Banks and credit unions everywhere share a similar goal: elevate the branch experience beyond transactions. The possibilities are endless, including cafe-style branches and co-working spaces. Another option is simply to take advantage of a feature unique to your market or your history, or something you’re closely associated with.
O Bee Credit Union, for example, played up its roots with the Olympia Brewing Company by turning several branches into faux brew pubs. Giant JPMorgan Chase opted for a hip, urban look and feel in its Manhattan flagship branch.
Wisconsin-based Associated Bank took its cue from its 100-year old relationship with the Green Bay Packers football team. (At one time the bank sold tickets to the games from teller windows.)
The regional bank, which has 240 branches primarily in Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota, has used sports-themed experiences at several venues including the Milwaukee Brewers’ baseball stadium and the home arena of the Minnesota Wild hockey team. But it’s new Packers-themed experiential branch takes the concept to another level.
Seizing on a Unique Way to Engage Consumers
With the development of “Titletown,” a 45-acre mixed-use project created by the Packers adjacent to the team’s home field, Associated Bank saw an opportunity to do something special in customer engagement. Working closely with the team’s owners, the bank conceived the idea of opening a branch in Titletown that would use leading-edge digital technology to create a football-focused consumer experience right inside a fully functioning branch.
This idea led to an unusual blend of entertainment and banking. The immersive five-stage “Path to the Pack” experience is open to both customers and non-customers for free. A primary hope for the new facility was that it would showcase Associated Bank’s service and experience to people who are not customers. “We thought this would be a great opportunity to put words into action and actually show people what being our customer looks like and feels like, and what they can expect from us,” Christopher Piotrowski, Associated Bank’s EVP and Chief Marketing Officer.
Piotrowski candidly admits that most bank visits are “typical, expected and predictable.” To counter that, at every touchpoint “we try to make the experience as unique as possible. There are lots of different ways you can bring that to life,” he says. For banks and credit unions that don’t have a big sports client, Piotrowski notes that connections in the arts or with the nonprofit community can work equally well.
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Fun in a Branch, All Captured by RFID
Titletown includes an outdoor movie theater, restaurants, lodging, golf simulation and the TitletownTech Center in which the branch is situated. But the predominant theme of the development is football, and Packers fans come from all over the U.S., and the world, to share in the experience, which now includes Associated Bank’s new branch.
There are five stations in the “Path to the Pack” experience at the branch. At the start, the bank collects a few pieces of information including the person’s name, email address, whether they’re a customer, and their favorite Packers’ player number. That information is scanned into a badge containing an RFID chip. The badge is the key to all the experiences, Piotrowski notes, recognizing you and storing additional preferences and “stats.” The CMO describes each of the stations:
1. Suit Up. Fans start the process of becoming a Packer by choosing a uniform and selecting a position. Facial recognition technology scans your face and then creates an avatar of you as a player using all your preferences, with your name and favorite number on your jersey.
2. Championship Ring Designer. At this stage, you get to create the look of your own championship ring by selecting the type of metal, gems, your number or initials, and more. At the end, you hold up your hand and the software takes a picture as if it’s a selfie of you wearing your new ring.
3. Train Like a Champion. This is the most active part of the whole interactive experience. You scan your badge and up comes your avatar on a large screen. Your job is to return a punt, competing against the clock or someone standing next to you. You have to step on a series of pressure-sensitive foot pads on the floor in the correct sequence to score well.
4. Go Green and Cold. This one’s easy. You pose in front of a large black and white photo of Packers fans enduring the iconic “Ice Bowl” championship game of 1967 where the game-time temperature was 13 degrees below zero. The image “proves” that you were at the infamous game.
5. Launch Your Legacy. At the final stage, a life-size display brings together all of the experiences on one screen — the avatar, your score, you at the Ice Bowl. All of that is emailed to you so you can share any or all of the images on social media.
Piotrowski says the stations were devised working closely with the Packers organization. He allows that the bank did eliminate a couple of the more physical elements that were initially suggested.
“As you can imagine,” he says, “having people throwing a football and running around in a branch becomes a little impractical.”
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Great Way to Bring in New Customers
Staffers working in Associated Bank’s unique new branch get additional training, Piotrowski states. They’re instructed in how to help people get the most from the football experience as well as how to educate them about the bank’s products, after they’ve finished the “path.”
The CMO says the new branch’s traffic ebbs and flows with events in Titletown or at the nearby stadium. But the venture is paying off. On one game day, even though the branch was open for less than a full day, 18 new customers were signed up, according to Piotrowski. He says the new branch is a digital traffic driver as well since the “Path to the Pack” experience is promoted on social media, particularly among Packer fan clubs. The exec says Associated is able to open a checking account online in five minutes or less.
While investing in digital, Associated’s management continues to believe branches are a very important part of the retail banking mix, because of the way they build relationships and allow personal one-on-one conversations, Piotrowski states. The objective of a branch is to engage with your customer base and prospects. “Not everybody wakes up in the morning with the idea of having a chat about checking accounts,” he says. “So it’s really important to think through what are the passion points of your customer base or your geography — something that consumers are really interested in having a chat about.”
In this instance, it was a passion for football — and for the Green Bay Packers in particular — that drove the use case, and the bank went all-in to tap into that.