Why It’s Time for Venmo to Buy Into Content MarketingBy Carly Miller March 14th, 2016
Silicon Valley startups will do whatever it takes to grow. Lately, content marketing has been the means for that growth. Venture capitalists are using publishing as a way to show off investing expertise. Just about every startup has a blog or a magazine. High-quality content not only boosts a company’s cool factor, but also has positive effects on every department, from sales to PR to recruitment.
At this point it’s surprising when a startup isn’t investing in content.
But Venmo, the mobile payment platform that allows users to easily split purchases, has been mostly silent when it comes to content. It’s the rare exception that has managed to become popular without any sort of publishing efforts that builds trust with consumers.
But that begs the question: Could Venmo be even bigger and more successful if it were to invest in original content?
If not now, when?
According to Venmo’s communication lead, Adrianne Wright, the company primarily relies on its blog for major announcements. Venmo is currently searching for a marketing specialist to build out a content strategy, but for now, the blog just looks like a Tumblr that gets updated once per month. In the meantime, social networks like Snapchat and Facebook are aggressively developing their own peer-to-peer (P2P) payment platforms, directly competing for the millennial market.
Even though Venmo will have to play catch-up, it still has the potential to be an influential multimedia publisher. The brand has a clear niche—personal finance—which is always a good sign for companies that start publishing. Social giants like Snapchat and Facebook, meanwhile, offer a broader scope that isn’t directly tied to personal finance. That’s where Venmo can make its mark through storytelling.
Since Venmo is social by design, it’s in a good position to both find story ideas and distribute them to a growing audience. In January 2016 alone, users transferred more than $1 billion in the app, double the amount of the previous quarter. Each transaction is a potential story, not to mention the opportunity for financial advice. Ideally, Venmo could follow in the footsteps of a company like Mint, which developed relationships with millions of users by providing useful content on topics like cheap dates and tuition payments.
Venmo dominates the millennial market, who are currently the most powerful demographic in the mobile payment space. According to BBVA research, 80 percent of millennials owned smartphones and completed more than half of all mobile payments.
The power of millennials
Banks are some of the most powerful finance institutions in the world, but when it comes to money management, new digital players have plenty of incentive to get in the game.
According to a recent Facebook IQ report, millennials are the driving force behind the mobile banking revolution. But there is still a huge gap between the way banks interact with customers and the personalized, connected, mobile banking experience that people want. Forty-nine percent of U.S. millennials prefer mobile banking, but only 32 percent feel that their bank understands their needs.
To show consumers a deeper level of understanding, PayPal, which owns Venmo, is rolling out a feature that will let people pay with Venmo directly in other mobile apps. The move will make it easier for millennials to move money around on digital platforms, and once the trust is established, Venmo could step in with engaging content that appeals directly to those consumers. It’s not just about publishing some cool stories or building an audience, but converting that audience into people who use the app on a consistent basis.
The right stories to tell
With all of this publishing potential, Venmo’s content could be so much more than a company bulletin. Here are three areas that naturally align with Venmo’s core business.
Right or wrong, financial content has a dry reputation. And because of that reputation, there isn’t a ton of consumer-friendly multimedia content out there. For that reason, Venmo would be smart to invest heavily in video—as long as it adopts a straightforward creative strategy.
According to a 2015 eMarketer report, over 92 percent of millennials regularly watch digital media. That audience is waiting for great multimedia content from a company they already love—the kind that can compete with recipe videos on Facebook and unboxing clips on YouTube.
Venmo’s initial target audience for video projects could be college students, who already know how to use the platform but struggle with financial education. Per Facebook’s IQ report, 53 percent of millennials say they don’t have a trusted source for financial advice. Students often graduate and enter the workforce without any training on how to create a budget, manage debt, or even use a credit card. There’s a need for advice that is engaging, relatable, and without esoteric jargon.
Brief video tutorials could tackle subjects like budgeting, taxes, investing, financial planning, student loan debt, and building credit one at a time. And for more top-funnel content, Venmo could also produce engaging one-off videos. Mint tried this a few years ago with solid success. Clips like “Unemployment Game Show” and “What Does One Trillion Dollars Look Like?” racked up hundreds of thousands of views. Since then, however, Mint hasn’t consistently updated its video channel, meaning Venmo could fill the multimedia void.
Even though Venmo only publishes sporadically on its blog, it wouldn’t take much to adapt existing posts into stories that consumers want to read.
There are already some stories with great potential hiding on Venmo’s blog. For example, in December 2015, team members joined the nonprofit Friends of Rockaway to rebuild homes destroyed by hurricane Sandy. Right now, the article consists of a short summary and one photo of staffers wielding power tools. It has some standard PR benefits, but it’s tough to find and not very in-depth.
Theoretically, the Rockaway story could showcase Venmo’s strong company culture if it was treated more like a traditional feature with reporting, quotations from volunteers, and more visuals. The article could also be expanded into a trend piece about startups that partner with nonprofits to further social causes.With that type of approach, content could influence HR, recruiting, and investor relations all at once.
When brands start to pursue publishing, a common concern is how they’ll come up with enough original work. Anyone can write up a quick blurb on a trending news story, but that’s not going to lead to long-term success.
Fortunately, Venmo deals in data, which means it has access to fascinating trends about spending habits. That research could be sliced up in a number of ways, too, rather than just being dumped out into one giant report.
Additionally, Venmo could explore the global impact of P2P payment apps. The company’s popularity mainly exists in the U.S., but P2P mobile payment apps have allowed millions of people in poorer countries to transfer money without the need for traditional banking institutions. As mobile P2P payment becomes a global industry—which it likely will—original reporting and research conducted by Venmo could place them at the heart of mobile and global microfinance trends. The capacity to impact microfinance through mobile payments is newsworthy on a global level, and content could help them take charge of that narrative across the entire world.
Venmo wants more people to share payments, but for that to happen, it ultimately needs to start sharing its stories.