Data-Driven Storytelling Pays Off for Western Union

Customer data, in itself, is pretty bland. After all, it’s just a hodgepodge of numbers, tracked behaviors, and demographic information. It’s not until marketers string these data points together that they’re able to tell stories and drive emotional connections. Money-transferring organization Western Union was able to use data to tell customer stories that enhanced brand sentiment and guided customers further down the path to purchase.

Letting data tell the story

Many people recognize Western Union for its retail presence; however, Nidhi Gupta, senior marketing manager for Western Union Digital, says few are familiar with the brand’s digital sending capabilities—specifically the option to transfer funds online or via Western Union’s app.

Gupta wanted to boost awareness of this feature, acquire new customers through digital channels, and reward Western Union’s current customer base. But she also wanted to achieve these objectives in a way that felt authentic and would allow Western Union to emotionally connect with its customers.

So, she decided to home in on why customers send money through Western Union in the first place. After looking at data from the company’s annual brand tracking studies, she found numerous reasons why people transfer money through Western Union; they include helping loved ones back home, paying for rent, supporting someone’s education. Despite these myriad motivations, Gupta noticed that they all share one common theme—they’re all aspirations of the American dream.

“We know that these are the reasons that are close to the heart of customers,” she says. “They’re icons of the American dream.”

As a result of this data, Western Union decided to launch a year-long, multichannel sweepstakes campaign in February that would give people the opportunity to win their own aspects of the American dream. Participants could win smaller, monthly prizes, such as a paid credit card bill or groceries for a month, or they could win one of the grand prizes—tuition for a year, a down payment for a home, or a new car—by transferring money via or the brand’s app.

Connecting emotionally through video

To promote the campaign, Western Union leveraged a number of channels, including display, search, out-of-home, Web, email, social, and PR. Content marketing also played a major role in the campaign. For example, Gupta says the company produced articles about topics such as how to get debt-free or obtain a home loan. One of the strongest forms of content the company produced was video.

Indeed, if Western Union wanted to create a campaign centered on the American dream, then it needed to prove that people still believe in it. So, the company sent out a camera crew to interview people across the country to spark a conversation around whether the American dream still exists. In July Western Union debuted a video featuring participants’ answers.

The company promoted the video on its website, as well as on its social channels. The promotions also asked people to share their own American dreams via social media and email.

But this wasn’t the only video Western Union produced. The company also interviewed its senior executives and employees about their own American dreams and surveyed the campaign’s early winners about how they’d spend their winnings. Both videos went live in October and reinforced the idea that people use Western Union to send money to loved ones.

Gupta says featuring people who actually won the sweepstakes not only reinforced the campaign’s message, but also verified the sweepstakes’ authenticity. Heavily focusing on content based on customer data, she adds, allowed Western Union to engage with its audience from a sentimental standpoint. 

“We first wanted to make sure that we connect with our customer at an emotional level and then deliver the message of the purchase or the transaction,” she says. “Great content comes from great customer insight.”

Quantifying success

Like any good marketer, Gupta wanted to measure whether Western Union’s efforts were fruitful. So the company hired BrainJuicer to conduct testing and quantify viewers’ emotional responses to the video. The market research agency conducted a 20-minute online survey of 200 people who had watched the video about the sweepstakes winners. The survey asked viewers, half of whom were Western Union customers, about their emotional responses to the video, the clarity and strength of the video’s message, and the impact it had on their brand perception and purchase intent. Western Union also used BrainJuicer’s FaceTrace system, which asked participants to rate how the video made them feel by selecting one of eight photos of humans expressing different emotions.

The results are any marketer’s dream. Seventy percent of respondents say they “felt good” about Western Union after seeing the ad featuring the winners, and 73% considered the video credible. Gupta also says that 40% of respondents who watched the video said that they would send money through Western Union. As for the campaign overall, Gupta says the videos generated two million views on Facebook and YouTube, 20,000 hours of watch time, and two of the ads had a 98% video completion rate.

Gupta says that she wanted to track people’s emotional responses to the campaign not only because measurement is a pillar in marketing, but also because she wanted to see if customers were further down the path to purchase as a result of it. “We do believe that great communication helps a customer down the funnel of feel, think, and act,” she says. “So, a customer has to connect emotionally with a campaign before he even starts thinking or considering the brand for purchase, which is why we wanted to measure the emotional response to the campaign.”

Planning for the future

The campaign ends December 31 with the announcement of the grand prize winners; however, Gupta says that Western Union’s marketers are already brainstorming ways they can build on the campaign in 2016.

And if there’s one thing that Gupta has learned from this campaign, it’s that genuine storytelling wins. As she puts it, “Being authentic always works.”

*Update: An earlier version of this story stated that 40% of respondents who saw the first video said they would send money through Western Union; however, this stat actually applies to the amount of people who saw the sweepstakes winners video. Also, additional results included.

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