ING Cafe: Coffee, tea or mortgage?

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ING Direct is living its marketing mantra,"sip, surf and save," by opening its fourth branded cafe in the U.S. this fall in Wilmington, Del.

The latest entrant to this experiential-marketing effort is its largest branded cafe so far.

"We don't have retail locations; we conduct all business either online or by telephone," said David Lewis, ING Direct's chief marketing and information technology officer. "These cafes communicate our customer focus, and also help us build face-to-face relationships."

The online unit of the Dutch ING Bank made its initial stateside foray into the branded-cafe effort in New York three years ago, then opened cafes in Philadelphia and Los Angeles. ING Direct's first cafe opened in Toronto in 1997, followed by Spain, France, Italy and Germany.

Mr. Lewis, who has been involved with the U.S. operations from the start, says the cafes are places where consumers can tangibly experience ING Direct's services in a low-key, comfortable setting. The cafes break even, he said.

ING isn't the first to use retail to develop consumer relationships: Masterfoods opened an M&MWorld store in Las Vegas in 1997; Hershey's opened a store in Times Square in fall 2002. Coca-Cola Co. launched its Red Lounges, aimed at reaching teenage mall rats, in late 2003.

The strategy is two-fold, said Daniel Howard, chair-marketing department, Southern Methodist University's Cox School of Business. "It generates trust between the customer and the brand and it also generates traffic. The correlation between the amount of time a consumer spends in a store and the amount of money spent is high."

ING employees are trained to sell both ING financial products as well as snacks and beverages.

Gillman Hanson, president of Philadelphia branding shop Hanson Associates, developed the "sip, surf and save" tagline with ING Direct's marketing department. Hanson also created the retail look that draws from both ING Direct's direct-mail campaigns, created by Gillespie Advertising in Princeton, N.J., and its general advertising, created by Publicis Groupe-backed Bartle Bogle Hegarty, New York. "The cafes are brand ambassadors," Mr. Hanson said.

ING Direct's overall marketing and advertising efforts include commercials on spot and cable TV, outdoor, direct and Internet advertising. ING spent $13.6 million in measured media in 2003 according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR.

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