Using a Sales Trojan Horse

For smaller financial clients, which are competing against behemoths with more money and bigger name recognition, the most-effective promotional campaigns are often those that focus on trust and service. That was made especially clear to one promotional products distributor who helped his client, a local investment bank, develop an effort to reach out to corporate clients.

In targeting a number of “million-dollar clients,” as the distributor calls them, the bank hoped not only to get the business of the organizations, but also of their employees – or at least be on their radar. Of course, getting past the company gatekeeper is always a challenge to those dropping in on a new prospect, and jumping right in to a sales pitch might put the client on the defensive.

“They were looking for some way that they could stand out when up against the name-brand banks, and at least get their foot in the door to market to these employees,” the distributor says.

So they came up with something of a sales Trojan horse. The distributor worked with a supplier to create a box covered with a laminate so it looked like a small bank, complete with the phone number and information about the community bank. They then filled each box with a dozen donuts and brought them to the prospects, with little explanation beyond the fact that this was just a little something from the local bank. This continued for three weeks, dropping off the box of donuts every Tuesday, until the fourth week, when the delivery inexplicably stopped.

“More often than not, they would get a call from the office manager asking, ‘What happened to the donuts?’ ” the distributor says. “If they did not get a call, they would call the prospect the next day and usually found themselves welcomed to the office to make their pitch. They got substantial business out of it.”

Since the bank saw not just the company, but also its employees, as potential clients, the donut box, which would get a lot of attention in the break room, was a particularly potent tool. It created interest in the brand for those coming in and grabbing the donuts, and many would assume their company was already doing business with the bank, thus creating a level of trust and name recognition.

New York Bank Turns to Ferns

Select small businesses in Manhattan and Brooklyn recently received an unexpected gift – a live fern. The fern served as an introduction to The Park Avenue Bank, a local New York City bank that specializes in serving small businesses. The plant was also a metaphor: While big, corporate banks handle their customers carelessly or roughly, The Park Avenue Bank treats its customers as one might treat a delicate fern.

A hundred ferns were sent out – 25 in Manhattan and 75 in Brooklyn – plus a handful to journalists. Affixed to the pot was a sticker with the bank’s name and website, plus two stakes with care instructions: an informative, pleasantly written one from the Park Avenue Bank; and a humorously dispassionate, bureaucratic one from a “big bank.”

The branch managers followed up with a call or letter to targeted businesses. A second mailing of a “deluxe fern flair kit” was also conducted by New York ad agency Walrus, which handled the effort.

“The direct-mail campaign was part of a larger rebranding effort for the bank and its website, Our site has become much more of a resource center for small businesses, and we wanted to communicate that core message to a select group of potential new customers,” says Annamarie Suriano, vice president and director of marketing at The Park Avenue Bank.

Ferns were selected because they make a different impression than many of the traditional promotional products, says Suriano. “People expect things like pens and toasters from their local bank, and we really wanted to go beyond that and give something of value that carried our message.”

Plus the gentle fern has a strong advantage: “No one is going to toss out a plant,” Suriano says. “It’s likely the fern will stay in their office as a constant reminder of the bank.”

Green Machines

While marketing budgets may have been trimmed for many banks, concern about sustainability and the environment has increased for financial companies, particularly larger ones. This has led some to seek out socially or environmentally responsible products for both internal messaging and for the public. Similarly, products that promote health and wellness continue to provide a positive message for financial institutions.

One promotional products distributor recently found that an eco notepad he used for a banking client – made from 100% post-consumer sources, from the cover material to the plastic binding – was a big hit. A shift away from disposable break-room supplies has opened an opportunity for promotional products to be included in these areas, with distributors providing branded mugs or heavy-duty water bottles.

Another major bank removed all of its Styrofoam and paper cups at its call center, replacing them with some 3,000 branded plastic coffee mugs, featuring green messaging on the cups.

“They said it was great and everybody loved it,” says the distributor that provided the branded mugs, who adds that the bank recently ordered several hundred more for another division of its company.

As banks look more carefully at their impact on the environment and on their community, they are proceeding with a higher level of caution in how they are examining their supply chain, all the way through suppliers and manufacturers.

“They want more due diligence from our suppliers, to be sure they have fair wages and good work conditions,” says the president of an ad specialty company. “The bigger companies just don’t want to take any chances.” She recently worked with a bank on a promotion in which safety items such as purse hangers, earthquake kits and eco-blankets were given to existing customers.

While this caution continues to extend to financial institutions’ approach to promotions, (they generally avoid out-of-the-box creativity), there are some cases where this is shifting. The ad specialty company president recently helped a large bank promote its Back-to-School Join Up campaign, in which parents brought their child in to set up a new bank account. Each child who opened an account received a free Ogio backpack and iTunes gift card. So far 400 sets have been given away.

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