says.

Larrimer sees marketing analytics as a combination of art and science.

"Analytics is all about the science, there's tons of power in what we can do today with science," she says. "But if you don't combine it with the right art in the customer experience, that science won't be as useful. Data is extremely important and it's at the core of everything we're doing. But it isn't about the data, it's about the insight. Big data is useless if it's just a bunch of data you can't turn into insight."