CMO of the Week: Western Union's Bob Rupczynski

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When Bob Rupczynski joined Western Union as chief marketing officer nine months ago and he was tasked with leading the brand evolution.

When Bob Rupczynski joined Western Union as chief marketing officer nine months ago and he was tasked with leading the brand evolution.

As part of the company’s wider Evolve 2025 strategy, the company is pivoting the brand to evolve the trusted 171 year-old company into a more modern brand of today.

“We exist to help people prosper,” says Rupczynski. “When you look at what prosper actually means in Latin, it means doing well, flourishing, growing strong and healthy. Western Union is a trusted global brand with a network of hundreds of thousands of locations where over 120 million people interact on a regular basis. How do we help people thrive in the situations that they're in? How do we start to bring that to life? How do we land in a place where we can truly help people prosper?”

To meet these needs, Rupczynski is focusing on the customer journey and evolving the brand’s products and services, which includes digital innovation in the company’s online presence and apps, as well as representation in creative. “We are very agile in our approach to ensure our customers are getting what they want, what they expect but also building in that surprise and that delight for our customers through that entire journey,” he adds.

Prior to joining Western Union Rupczynski has held senior marketing positions at Kraft, Heinz, and McDonald's, among others. Brand Innovators caught up with Bob Rupczynski from his office in the Chicago area to talk brand pivot, customer journey and innovation. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

What is your brand mission and how does this show up in your creative?

Our customers are people that truly aspire to more. As we talk to our customers and really get into their lives, we hear that a lot. We wanted to authentically represent the journey that they are on and bring those journeys to life. We want me to really be authentic about the optimism. There are things to celebrate in these customers' journeys. We wanted to be authentic in how we represented that. One of the changes we made over the last six months is celebrating real people. There's no illustrations. There aren't any models. There are no mischaracterizations of who our customers are. We're going to customers truly authentically. As we bring them to life, you'll see real people.

The second part of that is celebrating who they are and the journey that they are on, capturing candid and authentic moments, wherever and whenever we can to celebrate the individualism and the variety that they bring. The last piece is really celebrating communities and real places. So real people doing real things in real places. You look at our customer base. They come from everywhere in the world. Being able to tell these stories with images that contrast the cities and villages and places of work that these people experience on a daily basis is really powerful. 

Can you talk about the rebrand and what the strategy was behind it?

It was to understand and respect the consumer journey of our customers. We did a ton of research and then we looked at 17 send and receive countries to really understand why people said they go to a new country. Usually they don't speak the language. They have to learn a culture, learn a way of life, and be part of a new community. There's also a population that's left back at home. That's the two sides of that journey –the send and receive customer. As we started to understand those journeys we needed to have with those customers, then we could start to articulate both the product offerings and the value proposition behind what Western Union is today and also what it can be in the future. 

They're aspiring to something more. There's a reason they take that journey. There's a reason that they save their money up and they send it back to their home countries, whether it’s education, rent, health-oriented reasons, there's always a reason. There was always something positive on the other end of that money. It's really taking a step back and understanding who our customers are, why they send money and how we can partner in that journey through process, products and then embracing and respecting our customers.

Who are these customers?

We look at our customers as those that are sending money overseas and back to their communities and really aspiring for more. There's no specific age range. It is a journey that they have undertaken. It's not always a journey that was in the last six months or year. It can be a 20 year relationship that they have back to their families and friends in their home countries. Being able to facilitate those journeys, whatever stage they're at, for whatever reason they exist, really understanding what drives the choice to send money back to another country and being able to facilitate that with product offerings that are specific to it.

Can you talk about how inflation is impacting your business?

Inflation is a very real topic as you look across the globe. It is very difficult when you look at our populations who are aspiring to be able to send as much as they can and meet the goals of the people that they're sending to. We do see inflation impact our customers. We do as much as we can to help them on that financial journey in order to facilitate the journeys that they're on and their aspirations for more. The reason we resonated on the word aspiration and aspiring to more is that journey looks very different when you look across different populations and looks very different when it comes to real life to different groups to different communities. And so wherever they are on that journey, and wherever they are getting impacted by things like inflation, how do we help facilitate those journeys as best we can?

Can you talk about digital innovation at the brand?

One of the brand principles is really elevating the experience and understanding that consumers are trusting us with their money. How do we create experiences that are simple, elegant, and easy to facilitate? How do we build on those products? As we progress forward, you will see us launch our digital wallet in a digital bank. How do we create opportunities both in product and experience to facilitate a better interaction with Western Union? 

That might mean how do I keep my money in different currencies? How do I make it easier to send? How do I track my transfer to really understand the movement of money? It comes back to that respect. We want to be able to respect the fact that these people are working hard. They expect a good experience and knowledge when sending money back home.

What are they looking for from an innovation perspective to unlock some of that financial mobility that they want out of Western Union? How do we build products and services that help our customers move forward? The research, the dialog, the communication with our customers has really started to unlock what we need to put into our product pipeline, what we need to evolve our current product offering.

How have your past roles at McDonald’s, PayPal, Kraft Heinz and Mars Wrigley, etc. helped shape your perspective in your current role? 

It’s truly been a privilege through my career to learn from some of the best marketers in the industry. The experiences that I've worked on have really shaded my view on what we need to do at Western Union and how and why to do it. You take things as simple as launching a loyalty program at McDonald's, to be able to take a step back and truly understand customer expectations and then how to surprise and delight them to launch the loyalty program. The whole process of research, launch, testing, learning and iterating. As I've moved into Western Union I have replicated that process to be able to do the right research, understand the consumer motivations at a very deep level, build the product, but also then be able to iterate on a regular basis to mold that product, which actually works in the marketplace. 

You mentioned loyalty at McDonald's. Can you talk about Western Union’s loyalty program?

As we go forward, we are revamping Western Union’s loyalty program to ensure that we are delivering on customer expectations. How do we do it in such a way that customers choose us every time? It's one of the hallmarks of great loyalty programs, there's a reason customers come back to interact. There's a value exchange with those customers. Sometimes it's as simple as making it easy for them. Sometimes it's the points-based system. But also building experiences that are delightful inside that loyalty program to bring those customers back on regular basis. As an organization, we are evaluating where we're at today and identify the next steps of that loyalty program to increase the value proposition and the engagement of the program.

What trends do you expect to see for brands in 2023?

Engagement is going to be a big thing. Truly building engagement requires brands to understand consumers at a very deep level, but also to create experiences that customers want to engage with. There are some interesting enablers for building engagement, whether it's ChatGPT, AI, or just being able to understand consumers a little bit deeper. With some of the research that brands are starting to put into the marketplace, you're going to see engagement be a big focus. How do you use different tactics, different levers to understand the consumer insights, investing there, and then building out the experiences appropriately.

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