Union Label – Brief Article

Mike Beirne

With its 150-year-old history, market dominance and instant name recognition, Western Union has easily maintained its position as the leading brand in the money-transfer business. Until recently, competitors have countered limited geographical presence with lower transaction fees in an effort to lure new customers. But now technology has enabled those competitors to throw faster and better-quality service into the mix and, as a result, the profitable wire-transfer business is attracting a crowd.

San Francisco-based Wells Fargo Bank, for example, invites Mexican immigrants living in cities from Texas to California to use bank ATMs, call center and online banking programs in order to send money to relatives back home. Banco Popular, San Juan, also has an ATM product targeted at Dominican Republic citizens living in Puerto Rico who wire money to their homeland.

“A lot of small competitors who have competed with low cost are now using great technology,” said Lee Quimbo, vp-marketing at Western Union, a Paramus, N.J.-based unit of First Data. “Service quality is what drives loyalty in this market and our competitors have caught up, so they will be tougher in the future.”

But the tie-breaker within immigrant communities could be the good will and brand recognition Western Union has built up through a multi-ethnic, grass roots soccer programs. Working with Strategic Sports Group, N.Y., marketers developed a strategy of scouting park districts, neighborhoods and athletic associations in order to establish partnerships with adult soccer teams, leagues and tournaments in seven markets: Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami and Washington. The program, which began in 1999, expanded this year to Minneapolis, Raleigh, N.C., and Vancouver, Canada, and will continue through at least April 2001.

Ultimately, the sports sponsorship could culminate in a national tournament pitting teams of weekend warriors who recently arrived in the U.S. from Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe. Once national brand equity is established, the Western Union tourney could evolve as a platform on which other brands could appeal to the difficult-to-reach ethnic market, said Peter Stern, president of Strategic Sports Group.

Soccer has been the sport of choice for Western Union in previous global branding initiatives. The company sponsors the Manchester United professional soccer team in the U.K. and produces a TV program, Western Union World Football, featuring highlights of pro soccer matches worldwide that air in exchange for free advertising in Africa, Britain and South America.

“We looked at music, sports and other entertainment, and the one thing that had a unifying aspect for people from Africa, Caribbean America, South America, Eastern Europe and elsewhere was soccer,” said vp-marketing Barry McCool.

Western Union could have considered tie-ins with Major League Soccer in the U.S., but trying to appeal to, say, the Brazilian immigrant accustomed to the high-caliber football played in his homeland just wouldn’t cut it, said Stern.

Any property it would consider had to come with complete ownership, so as to differentiate Western Union from companies both in and out of the wire-transfer business that employ sports marketing. In addition, the program had to appeal to immigrants regardless of geographic, ethnic or religious backgrounds, and convert that target audience into loyal and longtime customers.

The company decided on a grass roots sponsorship after research identified markets that had teams, playing schedules, past media exposure and the desired ethnic makeup. “We wanted to build awareness in areas that were hard for us to penetrate like Atlanta, Houston and Philadelphia,” said Quimbo. “[Immigrants] are harder to target in those cities because there are not as many newspapers specifically established for new arrivals, like there are in the bigger metro areas.”

Establishing goodwill with consumers was also deemed critical. “Loyalty is a big issue with this business, and we’ve got to work on keeping customer loyalty by making them familiar with brand benefits and by building trust,” Quimbo said.

Whether the games were held on a dirt patch in the park or on a lighted field hosted by Web-savvy organizers who posted schedules on their Internet site, support came in the form of Western Union-logoed uniforms, balls, hats, water bottles and corner flags. And unlike marketing attempts that tend to lump Mexican, Puerto Ricans and Guatemalans into one Hispanic category, Western Union’s soccer program was tailored for each ethnic group, Stern said. Thus, participants in a Brazilian Soccer League received their communications in Portuguese, Caribbean Hispanic participants were dealt with in the idioms and nuances unique to their culture, and so on.

Sponsorees proved their brand presentation compliance by reporting scores and sending in game photos, press clippings and other collateral. For tournaments that would attract big crowds, Western Union grabbed the opportunity to pass out literature about products and coupons for wire transfers. The company name on equipment and uniforms–and cash prizes for local tourney champions–built the type of goodwill and recognition that can’t be bought from advertising in traditional media.

The soccer program, combined with other initiatives to reach newly-arrived Americans, helped Western Union’s U.S. outbound transactions jump about 50% during the last year, according to Quimbo. In addition, business in secondary markets is growing at a faster rate compared with bigger cities. Eyeing expansion down the road, Western Union execs are looking to adapt the soccer program to cricket for penetrating Caribbean groups and using baseball to reach Cuban consumers.

“There aren’t a lot of brands that would run a festival for consumers,” Quimbo said. “Many of our competitors don’t have the scale and the ability to invest more in the community, or reap the affinity that kind of investment creates for the long term.”

Program: Ethnic soccer sponsorship

Marketer: Western Union, Paramus, N.J., a First Data unit

Agencies: Strategic Sports Group, N.Y.

Key players:

Western Union: Lee Quimbo, up-mktg; Barry McCool, up-mktg; Silvia Eliat, events mgr; Kumba De Almeida, events specialist;

SSG: Peter Stern, president; Steve McLaud, group acct dir; Evan Bashoff, acct exec

COPYRIGHT 2000 BPI Communications, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group

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