Umpqua bank, which is known for its unusual marketing tactics, added a new one to the mix to generate buzz for the recent opening of a flagship branch in San Francisco.

To get people in this digitally connected city talking, Umpqua took to Twitter the week before the branch opening to encourage them to share the names of the hometown businesses they love.

It put a billboard of sorts on a construction wall surrounding the branch to display the tweets it received. Artists recreated the messages by hand there, replacing them with new ones a few times every hour.

The intent was to pique the interest of passersby, says Eve Callahan, senior vice president of corporate communications for Umpqua. "We want to make people curious about who we are and convey to them that we are not just another bank."

Though other banks might use radio spots to announce a new branch, Umpqua, a unit of the $11.4 billion-asset Umpqua Holdings in Portland, Ore., favors what it calls "handshake marketing." This includes such tactics as random acts of kindness, in which it surprises people by buying lunch for everyone at a restaurant or paying the bill for the next 10 people in line at a coffee shop.

"The idea behind that is, 'How do you take the experience we're trying to create in our stores and extend it outside those four walls?'" Callahan says (referring to branches as stores in typical Umpqua vernacular).

Umpqua also does "doorstep drops," which Callahan says is its alternative to direct mail. It leaves a gift like a rosemary plant or a package with all the fixings for a spaghetti dinner at homes near a new branch, along with a note inviting people to stop in.

But this is the first time Umpqua has used what it calls a "tweet wall," an idea that came out of a brainstorming session for the launch of its branch in San Francisco's Financial District. Umpqua asked tweeters to use the hashtag #umpquasf when recommending their favorite local haunts. The bank heard about the best places to get everything from coffee and sangria to pet food and facials.

The people behind the Twitter handle @mocana came down to take a picture of themselves in front of the wall when their tweet recommending Peet's Coffee & Tea went up.

Even @KarlTheFog—a Twitter account that is meant to be the voice of the city's famous fog and that Callahan describes as "a San Francisco institution"—sent @umpquabank a tweet. "Welcome to town," it said. "My favorite thing to dew is mornings at Sutro Baths and afternoons at Mt. Davidson. What's yours?"

Callahan says the tweet wall gave the otherwise virtual initiative a physical tie to the branch. "San Francisco is obviously really wired. People live in both places, online and passing by," she says. "So we thought it would be a nice way to connect those two."

It also created an effective hook for drumming up publicity, says Jeffry Pilcher, publisher of The Financial Brand, an online publication covering bank and credit union marketing. A local business journal is among those that wrote a story.

"Folks could argue about its practicality and its usefulness, but some things like this are done intentionally to generate buzz and free press," Pilcher says.

A pure Twitter effort, without the wall, would not have gotten the same attention, because tweets are not new, he says. "But tweets tied to a bank written by hand on a wall of a branch that is not yet open? That's new."

Callahan says Umpqua had "hundreds of conversations" online in the 10 days leading up to the branch opening in late August. But she says it is more telling that the branch averaged more than 100 visitors a day right away once it opened. "That neighborhood was ready and waiting," she says.

After the tweet wall came down on opening day, Umpqua followed up with other marketing tactics of the type for which it has become known, including buying out a nearby Peet's coffee shop for a morning, giving away ice cream outside the branch, and having a street team hand out $5 transit passes to commuters at random times.

Not much later, it also did a weeklong lunch giveaway. Two popular food trucks parked in front of the branch and served free lunch to everyone who stopped by between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.

In a variation of the initial Twitter effort, Umpqua continues to encourage people to give a shout-out to the local businesses they frequent. Its "Who do you love?" campaign invites responses at a page on Umpqua's website and via cards available at the new branch. Businesses that get five or more mentions receive a gift.

Sometimes Umpqua surprises those who do the recommending as well. For example, it sent a Nike gift card to one man who tweeted about his favorite place in the city, with that particular gift being chosen because Umpqua discovered what a sports fan he is.

Umpqua also is hosting speakers at the San Francisco branch in an effort to highlight innovative businesses from the area. Its "Catalyst Series" kicked off in September with guests from TCHO talking about how the company makes its gourmet chocolate and offering free samples. Umpqua live-tweeted the event and sent Twitter fans who engaged with the bank a chocolate tasting of their own.

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