NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- The fabled days of telegrams behind it, Western Union is aggressively marketing its 21st-century brand as a global money-transfer company. Last year it moved $74 billion in consumer money transfers worldwide. Add in a separate bill-payments business that accounts for another 412 million or so transactions, and that's a lot of cash moving around the globe. Operating in more than 200 countries and territories, more than 85% of its 385,000 agent locations are outside the United States.
Marketing a brand consistently and globally but still being effective at the local level and in the midst of a global recession has become a complex challenge for Exec VP-CMO Gail Galuppo. Ask her to describe the company's target consumer, and Ms. Galuppo's answer is mind-boggling: "Our core target consumer is the 200 million international migrants around the world. We are pretty much everywhere and anywhere our customers want to do business with us."
Reporting to CEO Christina Gold, whom Ms. Galuppo, 45, dubs "a marketer, so she gets it," the former chief marketing and consumer officer for Standard Chartered Bank, who has also worked in senior-level positions at Sears Holdings Corp. and GE Capital Card Services, oversees a brand team charged with managing customer experience and consumer insights, such as data analytics and behavioral modeling. On the P&L side, she and her team are responsible for the company's online money-transfer business. She's responsible for innovation, so her team's leading the efforts on mobile initiatives. And then they're also responsible for developing new products and cross-selling to the company's existing base.
Working with global agency of record Publicis, Hong Kong, Western Union, which spends about $265 million, or 5% of total annual revenue, on marketing, according to the company, earlier this year launched its first-ever global brand campaign, called Yes!, with elements in more than 50 languages. In an interview with Ad Age, Ms. Galuppo discussed how she's working to achieve brand consistency, the science of pinpointing customers and the pressure upon her to achieve ROI.
Ad Age: Why launch such a huge global effort now?
Ms. Galuppo: In most countries, our brand awareness is over 90%. Our customers have a very emotional connection to our product, because we remit money from a sender to a receiver. What we were missing with our brand was this emotional connection. [The campaign goal was,] How do we allocate part of our marketing budget to get a brand message out there, to get the consistent look and feel? We felt it was the right time, based on our customer research, based on the need for this emotional connection.
Ad Age: Is it also just that you're providing a service that plays into a need that's born of this economic recession?
Ms. Galuppo: It's a global recession. And so if we're feeling the crunch here, or our customers in the U.K. are feeling the crunch, imagine what it is like in Togo or in Indonesia or the Philippines. These consumers really are relying on these remittances. And what we've actually found, through the recession, is that our customers have been continuing to transact with us. But they're sending a little bit less money each time.
Ad Age: So what are some of the challenges and opportunities in marketing your brand in so many countries?
Ms. Galuppo: Like many companies that are global, the No. 1 thing is really keeping the brand look and feel consistent and ensuring that the messaging is on target. We weren't consistent across all our countries. And in preparation for this campaign, we pulled together what I called a global brand-leadership team. We had representatives from all over the world; we made the commitment that we were going to do a lot with this campaign and that we would have that consistency across 200-plus markets.
Ad Age: What's an example of how that consistency is played out?
Ms. Galuppo: Take point of sale. You can imagine what it's like to manage so many different agent locations -- 385,000. That's more retail outlets than Walmart, Starbucks, McDonald's and Burger King combined. And so just managing the merchandising of that and how we get our message across, this is one example. We put together brand standards, brand guidelines around the campaign, to ensure that certain images and certain typography were used throughout all POS materials.
Ad Age: How have recessionary pressures affected your role as CMO?
Ms. Galuppo: With the recession, there was a greater need to better understand our customers, to better measure the return on our investments, and put in place better tracking of our marketing programs and spend. I've been working with my team to build out a database and start providing back-end analyses and better allocating funds where needed. We've been smarter about our spend. We used to outsource our database with Axiom. We brought that database in-house. And we are reinvesting the money that we would have spent by outsourcing our database to append additional data variables.
Ad Age: And how is that informing your decisions?
Ms. Galuppo: Before, the marketers in New York pretty much knew where our customers were residing, and they did a great job in advertising. But that can only take you so far. So what we've done is put more science to that process of pinpointing and identifying where our customers are living, where they're working, to be able to do more micro-marketing activities. So, for example, now we know that a specific block group may be a multi-dwelling unit, and it might have more of a Haitian population. We're able to not only communicate in their language, but we can do door-hangers, very targeted marketing, right to that door, vs. before when we might buy billboard space.
Ad Age: And have you seen greater ROI from that?
Ms. Galuppo: We're just piloting it right now. But the marketing teams are really excited about it, because it just gives them so much more fact-based information that they can make their decisions with. Another way that this helps the business, beyond the marketing team, is our sales team. Because now we can also identify when we have an agent location that is underperforming relative to its counterparts. We've been able to identify our potential customers and share of wallet that we're getting and the amount that we're not getting from them. So it's helped us design pilots in pricing, distribution, marketing and performance.
Ad Age: Have you shifted your media strategy as a result of the downturn?
Ms. Galuppo: We've been trying to optimize our investments. So, for example, with the brand campaign, I wouldn't say it was due to the economic downturn. We took a step back and looked at our spend and made the decision, that yes, we want to move forward with the campaign. But we were able to have more efficient buys. And because of the consistent look and feel, we've been taking more of the creative development in-house. We have creative shops in the U.S., in Denver. We have a team in Paris. And we just opened up a small shop in Morocco. So we've been able to stretch our dollars by cutting agency fees. But we tended to focus on non-traditional media, because that's where our customers were. We really haven't shifted from that.