In June last year, Visa completed its acquisition of Visa Europe, bringing the two companies back together after 10 years.
At the time the deal was completed, Visa Inc. said it would “provide European clients with greater access to the global scale, additional innovation resources, and range of capabilities necessary to continue to offer the best payment services to their customers.”
CMO.com met Chris Curtin, Visa’s chief brand and innovation marketing officer, at this year’s Dmexco event in Germany, and the first thing we asked him about was his perspective on Visa Europe a year on.
Chris Curtin: Europe is one of our biggest markets, and there are a number of things the Visa Europe team has done and is doing that we find really attractive institutionally, which create a better experience and streamline how we do things.
They also have tools and systems that have allowed clients to access content we’ve created, which we can use in a more sophisticated and seamless way. So much of what we do is not just in the service of the Visa master brand, but is a service of co-marketing.
There are so many different trends occurring in different markets that are of interest. Contactless payments in the U.K, particularly with public transportation, are something that, in some ways, is further advanced and further deployed than in the United States. We have a lot of learnings that can be applied cross-border.
CMO.com: What is your role at Visa?
Curtin: My team is responsible for brand, sponsorships, and innovation. When we talk about innovation, we’re referring to the innovation that we produce as a company, but also the ways in which we’re trying to be innovative as marketers.
On the brand side, we’re trying to future-proof the company—not to have it as a museum but, instead, to have younger generations look at Visa with the same respect, admiration, and appeal that the last 40 to 50 years have produced.
That takes sweat, equity, and a sense of can-do within the company. The type of employee we attract and we’re trying to retain is crucially important to that exercise. We’re future-proofing the company, and, thus, we’re future-proofing the brand.
Our vision is to be the best way to pay and be paid, for everyone, everywhere. That’s something that, on our best days and in our best ways, we live up to, and, in other senses, it’s a clarion call for us to do better. It’s a perfect type of vision. It’s something that fits you well but also forces you to question what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and how you’re doing it.
CMO.com: What challenges does Visa face as a business?
Curtin: It’s a really dynamic time to be doing what we’re doing. Three, four, five years ago, electronic payments were principally, if not exclusively, conducted through one form factor. People were starting to get into ecommerce and mcommerce, and, obviously, PayPal was around. Now you have different payment services, and all these different form factors emerging from payment-enabled instruments and the internet of things.
To adapt to these changes, Visa has decided to open its network and philosophy to developers—provided that you develop and code in a way that is consistent with our standards for security and quality, we want to partner with you.
The whole world of marketing is changing at a rather dynamic speed. People aren’t buying demographics anymore. They’re buying behaviour, and they’re trying to put the right message before the right person in the right window.
CMO.com: You mentioned the types of people you’re trying to employ. How do you make sure you have the new skills that are required?
Curtin: We’re looking to have a culture that encourages lifelong learning. The pace of change in payments, and within marketing, is too dynamic for you to feel like you’ve got it all figured out. At one of our executive meetings, our president said: “It’s OK to go into a client meeting and for the client to sit back and say, ‘Have you heard about blank?’ and for you to say, ‘Let me find out more about that and get back to you.’ It’s not okay for you not to go and find out about it.”
CMO.com: How has your engagement with digital marketing changed?
Curtin: On the product side, there’s been unbelievable change. Visa has put in the investment and focused on digital over the past three-and-a-half years in a remarkable way. We could have had a “No, we’re not going to help, participate, or support this” mentality with any number of new form factors but, instead, embraced the change and came up with an open source, open network philosophy.
On the marketing side, an equal amount of effort and change have gone into delivering tailored, data-driven experiences and content to match consumer interests and needs at whatever moment those needs emerge—all the while remaining the brand of choice.
There are three elements to any brand: awareness, understanding, and preference. We’re trying to hit preference to go back upstream, and part of the preference equation is that we put the right experience and the right service before you, when you need it.
CMO.com: Is that where product development comes in?
Curtin: It’s product development, but it’s also getting that message across in the right moments. If you came off a flight from China and you went to baggage claim, Visa’s ads would be in Mandarin. Just to say, “We’re going to speak to you in your language. We’re going to communicate where and how to use a Visa product in the market in which you’ve just arrived.”
We’re doing all sorts of things which I would describe as not just smart marketing, but thoughtful marketing.