Imagine: It’s the holiday season and you’re on the way to the mall to do some shopping, so you stop by the nearest ATM to withdraw $20.
You hit the “Fast $20” button on the screen, the receipt confirms $20 has been subtracted from your account, but against all odds the ATM spits out $50. After confirming this was not a mistake—the financial institution that owns the ATM just wants to put 30 extra bucks in your pocket—what’s the first thing you do?
Probably text or call someone about it. Maybe you’ll spend the money first, and then spread the word. Regardless of the circumstances under which you were withdrawing the money, winning $30 for completing something as mundane as an ATM transaction is probably going to prove too interesting to withhold the story from anyone you talk to over the next week.
This was the thinking of $132 million/26,000-member Industrial Credit Union, Bellingham, Wash., when it launched the campaign two years ago. Industrial CU Marketing Manager and CUES NextGen member Matt Vance says he had heard of others using the ATM giveaway to generate word of mouth, and decided it would be a great way to attract shoppers to the ATM in Industrial CU’s new branch.
The CU spent $3,000 throughout December 2008. After sending out mailers promoting the giveaway to residences around the branch, and with the word of mouth generated by the initial winners, the increase in traffic at the branch was “huge,” according to Vance.
“People literally withdrew their weekly limit, then walked into the branch and deposited it back so they could try again the next week,” he says. “Traffic fell off after the promotion was over, but we accomplished our goal of generating a little buzz and driving people to the location.”
Industrial CU’s holiday giveaway represents just one form of guerrilla marketing, a term used to describe any campaign whose goal is to catch people off guard and, with its unconventionality, produce buzz and publicity. If done creatively and correctly, the strategy is often cheaper and can be more effective than traditional advertising.
As it was with Industrial CU’s campaign, guerrilla marketing is all about catching people in the most ordinary, uninspiring settings and blowing their minds with something unexpected. They’ll then tell their friends the story, which will be impossible to do without mentioning the credit union and its message.
In Industrial CU’s case, the message came through loud and clear: “We like giving away money, but only to those who visit our new branch.”
“We could’ve thrown a party with tea and punch and cookies, but we wanted to get people there for a purpose, and we definitely accomplished that,” Vance says.
Making an Impression
At first glance, an ATM giveaway might seem a bit gimmicky. Most who visited Industrial CU’s new branch that month probably understood that the primary objective was to drive traffic.
Then again, both giving away and receiving $30, more than anything, just feels good, and Vance says employees and giveaway winners enjoyed the small slice of generosity. It was around the holidays, and the economy had just tanked.
“We got a ton of heartfelt responses,” Vance says. “Members who had won would come in and say times had been really hard—that the money had helped them buy presents for their kids. It was nice knowing we were a part of that.”
Wendy Cleveland, CME, CCE, had a similar experience with an even broader guerrilla marketing campaign. Cleveland, VP/marketing and business development at $518 million, 46,000-member AltaOne Credit Union, Ridgecrest, Calif., used the word “infectious” to describe the good will spread by AltaOne CU’s “Good Deeds Done Daily” campaign in 2009.
Like Industrial CU, AltaOne CU carried out the campaign in conjunction with the opening of a new branch. Again, the economy played a role: The new location, in Bakersfield, Calif., had been devastated by the recession.
So AltaOne CU planned big. It used direct mail, social media and newspaper inserts, but the main focus, and the guerrilla aspect, of the campaign was its team of “do-gooders.” Hired from an outside agency, the team bombarded a three-mile radius for a month with unexpected acts of kindness. They would visit a restaurant and pay for a random family’s meal, or deliver treats to the local fire and police stations, or donate supplies to the local pet store.
For a month, the public only knew that the acts were being done by a group of people in tacky slacks and polo shirts driving around in a yellow Prius stamped with the “Good Deeds” logo. The team would hand out cards with the campaign’s Web site—which generated more than 6,000 unique views—but offered no hint that they were connected with the CU.
AltaOne CU revealed the source of the do-gooders the day of the branch’s grand opening. The newspaper articles, TV spots and interest from local blogs had generated the buzz and traffic AltaOne CU was hoping for, but Cleveland says what made her most proud was the contagiousness of the campaign’s generosity.
“It started to take on a life of its own,” she says. “People wanted to pay it forward, so they started doing good things for other people as well. There was so much positive energy around it.”
Just as valuable was the excitement the campaign bred among AltaOne CU employees.
