Teaming up with Portland, Ore.-based word of mouth marketing agency Psst Marketing, the $85 million credit union has gotten locals buzzing thanks to a series of mini-campaigns that kicked off this summer.
With an eye on building awareness within a 12-block radius of its downtown Portland branch, Northwest Resources took a unique approach.
"We asked who are the people the credit union is trying to reach, and the thing that is different about word of mouth is that we decided to reach out to people that would have influence or serve as conduits of the message," said Psst Marketing CEO Jeff Stephens. "That way our target audience would hear it from someone else."
He said from there it then became more about doing things that would perk up the target audience's ears when they heard about it. So the credit union set about partnering with local businesses. The first campaign involved area restaurants and bars and focused on the servers and bartenders who frequently talk to the target audience. They mentioned to their customers that if they stopped by the credit union's downtown branch they could get a coupon for a free appetizer or drink. The move stimulated buzz for the cost of a few appetizers.
A second campaign zeroed in on the next influential group downtown-hair stylists and barbers. With the "Hot Hair Challenge," Northwest Resources FCU handed out branded cameras to local hair salons encouraging them to snap pictures of their best haircuts for not only bragging rights but a chance to win a $100 gift card. In addition, the winning stylist's client would also receive $100 to spend at the salon. At the end of the campaign, the cameras were picked up and images were loaded onto a Flickr photo-sharing site where participating salons were featured. The winning hair style and stylist was then selected based on the number of comments his or her work received.
"They were a great conduit because by nature people are more gabby in a salon. We just had to give them something they would find so interesting they couldn't keep it to themselves," said Stephens. "It was just a few dozen downtown salons, yet as it got going more and more people were talking about it."
Playing on the theme of reaching a person's heart through their stomach, the credit union has also bought 20 lunches from various cart vendors to surprise those working downtown with a free lunch.
"The carts are pretty popular at lunch time, so as people are grabbing lunch, the vendor says hey, it's free today thanks to Northwest Resources FCU. And there would be a credit union representative there to talk briefly," said Stephens. "The mystery lunch cart vendor rotates weekly to keep people on their toes. It's great because it gets people to patronize the carts and gets them talking about what the credit union is doing."
To keep it from getting stale each mini-campaign ran no more than three to four weeks. Stephens said the real key to this strategy goes beyond just surprising people but building relationships and ultimately meeting members' needs. For example, recognizing Portland's big biking community, Northwest Resource FCU offers bicycle loans up to $2,500. The move has helped the credit union add more SEGs as bike enthusiasts talk up the offering to their employers, encouraging them to sign up with Northwest Resources FCU so they can then be eligible to join and take advantage of the loan.
"It helped jump-start the conversations and build relationships not only with area businesses but those who work and live downtown as well for next to nothing in terms of money spent," said Stephens. "It is more about keeping up the momentum started. Unlike running an ad for CDs, this is a more organic process that creates success as momentum builds."