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Ideas That Work: Promotional items help ramp up personal relationships for one local bank

By Cynthia Drake

Founded in 1903, Isabella Bank has 26 offices in seven counties across mid-Michigan. It’s a financial institution that remains proud of its local roots and its commitment to customer service.

According to Erika Ross, Isabella Bank’s vice president of marketing, the company values its “relationships and being able to work with our customers one on one and also being involved in our communities.” She says, “Our communities are very diverse. I think one of the great things about the bank is that we really tailor what we support to what is important in the local communities.”

The Problem

Like many organizations, Isabella Bank faces some stiff competition, both on a local level and across the United States.

Ross says the financial institution wanted to make sure that its message was getting out to customers. Given the bombardment of general advertising in the marketplace, bank employees knew they had to do something to get customers’ attention. But the campaign also needed to represent what the company stood for. “Our brand is extremely important to us,” says Ross.

The Solution

One of Isabella Bank’s first goals was to welcome new customers into the branch offices. Ross says they created a “Warm Welcome Program” that included a series of different touch points throughout the year designed to check in with new customers and make sure that their banking experience was going well.

The campaign’s kickoff mailing involved a stack of paper with a $2 bill on top, along with a welcome letter from the bank’s president. The welcome package was attractively wrapped and mailed in a “crinkly” package to create interest.

“We were looking for something outside of our standard direct mail piece,” she says. “We wanted something unique that people could get excited about.”

Ross says the $2 bill was an innovative way to welcome people to the financial institution.

“The old joke in the banking business is when people ask, ‘Are you giving away free samples?’” Ross says. “In a funny sort of way, the $2 bill in our Warm Welcome packet is our way of giving away a free sample.”

Beyond the excitement of a fresh $2 bill, the mailing was a way for the bank to initiate an ongoing relationship with customers and urge them to complete a survey that would allow Isabella to fine-tune its services to align with customer needs.

The bank also created a campaign to rebrand and raise awareness about its Kid’s Club account. Ross says they created a monkey character and created print materials, bookmarks, and a monkey savings bank that tied the program together with its new brand. Lobby displays promoted the club to customers walking in the door.

The Results

Ross says the bank’s promotional campaigns have been slam-dunk successes. Enrollment in Kid’s Club accounts is currently up more than 200 percent compared to the same timeframe last year. “It was huge,” she says. “It has brought top-of-mind awareness to our Kid’s Club accounts, and we’re building upon that excitement and awareness from year to year.”

There has been a 30 percent response rate to the survey included with the “Warm Welcome Program,” and Ross says the bank has received numerous positive comments from customers, including several “who stopped into the branch specifically to say thank you for the $2 bill.” The survey information has helped to improve business processes.

“We want our brand to be community-oriented,” Ross says. “We want people to feel that we’re friendly and approachable. It might start with a Kid’s Club account, and then maybe in 20 years those same children might be opening up their first business.”

When done well, with particular attention to the messaging and how customers will use them, “promotional items help carry through your brand,” says Ross. “There are a lot of traditional promotional items out there, and then there are the unique ones.”

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