Pony Up For Growth: Q&A With Venmo Marketing Director Kasia Leyden

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Venmo Pony Up ad campaign

Venmo, the mobile payment service owned by PayPal, has been growing in leaps and bounds, processing $3.9 billion in payments in the second quarter of this year, roughly 140 percent growth from the second quarter of 2015.

Already a hit with millennials, the social payments platform is spreading the word with its first national US campaign to alert more people how it allows them to seamlessly transfer money to each another using a mobile phone app or web interface. In the language of its new ad campaign, it’s removing the awkwardness of asking someone to “pony up” for their fair share of the bill.

In July it was named one of the first class of Interbrand Breakthrough Brands, while this month saw the launch of 30-second and 60-second TV spots on MTV-owned cable networks and Hulu between 7 p.m. and 2 a.m. (the busiest times that people use the app). For more on the strategy behind the campaign and Venmo’s growth plans, we spoke with Venmo group marketing director Kasia Leyden.

brandchannel: What is Venmo’s growth secret?

Kasia Leyden - Venmo - Inerbrand Breakthrough Brands panel 2016Kasia Leyden (right, at the Interbrand Breakthrough Brands Summit): Most of us don’t want to talk about money publicly. It’s awkward—and it’s kind of taboo. Venmo fits in between that tension and harnesses it. At the end of the day, that is our growth secret. Somehow, Venmo makes it okay—and even fun—to enjoy those moments in life that were once uncomfortable or awkward.

BC: How, specifically, is Venmo planning to grow in the year ahead?

KL: One thing that is really exciting about Venmo right now is the fact that it’s become a verb. This age group is actually using Venmo in their conversations online, in texts, and when they’re out with friends. That’s a value that surpasses any other player in the marketplace.

Recently, we announced that Venmo is beginning to expand beyond the peer-to-peer payment space. Venmo is no longer just about paying your friends back. Now, you can actually use it to pay for the things you love. We are still providing that same social payment experience that Venmo is known for, but, now, that experience is stretching across the ways that you live your life.

Delivery.com, Boxed, Munchery, Poshmark, and Wish are all examples of businesses that are adopting Venmo and accepting it within their app experiences. Expanding beyond peer-to-peer payments is one significant step forward in terms of fueling growth and expanding the ubiquity of Venmo.

BC: You just referenced some strategic partnerships. What do you look for when seeking strategic partners for Venmo? Are there any key attributes that, in your mind, ensure such strategic partnerships will work? And what makes you confident that a partnership will work and not only grow your business, but also grow theirs?

KL: We’re looking for brands that are most relevant to our audience. Just look at brands like Munchery and Delivery.com. They’re extremely service-oriented. Venmo’s place within that experience becomes very clear. Imagine sitting in your home ordering something from one of those companies. Oftentimes, you are in need of such brands when you are with friends, a sibling, a roommate, a partner, a husband, a wife—whatever the case might be. Venmo allows for such an experience to become more of a sharing experience. You no longer have to turn to your friend and ask, “Can I have $20 for the three pizzas that we just ordered?” It is simply taken care of within the app experience.

BC: Strategic partnerships aside, is there an initiative that Venmo has taken on the past year that has proven to be a significant growth driver?

KL: For us, it’s about making sure we continue to deliver an everyday payment experience that’s simple, delightful and connected. We’re always looking to make money fun. What we’ve seen is that If we get that right, the growth will follow. And we’re really excited about the launch of our first-ever nationwide brand campaign that kicked off this month, “Pony Up on Venmo.”

Pony Up on Venmo puts a twist on the popular idiom by offering Venmo as a better way to send and receive money. Whether it’s through emoji or a simple payment note, Venmo reminds you of the great experience you had with your friends, and even extends those memories with inside jokes.

BC: Could you tell us a little bit about the culture at Venmo and how innovation and disruption is kept at the core?

KL: Venmo has disrupted the payments industry and in many ways created social payments. Needless to say, innovation is definitely something that we spend a lot of time thinking about. It’s critical for us to stay true to our mission—always finding new ways to change how people interact with money and with each other.

In August, for example, we held “Hack Week” at Venmo as an opportunity for the whole team to get together and pitch new ideas to the business—ideas related to how Venmo can expand or engage or innovate within the existing Venmo experience. The week begins with a lot of pitches. Then, employees get to choose a group or an initiative that he/she wants to join and work on. At the end of that week, teams present their work to the rest of the company. It’s really fun working with actual prototypes and videos, so everyone feels engaged and inspired. Hack week also fuels fresh thinking and helps us to map out the road ahead.

BC: We were curious is there one up-and-coming brand that has caught your eye or has inspired you to take on some new initiatives at Venmo?

KL: Netflix immediately comes to mind. For me, it takes the cake for a couple of reasons. First, Netflix is a brand that has reinvented itself consistently by continually adapting its business model—and I think this is really critical for us to consider from a brand experience perspective. Netflix is constantly finding new ways to stay relevant. It has a fearless attitude and makes bold, but highly strategic, moves that shift the company to completely new spaces time and time again. There is no question those bold moves have paid off. Sometimes, brands are paralyzed by data and the incremental day to day —and fail to look at what is next. Oftentimes, such companies cannot make big, bold moves because they are afraid of disrupting what they currently have.

BC: When you look at some of these heritage brands like American Express or Nike—brands that have been around for many decades—are there any that inspire you? What lessons have you learned from their ability to grow over many, many decades?

KL: I personally look up to brands that have a very clear purpose, a very well-defined customer, and deliver on that value proposition at every touch point—and get better and better at it every time. I think the challenge for established brands is to continuously get better and better at what they do. You cannot reach your pinnacle when you already think you’re there.

BC: Venmo is creatively engaging millennials by using emojis, for example. Can you talk about how you’re exploring new ways of communicating—and what that opens up and gives you permission to do as a brand?

KL: Recognizing that emoji use is increasing, we introduced a feature that we call emoji autocomplete. We’re constantly trying to make it easier, more delightful, more intuitive for our users to express themselves. Venmo is not just about paying for beer and pizza. The second most-used emoji used on Venmo, for example, is a house for rent. This illustrates that emoji use is not just for those fun moments, but it’s also for life’s everyday moments as well.

Watch this space because we are constantly looking at how that language can evolve, how we can make it richer, more engaging, and more intuitive. It’s all about self-expression for the user. It’s really exciting to think about how Venmo and the use of those shortcuts—whether they are emojis or something else—have the potential to grow and expand in the future.


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