Creating brand awareness with the college-age crowd has obvious cache for a financial institution like Wells Fargo & Co. Those young adults make up the be-all, end-all demographic for new checking accounts, not to mention their need for tuition money and car loans.
After running a series of targeted successful offline-online promotions with various educational institutions, Stephanie Smith, Sr. VP Online Sales and Marketing Division, began to think of ways to make the brand more cutting edge. Two years ago, virtual worlds were just catching on, so they launched their own virtual world in September 2005.
“Going in, we weren’t tied to the idea that the virtual world or gaming community was going to convert lifetime customers in the traditional marketing sense,” Smith says. “We thought it was an opportunity to engage in soft-sell education with a demographic who we’d be communicating with in the context of their environment. And we wanted to continue our tradition of embracing emerging technology and mediums.”
Here are five tactics they followed:
-> Tactic #1. Brand consistency
Smith was excited about the possibilities that virtual worlds offered, but she was still interested in eventually incorporating the medium into their multichannel strategy -- synching up with their other Internet components, as well as customer support, television, radio and billboard. (For instance, Wells Fargo’s call center could be leveraged as an easy tool for virtual world participants to phone in an account order.)
To *pre-prepare* for that day, they included the stagecoach logo that has been the Wells Fargo identifier for nearly 150 years. And to maintain brand consistency, they called their virtual world “Stagecoach Island.”
-> Tactic #2. Email notification and download app
To get the word out to their young demographic, they dropped mentions of Stagecoach Island in various email campaigns and placed a display ad on the Wells Fargo website. Those who chose to join the community were required to download software onto their desktop before beginning the orientation steps, such as selecting a screen name and avatar.
“Tens of thousands of participants” have downloaded the app and played the game, Smith says. To join, users must be at least 14 years old and provide their first name, last name, email address and ZIP Code.
Once inside, users receive $50 virtual cash to spend on clothing, shoes and other items. To make the game interesting, they also added bigger-ticket items, including concerts, parties, dancing, skydiving and, most recently, home construction.
“We’re seeing if an experiential medium can engage college-age consumers. We believe it can,” Smith says. “It’s allowing us to interact with a different set of consumers than we most often reach.”
They also incorporated other games and activities to keep users interested:
o Motorbike racing track
o Parachute competitions
o Fireworks display
On top of that, they added more lessons on budgeting, shopping expenses and renting an apartment.
-> Tactic #3. Brand education
To bring the financial aspect to their virtual world, Smith and her team added a “Learning Lounge.” In the lounge, players can visit an ATM and earn virtual money to be used to buy those big-ticket items by answering questions about banking and personal finance. Already, 199 users have played the game enough to become virtual millionaires.
“We think it’s highly beneficial that they are learning as much as they are about financial situations while interacting with the brand,” Smith says. “We are learning what it means to run a multi-role-player game. The next step is to figure out how to tie this into offline activities. We’ve been amazed at the very positive and strong reactions we’ve gotten from the [Learning Lounge] games.”
-> Tactic #4. Blog support
Next, Smith and her team added a blog site so users could learn about the island’s current events as well as scuttlebutt, such as where people are building their homes on the island. One post inquired about a lack of water supply and engaged other users in a discussion about global warming. To maintain continuity and branding, Smith’s team mimicked the virtual world’s design for the blog.
Smith assigned a moderator for the blog to approve posts and manage the content. To keep the educational part going, they also created a section dedicated to the topic of student loans. “It addressed some of the issues and anxieties young lenders have about entering the market.”
-> Tactic #5. Search map icon
Smith and her team have been quick to dive into the growing medium-within-a-medium of map-based local searches via Google, MSN, Yahoo! and AOL. With a mix of organic and paid search efforts, they've been able to establish high rankings in local markets.
Again, they added a twist to the experience to set themselves apart from other financials query results by using favicons (see hotlink below for definition) in the maps, which consist of the company logo appearing next to search listings and inside the search maps (see link below for creative).
As was the case with the naming of Stagecoach Island, it was important to include the Wells Fargo logo in the results to maintain a connection to the time-tested brand. Regular maps query results in the financials category, on the other hand, only show location with the generic bubble-tacks.
"It visually differentiates us," Smith says. "Increasingly, what we have seen is that more and more search is local. People are looking for things in their physical environment that are within driving distance. Well, the question was: 'If search is local, what can we do to make it more impacting, more targeted and more focused?' "Useful links related to this article
Creative samples from Wells Fargo’s virtual world:
Sherpa’s recent Special Report on virtual worlds:
Swivel Media - helped develop Stagecoach Island:
Active World - hosts Wells Fargo’s virtual world:
Wells Fargo’s virtual world: