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PeoplesBank Finds A Healthy Alternative to Traditional promotions
Sue Wilson says the bank was looking to go beyond toasters – and most of those other traditional, if not exactly original, enticements for people to open new accounts.

That’s how Holyoke-based PeoplesBank began a process that found up partnering with Whole Foods Market and its Hadley store, said Wilson, vice president of Marketing for the bank. It’s a promotion that is providing some effective exposure for both companies, while giving new customers something they can put in the toaster.

Last month, PeoplesBank launched a new customer-incentive program that offers a free $10 Whole Foods Market gift card for opening a checking account. In addition, the bank started holding weekly drawings for $500 gift cards at the market, a promotion open to existing bank customers and, essentially, anyone who visits one of its branches and wants to participate.

Thus, the promotion is similar to others staged by the bank in the past – giveaways have included stadium seats, coolers, mini food choppers, and fleece blankets– but different in that in involves free food(and, in the case of the larger gift card, lotsof it) at a time of year when people havethat topic on their minds.

There are still a few weeks left in the promotion (it will end when the year does), but there are indications that it has been more successful than some previous promotional efforts in generating new accounts, said Wilson.

“It seems to be running ahead of many of our other promotions,” she said, declining to give specific numbers. “I think that results from the product – food – and the time of year.”

Ann Walsh-Sullivan, marketing team leader for the Hadley Whole Foods Market facility, said that while the store cannot accurately gauge the full impact of the promotion – the bank’s gift cards are not distinguishablefrom others the store sells – she believes it has generated more trafficand exposure for the store.

“I think it’s been an effective partnership that has made us more visible,” she said, referring to the slew of newspaper and radio ads and a billboard in Hadley that have announced the promotion. “And I think it has introduced us to some new customers.”

Creating new customers was certainly the goal for PeoplesBank, said Wilson, noting that both the $10 gift cards and the larger, weekly drawings have been effective in that mission.

The former, like other give-aways for new accounts, is designed to provide some needed incentive to those thinking about switching banks or opening additional accounts. The free-gift tactic, used for decades with items ranging from oven mitts to dashboard mugs to Ray Borque bobble-head dolls, has stood the test of time, said Wilson, adding that PeoplesBank was looking for a new twist.

It found one in Whole Foods Market, the Texas-based chain that that now boasts more than 180 stores in North America and the U.K, and is now the world’s leading retailer of natural and organic foods.

The Hadley market on Route 9 is only a few hundred feet from one PeoplesBank branch and a few blocks from another.

The gift-card promotions was seen as a way to not only support a neighbor, said Wilson, but also to build visibility – and a broader customer base – in a region, Hampshire County, where it has launched a major expansion effort over the past several years.

In those branches, and at all of PeoplesBank’s facilities, the focus is on customer service, and this is where the larger gift-card give-away comes in, said Wilson. Because no purchase is necessary, it is drawing people into the branch offices, she said, adding that this is the first step in the process of converting them into new customers.

“This gives people a reason to come in and meet our people,” she explained.“When they do that, they can get a feel forthe kind of service we deliver.”

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