One community has discovered how “playing with smartphones” can bring new customers into local retail businesses for fun and profit.
Unemployment numbers, the troubled housing industry, and inflationary trends continue to be a drag on the overall economy, even as consumer spending has been improving in 2011. However, retail sales remain soft, so businesses are looking for new and better ways to connect with existing customers and to attract new ones.
Washington state is a long way from Washington D.C. and waiting for federal stimulus money to have much effect on local retail economies is not something that can be realistically planned and managed. Because relying upon cyclic economic conditions to improve quickly may require more capital and patience than individual businesses have, a group of motivated companies, organizations, and institutions in the communities of Tumwater, Lacey, and Olympia have taken a proactive approach to stimulating consumer activity. It is an innovative promotion running for two months that is already paying big dividends for all involved.
Six months ago, Lee Wojnar, Vice President of Marketing for O Bee Credit Union, a full-service non-profit credit union for all Washington residents, was looking for a novel way for his financial institution to help itself and its local business owners to drive foot traffic to their establishments. In particular, he wanted to find a new formula to connect with Generation X prospects, especially those who are always wired in via mobile phones, tablets, and social media.
He hit upon a unique method for engaging them by mixing fun, financial education, and the promise of financial reward in return for visiting the “bricks and mortar” locations of area retail businesses. His idea? “Capture The Tag” is a digital age treasure hunt that is a play on the old summer camp game, Capture The Flag. The promotion requires participants to use their smartphones to collect 30 different Microsoft tags posted at businesses around the greater Olympia area. Microsoft tags lead to YouTube videos that are clues to the next site and Microsoft tag location. Others launch YouTube videos that provide personal financial tips on saving, identity theft precautions, smart credit moves, and other valuable information. Collect all 30 tags, then be in attendance for a “Capture The Tag” party in March, and you are entered in a drawing for $10,000 in grand prize money, $3,000 in second prize money, $2,000 in third prize money, or one of five Apple iPads.
While purchase is not required, the underlying aspect of getting participants to visit area businesses is what gave the idea “legs” and attracted buy-in and financial support from so many local retailers and sponsors.
Wojnar took his idea for the promotion to a couple of strategic partners in order to test it. The advertising teams at 94.5 ROXY and The Olympian recognized the potential and saw it as a good fit for a select group of key accounts. They approached 20 local businesses to pool resources to help fund contest needs and share in the ponying up of prize money. In addition, other key sponsors signed on and each brought unique capabilities. In addition to O Bee Credit Union, the TwinStar Credit Union signed on pledging financial support and promotion via its branches. The financial education aspect of “Capture The Tag” attracted the clout of the Washington State Department of Financial Institutions. The Helix Group signed up to create the CaptureTheTag.org web site and help with separate Facebook and Twitter pages. NW Media Company worked with O Bee to produce the 30 individual clue and financial education videos linked to each of the Microsoft tags.
Although the promotion only launched on January 21, “Capture The Tag” has already generated enormous buzz and reports of hundreds of new shoppers visiting participating businesses. The first video clue brought participants to a local car dealership at the Capital Auto Mall (Olympia Auto Mall) to use their smartphones to collect the first of the 30 Microsoft tags. The sales manager for the dealership reported a major uptick in foot traffic that week during the traditionally slow period of January. Already, the 20 participating businesses are talking about repeating the promotion next year. The group is also starting to worry about the need for a bigger venue for the end of contest party and drawing to accommodate all the game players.
One player reported spending a Saturday with her daughter, collecting eight different tags. In the process of tag capturing, she noted that she discovered a new ski shop she’d never been to before, purchased all her Valentine’s Day supplies at another store, investigated a new car model, and bought all her groceries for the week at a small supermarket she had not been to in years. Multiply that experience by the hundreds and you start to understand the positive economic effect that a promotion like this can have.
By using Microsoft tags, and spacing the promotion over two months, the “Capture The Tag” team ensured several important things. The longer period gave participants plenty of time to get their heads around the game and fit it into their schedules. It also enabled the planning of some “flash” events, promoted through social media tools, such as instant-win gift cards and other spontaneous promotions within the overall game. Teaming with Microsoft meant easy tech support, although not much has been needed. The tags themselves have been scalable for larger scale graphics. Importantly, Microsoft’s dashboard has given the team excellent analytics and tools for tracking the promotion by tag/location to investigate and build upon successes.
What moved “Capture The Tag” from the status of great idea to the reality of a major multimedia promotion was the active participation by so many involved parties. When representatives from 94.5 ROXY and The Olympian approached advertisers whom they thought would be a good fit, they got instant cooperation. There was recognition that this was a promotion that had never been done before, it attracted a young and upscale demographic, as well as technology savvy individuals of all ages. It was also the chance to be a part of something bigger, to drive shared economic interests of the community.
Wojnar has reported inquiries from outside the Olympia area as well, including a request from an East Coast credit union for more information on structuring the program. Microsoft has posted news of the promotion on its Microsoft Tags blog where it has gotten exposure in the technology and marketing communities.
Although the causes of, and cures for, a major recession and global economic difficulties are complex and wide-ranging, the fact that one community can start to make a dent in local retail sales numbers through creativity and cooperation is a promising sign. “Capture The Tag” is fun that everyone can get behind. If it brings a community some economic relief in the process, then we should all open up to the possibilities of technology, networking, and innovative thinking.