BMO Harris Banks on Digital to Build Customer Engagement

Customer engagement isn’t just a nice-to-have for Midwest bank BMO Harris; it’s an essential part of the firm’s longer-term customer acquisition strategy. Mike Sanders, director of advertising for BMO Harris, says that this strategy starts with awareness, including making sure that consumers are familiar with the bank and that it’s top of mind. The next phase is consideration, which requires building a relationship with consumers over time.

“Financial services isn’t like consumer packaged goods where people can make a simple purchase. Starting a relationship with a financial services company or with a bank is a complicated thing, and it’s not something that happens overnight,” he says. “For us, building our brand in the consumer’s mind and adding a number of factors into their consideration is what’s really important. It’s not enough for us to just advertise, [and] it’s not enough for us to just be out there. We also have to engage, create a positive feeling, and get people thinking ‘that’s an interesting brand doing interesting things.’”

To help families associate this “positive feeling” with BMO Harris, the bank sponsors Chicago’s Magnificent Mile Lights Festival—a tree lighting ceremony that’s held the weekend before Thanksgiving. For the past two years the bank has partnered with interactive technology company elevate DIGITAL to extend awareness of the company’s sponsorship and drive engagement.

BMO Harris first partnered with elevate DIGITAL in November 2012. To promote the festival that year the bank placed eight elevate DIGITAL interactive units along Michigan Avenue for the full month of November. The digital units were human-size interactive screens that allowed BMO Harris to provide information about the event’s activities—and build consumer engagement, as a result. For example, consumers could use the unit’s photo technology to take pictures of themselves on Michigan Avenue, add BMO Harris–themed frames, and share the photos with family and friends via social channels or email. Participants could also play an interactive board game that offered financial tips for kids. And to promote the event and the sponsorship, the units displayed event information and played BMO Harris TV commercials. But the digital units weren’t the only form of advertising. BMO Harris also promoted the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival via its partnership with Radio Disney and print advertising. Sanders adds that the event’s partners, including the Greater North Michigan Avenue Association, promoted the festival, as well.

The digital units generated more than 12 million impressions, 72,500 direct interactions with the interactive screens, more than 20,000 photos taken, and an increase in the number of likes on BMO Harris’ Facebook page. In addition, Sanders says that the cost per engagement with the digital units is similar to other forms of digital media. In fact, the units were so successful that BMO Harris decided to use them for this year’s Magnificent Mile Lights Festival. However, at the time of this interview this year’s event results had not been reported.

The bank also took a few lessons from last year’s event and applied them to this year’s. For instance, BMO Harris decided to keep the photo technology but eliminate the board game. In addition, Sanders says BMO Harris promoted the lights festival for an extra week, through the first week in December, and provided consumers with the opportunity to contribute to a community mural. “What we learned was ‘let’s pick the things that worked the best and had the highest level of engagement,” he says.

And while Sanders says that experimenting with a new technology was a challenge for BMO Harris, he notes that “test and learn” has always been one of the brand’s core values.

“Test and learn is a huge part of our overall philosophy, especially in the digital space,” he says. “This is just one piece of the digital puzzle.”

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