When did “Venmo” become a verb?
For Millennials, mobile pay apps like PayPal-owned Venmo are quickly following in Google’s footsteps – so ubiquitous they’re part of the everyday lexicon. Friends offer to Venmo each other everything from rent to metro fare. The peer-to-peer (P2P) payment app has spawned plenty of imitators, including Paris-based Lydia, and the U.K.-based Transatlantic Circle. Mobile P2P transactions volume could reach $86 billion in the U.S. by 2018, a high estimate by Business Insider.
The payment app is a little-appreciated opportunity, particularly for marketers who want to reach a young audience. As of June 2015, Millennials made up 94 percent of Venmo users. They also represent $200 billion in annual buying power – and they’d prefer those billions in digital form, thank you. Forty percent of Millennials said that they would stop using cash if their credit or debit card could replace cash transactions, reports Business Insider, and in a survey by the Independent Community Bankers of America found nearly one in four Millennials surveyed said they carry less than $5 in cash every day.
It’s not just an aversion to cash that has made Venmo such a hit, however. An endless stream of newsfeed-style status updates listing friends’ payments is a surprisingly popular feature of the app. When friends pay or charge each other, they can post the interaction detailing who paid or charged whom – amounts are not specified – and a clever message, emoji, and/or inside joke. Think of these messages as the memo line of a check gone wild. Payments for “being my friend” or a 4 AM charge labeled “you know what you did,” inspire friends scrolling through their feed to give your update a second glance – just don’t joke about “ISIS beer funds” or the government will have to get involved. Millennials grew up with social media and appreciate a social component in all their online activities – even when paying their half of the gas bill.
The opportunity for marketers lies in the wealth of data buried in this constant stream of Venmo posts. From relationship statuses to common expenditures, savvy observers can glean valuable information and trends from users’ running commentary and repeat purchases. For example, pizza is the most frequently used emoji on Venmo, followed by wine. Papa John’s took advantage of the high demand to launch a bill-splitting platform powered by Venmo. Since 67 percent of Internet users aged 16 to 25 report that their social network influenced their purchasing decisions, marketers who can decipher who is in their customers’ social networks can widen the circle of people to whom they target their messages.
One of the lingering questions about P2P apps, however, is whether they can bridge what Quartz nicknamed “The Venmo Line.” The line divides the young people who can’t live without the app and the older adults who either don’t know what it is or find sharing their online payments off-putting, worry about getting hacked or falling victim to online fraud, or simply no longer need to split bills for utilities in a shared apartment or spur-of-the-moment late-night pizza with friends. The post-Millennial crowd may start using the apps more frequently if more companies and stores partner with P2P companies to suggest shortcuts and promotions relevant to a user’s lifestyle. After all, it’s not that the over-35 crowd simply has no interest in social platforms – seniors are the fastest growing demographic on social media.
As P2P becomes a more popular method of making payments, there will also be more competition for established apps such as Venmo. “You can expect to see major social networks jockeying more aggressively to handle your transactions in 2015,” Nick Holmes, CEO of Hootsuite, predicted.
No matter which P2P platform winds up on top, it seems clear that the future does not lie in asking, “Do you have change for a $20?” People’s willingness to share information about their spending habits and preferences allows marketers a golden opportunity to offer the kinds of messages that might actually be helpful to their brand’s customers.