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Create experiences, not messages


There’s something to be said for experiences. More resonant than messages, live, face-to-face experiences can help brands connect emotionally with their customers.

While many new technology platforms such as apps attempt to replicate the live customer experience, nothing compares to touching and feeling the brand. In fact, over-reliance on technology can reinforce the perception that a bank’s relationship with a customer is merely transactional.

Banks that invest in creating unique, interactive, in-person experiences and events can better engage their customers and foster a deeper sense of brand loyalty. Experiential marketing works best when the experience reflects the essence of the company’s brand. The Event Marketing Institute says 74 percent of participants have a more positive impression of an organization after attending an event, and 96 percent of those who attend the event tell family and friends about their experience.

Experiential marketing has its limits, of course. There’s the time and expense of staging an event and only a small fraction of the customer base may actually get to experience the brand there. But that’s where social media comes in. Sharing the experience through a bank’s social channels can amplify the event thousands or even millions of times over.

Citi is a leading practitioner of experiential marketing in the financial services field. To celebrate its Olympic sponsorship, Citi invited customers and members of the community to its “Rio on the Hudson” event at Pier 56 on the Hudson River in New York City. The free, weeklong celebration in August, which ran concurrent with the Olympics in Brazil, featured a series of Rio neighborhoods, appearances by U.S. Olympic and U.S. Paralympic athletes, music, food and lots of family fun.

The event was part of Citi’s larger #StandForProgress branding campaign that explores how everyone from world-class athletes to regular people define progress, set goals and overcome obstacles. The “Rio on the Hudson” event smartly linked Citi’s brand to the Olympics, a passion point for many Americans.

Citi has a long history of sinking its roots into a community with live experiences. For example, it supported the YMCA Jr. Mets program in greater New York. The annual eight-week program for more than 1,000 kids aged 5 to 14 taught them athletic and social skills while introducing them to the YMCA’s core values such as compassion and honesty. Its Citi Kids community-based initiative (also developed with the Mets) provided an educational and motivational program for middle and high school-aged children in greater New York. It introduced them to top professional and Olympic athletes, as well as successful businesspeople.

Remarkably, Citi is involved in more than 11,000 events each year. They take the form of concerts, sports or culinary events at which customers can taste, feel, smell, hear and see the Citi brand through multiple touchpoints in their local communities. There’s an authentic, emotional connection to the brand that can’t be matched through advertising or other forms of marketing communication.

A great example of Citi’s experiential strategy is its recent partnership with ProCamps. The event management and sports marketing company creates experiences for kids and adults with top athletes from professional sports leagues including the NFL and Major League Baseball. The partnership allows Citi customers to experience what the bank calls “hero moments” at one of ProCamps’ 300 clinics or camps in communities around the country.

Citi says its experiential marketing does more than simply make customers feel good. Its ambitious events mix helps the bank capture a larger share of the customers’ hearts and minds—while encouraging people to make brand recommendations to others. The financial services giant also notes that its live events have helped it engage Millennials, who are famously suspicious of traditional advertising.

Rather than simply creating content, Citi wisely makes its brand more human and more personalized by designing unforgettable, high-visibility, face-to-face experiences that reflect the essence of its brand at the grassroots level.

And at a time when the consumers have told researchers again and again about the importance of the human touch in their banking, well-planned experiences bring the brand to the customer in the most human way possible.

Holly Hughes is the chief marketing officer of BAI.