Billboard Drives Traffic To Site-And To Branches

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What started as a simple plan to teach Montana residents the "credit union difference" ballooned into a local tale of whispers and intrigue that made it into the local newspaper.

Montana First Credit Union bought space on local billboards with the sole message of "www.wakeupmissoula.com" written in large white letters against a red background. The billboard made no mention of loan rates, car specials or even the name of the credit union.

Montana First Marketing Director Tyler Disburg said local residents clamored to the website where they found information about credit unions and how they serve the community better than other financial institutions, namely banks.

"It's an effort to show the basic difference," he said.

The upper left corner of the website has art work of an alarm ringing, reflecting the "wake up" theme of the campaign. The website details the profits being generated by banks, and plugs the lower car loan rates available from credit unions and how much an average credit union member saves each year vs. being a bank customer. Missoula residents can click on a link that will take them to Montana First CU's website to join or they can move to the Montana Credit Union League's website to locate another CU near them.

"Anytime one credit union advertises about the entire credit union industry it benefits all of us," he said.

A Life Of its Own

The campaign has been so successful it has taken on a life of its own. Disburg said some people thought it was a grassroots campaign protesting a new development being constructed in Missoula that some residents have opposed. Residents were actually calling the billboard company with so many questions, the company's owners asked Disburg if the credit union could provide a hotline to answer the questions.

"It was pretty mind blowing to hear that," he said.

Disburg said 1,500 visitors went to the website with a substantial 40% clicking through to the Montana First website.

The campaign started with three billboards costing $1,500, plus the website. On Nov. 1, the CU updated the message with the theme, "Ownership makes all the difference," which is being supported with 60-second commercials. Disburg said when he's driven as much traffic to the website as he can, he'll launch the radio campaign. He expects to spend roughly $4,000 by Dec. 1 compared to the $25,000 spent in 2004.

Montana First's campaign is being seen by other credit unions' members, as well. Missoula Federal Credit Union President Gary Clark said his members have made several comments to CU staff about the billboards and an article written about the campaign in the daily newspaper. Clark said the billboard campaign has been great for his credit union even if they did have nothing to do with it.

"I think it snowballed. It was thrown in our laps," he said.

Montana First Credit Union serves 8,000 members with $55 million in assets, while Missoula FCU serves 39,000 members in three counties with $210 million in assets.

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