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Western Union’s Michael Hafer on growing a massive incumbent brand in a changing market

  • Western Union's Mike Hafer studied database marketing in grad school.
  • He leads North American marketing through a rapidly changing market.
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Western Union’s Michael Hafer on growing a massive incumbent brand in a changing market

The money transfer industry is undergoing massive transformation. Moving money around the world looks more digital today than the retail business it was decades ago. So, how do you grow the oldest brand in the space?

Mike Hafer, Western Union’s svp of marketing and field execution, joins me on the podcast to talk about how the evolution of money transfer impacts his marketing, how his team is structured, and all the campaign planning that goes into Western Union’s Mother’s Day promotions and messaging.

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The following excerpts were edited for clarity.

Structuring the marketing team around the world

Our global money transfer business is made up of five different regions. I’m based in Denver, Colorado and responsible for North America. I have peers in the other geographies.

From a marketing standpoint, the best way to judge marketing’s success is whether we’re driving the overall metrics for the company, like revenue and profit growth. We’re in an industry that’s under transformation. The money movement market is changing from a traditional retail business that was around for decades into one that’s now digital. The digital transformation includes the internet and websites and also mobile phones, web, and apps.

We’ve followed this transformation within the Western Union organization. Marketing has ensured that the market knows that we’ve kept pace with the digital transformation and that there are multiple ways to send money now.

Marketing’s changing role in an industry rapidly digitizing

I joke with my digital marketing team that it’s hard to keep up with the advances in digital marketing. There are so many new ways to target consumers through digital marketing, that unless you’re in that area, it’s hard to keep up with it.

Data is now more prevalent in marketing. Data helps target the right consumer with the right message at the right time. It’s only going to get better over time.

Getting the right channel mix

From a marketing channel mix, I’m always going to place my marketing dollars in those channels and tactics which prove most successful. In my North American region, we find it’s always a mixture of channels. This includes above the line tactics, like television, and below the line tactics, including digital marketing, paid search, and loyalty programs.

It’s all those channels working together in concert that give me that 1+1=3 benefit to my marketing budget.

Combining CRM with general marketing best practices

I’ve been at Western Union almost 17 years, previously running CRM. I loved that job. It was a global role and I got to work with all the various countries around the world. We really leverage our customer data to inform our marketing. I want to make sure that when I do email marketing to U.S. consumers that I deliver the most relevant message at the right time.

As consumers, we don’t need more marketing. But if I deliver something of value that you want to take action on, that’s a win. We’re typically above average in our industry for email metrics like open rates. My masters in database marketing from Northwestern University really allowed me to cut my teeth on data-driven marketing right out of grad school.

Campaign focus: Marketing Mother’s Day around the world

I’ll focus on the U.S. to Mexico corridor because it’s such a big one. Mother’s Day is a big deal in this corridor for remittance. Both the U.S. and Mexican holiday fall in May and we always try to make sure our customers have a great Mother’s Day. We kick off our efforts on this campaign around February and the campaign is in market by mid-April.

Every year, we try to do a Mother’s Day campaign in the U.S. with good media support for a great marketing message — sending the gift of money. Sometimes, there’s a special offer. We try to ensure our exchange rates are competitive. We try to make sure that Western Union is present in the eyes and mind of the sender, so that when they do want to send money home for Mother’s Day, that we’re top of mind.

We did an explicit campaign leveraging both Spanish and English language media. We’ve learned over the years that our U.S-Mexico senders consume both English and Spanish media. We work with partners to ensure we’re present and we put together a pretty robust Mother’s Day.

This past year we had a really exceptional campaign, acting on the insights we’ve gathered over the years, understanding which marketing tactics work, and combining upper and lower funnel, geo-targeted digital, customer engagement with our membership program, email marketing, social media, and in-store materials.

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