For Western Union, Data Driven Marketing Is Strictly An Opt-In Affair

Western Union describes itself as a financial services provider for the “underbanked,” a group it pegs at approximately 25% of the U.S. population.

As with all financial companies it must be very careful with its customer data and how it uses that data to acquire customers and market new services. That caution extends to data-driven online ads. For example, information from its CRM program can only be used for digital ad targeting when the company has obtained explicit permission from members. Same goes for geo-fencing and other forms of mobile marketing.

Laston Charriez, Western Union’s SVP Marketing North America, recently spoke with AdExchanger…

What are your marketing priorities for 2013?

LASTON CHARRIEZ: We’re trying to get more people to understand that we have more products than just money transfer. The majority of folks, when you ask them, “What is Western Union?,” they would say we move money. The truth is we have a portfolio: money transfer, bill payments, reloadable cards, and many others. We want to be the most complete financial services provider for the underserved and the under banked.

Big picture, where’s the value in Internet marketing?

Many of our shoppers are probably spending more time now [online] than watching TV or listening to radio or to newspapers. We have to invest to reach them when it’s relevant to them and they’re thinking about bill payments, and that’s what the Internet allows us to do. They’re already thinking about getting into a general-purpose reloadable card and because they’re thinking about it, then we can offer it.

What’s the programmatic media buying opportunity for Western Union?

We do have a strategy but I’m not going to get into how we do our algorithms.

In that case, any big picture observations about the programmatic world? Where it still needs to improve or what it does particularly well?

I think the opportunity — and I’m going to talk not only Western Union but the whole industry — is to make sure consumers have the ability to turn off [data-driven ads] if they are fed-up with them. If we bombard the venues our shoppers are going to and we overwhelm them, then they don’t want to be there anymore and they move to another place or they stop going to that place.

If you know there’s a good channel, don’t overwhelm it because then consumers just stop going there.

U.S. Hispanics, one of Western Union’s core customer groups in North America, are often described as very mobile savvy. How do you think about mobile as a marketing opportunity?

We have done a lot of testing. We have our mobile app. You can start a transaction, pre-stage it, and you don’t have to fill out a form while you’re waiting to send money. You can send money from the app. You can find an agent location using the app. You can estimate the price with the app and then you can track the transfer. The front of our business is in cash but consumers are moving to credit and debit. It’s a really cool world that we live in right now.

What do you think about mobile as an acquisition channel, as opposed to the utility you describe? Does it have value there?

It does. It’s a little bit trickier, in the sense that it would have to be opt-in. You’ve heard about geofencing. You’ve heard about Foursquare and many other location-based apps or systems that enable you to reach consumers when they get into a geofence. The concern that we have is it has to be on their terms. It has to be opted-in because otherwise you’re going to get bombarded with commercials when get into a fence or a zone and then you turn off the iPhone.

Have you merged your customer data with Facebook to create addressable segments there?

We haven’t done that. We will never do something shoppers have not opted in to. For example, we have done tests on Facebook where you can text in and participate in promotions, and with that was a complete form [customers had to fill out]. That has worked rather well for us. We feel very good about that — as long as we keep it as the consumer’s choice first, when he or she is receptive and on their terms.

So you wouldn’t do any matching of Internet users to your database without first asking permission?

You got it.

Should data-driven marketing be managed completely within Western Union? Are you comfortable having agencies take over some of it?

We have competitive algorithms and [managing] it internally is very important. It’s one of the key core competencies of this company — knowing the data. We bring in our agencies and brief them, and we can go deeper into that conversation when it’s needed in order to get our messages out. We prefer to have control of data internally because it enables us to create new money transfer products, new bill payment offerings, new value for our shoppers.

How do you evaluate marketing technology companies, from marketing automation platforms, to CRM systems, to DSPs?

We do small pilots and learn on the cheap. If it doesn’t work, you learn. We’re not going to put all our money or our eggs in one basket. That’s the good news, is we keep learning. We’ll hire a company; we’ll bring them in. Does it work? The best thing about digital is you can learn almost immediately. It’s permanent data, is the way that we see it here. We’re about permanent data.

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