Citi Hits the Right Note With Fans Through Experiential Marketing

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Jennifer Breithaupt, who runs Citi’s Private Pass program, shares how the financial brand taps into customer passion for music, sports, and dining to boost credit card revenue.

For marketers at Citi, standing out from the competition is fundamental to company success. In fact, Jennifer Breithaupt, the financial company’s managing director of media, advertising, and global entertainment, says that she’s tasked with creating matchless experiences that are unique for Citi cardholders—not an easy charge for a business that some people may view as one linked only to the perfunctory responsibilities of their personal finances.

“To be honest most credit cards feel the same,” Breithaupt told the crowd during her lunchtime keynote at the Direct Marketing News 2016 Marketing Hall of Femme Leadership Summit and Awards in New York. “We wanted to differentiate our brand. People are emotional about money—not about credit cards. We wanted our Citi card to be a top-of-wallet card, and that’s when we found experiential marketing.”

Breithaupt said she initially wanted to directly engage consumers with a universal passion point: music. And through personal, handwritten invitations, Breithaupt discovered that she and her team could encourage cardholders to emotionally connect with the Citi brand.

Under Breithaupt’s leadership, the company launched Citi Private Pass, an entertainment access program that aims to bring Citi cardholder customers closer to their favorite artists, athletes, and chefs. Customers have the chance to purchase tickets, VIP packages, preferred seating—all before the general public can buy them. In 2015 Breithaupt worked with reportedly more than 1,500 performers and provided access to more than 6,500 music events and top tours.

The launch of the program, however, was much more modest, Breithaupt said.

“We wanted to draw people into the brand, so we started [with] 50 events in the first year,” she explained, adding that she worked within a tight budget that year. “We sent handwritten invitations to customers to attend the events, which actually provided high, personal value.”

That high value translated into revenue for Citi. “Customers spent ten times more than they had previously,” Breithaupt said. In 2015 the company saw a reported year-over-year, double-digit growth in both ticket sales and ticket revenue.

Breithaupt said that through the program she’s uncovered the four essentials needed for a winning marketing strategy: creativity, collaboration, curiosity, and commitment. “Those are the things that allow us to have a more positive conversation and provide a more engaging experience with our customers,” she said. “Today, they see us differently, and they engage differently. And through word of mouth and social, we’re focused on letting the customers be the marketers for us now.”

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