If you attended the Livermore Rodeo in California in June, you could have tried out one of the hottest technologies that has yet to go on sale to the general public and it would have been supplied by a bank.
Since June, Wells Fargo has been putting virtual reality Oculus Rift Development Kit 2 headsets on consumers at local events across America as the San Francisco bank works to build brand awareness in a fun way.
"It allows us to show we are part of the community," said Jennifer Copeland, vice president and experiential marketing manager at Wells Fargo. "There's more to us than financial products. We are able to show you a good time."
The initiative, which has consumers playing a virtual maze game and includes social media components, represents part of a trend of bank brands creating funkier and techier in-person experiences to get in front of consumers one on one, to strike up conversations in a new way, to secure new customers down the road and to have a stronger shot to get positive mentions on the internet.
Umpqua Bank, well known for its quirky marketing, paid for a traveling digital art show last year to spice up conversations with bankers, for instance. And BancVue has hit the road on behalf of community banks recently with what it calls the Kasasa Rewards Rush tour that its customers can rent and consumers can find where it's heading online.
For Wells, there are several eye-catching components to the so-called Together Experience tour. At each event indoors or outdoors the bank sets up a tent and sometimes an awning that includes a photo booth, Oculus Rift headsets and a WizDish ROVR locomotion platform that consumers stand on to play the virtual maze game where they need to collect as many gold coins as they can before time runs out. Some Wells Fargo branding is woven into the game, and of course, Wells Fargo brand ambassadors are nearby to help navigate participants through the maze game just as the bank hopes to help navigate consumers with their financial journeys, said Copeland.
"The primary purpose is branding and getting Wells Fargo out there in a new and different and fun way," said Copeland.
Experiential marketing, which once meant putting up a banner at a little league game and having bank ambassadors on hand, is getting techier and more personal. Institutions are hiring drivers to showcase digital banking products and they are getting more creative in the experiences they are bringing to communities across the country in order to grab consumers' attention at a time when branch traffic continues to decline.
Keith Brannan, chief marketing officer BancVue, credits experiential marketing with humanizing bank brands and helping banks get face time with consumers in target markets.
"They may have seen community financial institutions many times and driven past them but never actually had an experience with them," he said. "It's a good way for banks to get direct to consumers.
"You get a lot more love from the community."
This is something brands across the country have been finding, according to recent research published by the think tank Event Marketing Institute and experiential marketing firm Mosaic.
The organizations' research found that after attending an event, 74% of the participants said they have a more positive opinion about the company, brand, product or service being promoted. The study also found 96% of consumers who tell a friend or family member about their experience mention the company or brand running the event.
Umpqua, which launched an art exhibit in Portland, Ore., had positive results from its branding initiative. The initial exhibit pulled in 4,000 visitors inside the dome some waiting upwards of two hours to get in. And more than 15,000 people in Portland made the experience their own by sharing it on social media. Now, the bank is readying to bring the show to Seattle.
According to Erin Keeley, chief marketing officer at marketing and advertising firm mono, the best brand experiences offer people something they haven't seen before to inspire a sense of awe or wonder.
"The first one to do it benefits the most," said Keeley, whose firm helped create a lightshow for lucy, a women's active wear line, that found the use of tech helped generate much buzz.
Banks, which typically follow other industries, can have an advantage in brainstorming what to do next: they can borrow ideas from other brands and still get consumers' attention simply because an experience is unique to banking. In fact, Wells Fargo credits a TV show for inspiring its use of the virtual reality gadget on its tour.
When reading about an initiative that involved putting Oculus Rift headsets on South by SouthWest attendees for a Game of Throne's experience, Wells' Copeland felt inspired. So she called up the bank's innovation lab and discovered the bank had already been testing the technology. Then, she reached out to an agency to develop a game for the device.
Since June, the tour, which Wells Fargo employees request to come to local events, has already appeared at more than a dozen events, including 100 Black Men of America Conference in Houston, Capitol Hill Pride Festival in Seattle and Blues, Brews & Barbecue Festival in Pennsylvania. It's less about sales though some consumers will sign up for accounts than it is about getting the bank brand in front of local markets.
To be sure, the latest tour is an iteration of something the bank has invested in for years --including a tour that included a mechanical pony to represent the bank's history with the Pony Express. But it is the techiest experientialmarketing campaign yet taken on by the San Francisco bank.
Wells Fargo has been getting great feedback thus far on its virtual reality experience, Copeland said. And while the tours occur in person, there is a digital benefit. People are sharing their experiences with the Oculus Rift experience on social media including photos branded with Wells Fargo in the background and videos that consumers can make about thanking someone in their lives or documenting the ways they navigated the virtual maze.
"We find people are sharing it," said Copeland. "It's fun and funny."