“One unintended consequence was a rise in employee pride,” Cleveland says. “I’ll never forget relating a story to one of our back-office employees during the campaign. The team had bought a book for a young woman standing in line at a local store, and she became very emotional and said they had no idea what this meant to her—that she was a single mom going to school. It was just a $20 book, but this was so important to her.”
“I told the story to the employee and she was near tears,” Cleveland continues. “I’ve always enjoyed working for AltaOne CU, but I’ve never been prouder as I was then.”
AltaOne CU’s campaign classified as guerrilla marketing because it involved making a series of quick, unexpected hits. In First Ontario Credit Union’s case, the aim was to just make one. This was necessary because what it did was technically illegal, and it only had one chance to implement the campaign across all the communities it served.
First Ontario CU’s campaign took place in a different country but shared the common theme: It was 2008, and Canada’s economy was suffering. Investment firms were declaring bankruptcy, interest rates were down, and research showed people were being much more cautious about where they were spending and saving their money. Up until then, the $1.4 billion/74,000-member credit union had little brand presence, and Mandy MacPhee, director of marketing and strategic communications, wanted to promote the institution’s security.
So First Ontario CU rented a van and some college students, who from 1-7 a.m. one morning created impossible-to-mistake statements in high-traffic areas across four cities. They wrapped trees lining walkways with bubble wrap, attached seat belts to park benches, and secured bikes to bike racks using far more locks than necessary. A sign with First Ontario CU’s logo and the message “Extra Safe” accompanied every display.
First Ontario CU hadn’t cleared the campaign with the local governments, some of which asked the credit union to remove the displays immediately. But the impact had been made: MacPhee said the stunt generated $40,000 worth of publicity.
“The fact that we hadn’t talked to the cities created a lot of media attention,” she says. “We knew we might be breaking some laws, so as they began to notice we complied and said we would take the displays down, and that we didn’t know about the bylaw.”
Community newspapers, blogs and marketing magazines covered the campaign, which helped highlight such offerings as First Ontario CU’s unlimited deposit insurance. Known before as the credit union whose employees had gone on strike in 2007, First Ontario CU caught the public’s attention for the first time in years, according to MacPhee.
“It’s amazing how it all came together, and it was such a fun campaign,” she says. “If you’re trying to build awareness to your organization and do it quickly, guerrilla marketing is a great way to do it. Some of these innovative ideas really have an impact.”
Planning Every Detail
The easiest and cheapest form of guerrilla marketing involves simple acts that help a community or surprise people in even the smallest ways. Vance says Industrial CU, for example, might volunteer at a local football game or hand out hot chocolate on the street.
Campaigns like AltaOne CU’s “Good Deeds Done Daily” require a bit more foresight. Cleveland says the credit union had been planning the campaign for more than a year and that “every detail was analyzed and thought out.”
AltaOne CU dressed the team and its car in yellow because for many people the color feels approachable. The teams’ uniforms originally consisted of jumpsuits, but they instead decided to go with the slacks and polo shirts to relate to the city’s young, affluent, white-collar population. With the Prius, the Good Deeds squad sent the message that they were giving back to the community.
The credit union hired a full-service agency, designed a Web site, and dedicated $150,000 to the campaign, which could’ve fallen flat in several places. For all the attention the team received, AltaOne CU couldn’t be sure of the value of its connection to the publicity until the day the branch opened. But the campaign didn’t disappoint, and Cleveland attributes the success to the disciplined methods behind its organization.
She says the Good Deeds Done Daily team generated more than just traffic.
“I’ve been working with credit unions for more than 15 years, and it’s been my experience that people will come to an opening if it looks interesting and has free food,” Cleveland says. “But people need more than that if they’re going to be seriously interested in the institution and move accounts over.”
Five hundred people attended the grand opening, and staff could barely keep up opening accounts. Cleveland says the branch met 40 percent of its first year membership goals in the first month.
The keys to having this sort of success with a guerrilla marketing campaign? It was a number of things, according to Cleveland, including the brainstorming and fleshing out of the concept, the anonymity behind the acts of kindness (which drove most of the buzz), and the campaign’s ability to stand out while also remaining relatable to the community.
If nothing else, Cleveland says, remind your employees that any act of kindness, whether it’s part of an intricate campaign or not, sends a message about the credit union.
“This was all a good reminder that if I’m at the post office and I have my logo shirt on, and I open the door and smile for someone, that reflects positively on AltaOne,” she says. “And it costs nothing.”
Jamie McMahon is a former CUES editorial intern.