Lessons from Cash App
Why turning commerce into culture is the best go-to-market strategy
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Cash App is the most talked about mobile payment service around.
The app is developed by Block, Inc. and as of September 2021 reached $1.8 billion in gross profit and 70 million in annual transacting users. Venmo’s revenue for the entire 2021 is expected to be half that amount. Cash App is also ahead of Venmo in enabling users to send and receive bitcoin for free, generating Cash App $1.8bn in bitcoin revenue in Q3 2021. The latest Cash App Friday, where selected users are rewarded $100, $250 and $500, accumulated 72.6K likes and was retweeted 43.7K times. It’s an example of Cash App’s “play-to-earn” model, where user engagement is randomly rewarded and aimed at increasing both users and engagement.
Peer-to-peer payment networks are having an extended moment. About 65 percent of Americans are expected to bank online in 2022. Cash and credit card use has been in decline for years and the pandemic accelerated people’s move to contactless payments. There is also 63M Americans whose only financial option are money transfer apps. “People use Cash App as their primary bank account, and in some cases as their only bank account,” noted Jack Dorsey.
Cash App mastered the 4Cs of successful brand building - community, collaborations, content and curation - and turned them into its winning go-to-market strategy. The app’s strategy wiped away Venmo’s first-mover advantages and proved that the highest switching costs come from culture. (This is also Web3’s promise, to have people stay on a service or a platform because they like other people there, in contrast to Web2, where people stayed because everyone else was there.)
For the next generation of companies, the biggest network effect is culture, not technology. Long-term brand defensibility has more to do with whether a company can believably connect with culture through the shared things they like than if it has a proprietary product or acquisition channels.
Community. Cash App didn’t invent #CashAppFriday. #CashAppFriday already existed among its fans, and until 2017, Friday tweets came organically from men and women asking each other for Cash App money for grooming or drinks. Cash App’s genius was to get on the trend. Now hosted on Twitter and Instagram, #CashAppFridays mark giveaways to people who tweet at it. Cash App figured out that: a) people use financial apps their friends are using, so creating social engagement is critical for growth; and b) the fastest way to social influence is to piggyback on the already existing social influence and amplify it through go-to-market strategy that emphasizes social activity among Cash App’s initial following. This social activity then serves an ad for Cash App’s products and services aimed at the mass audience. Cash App’s deep community entrenchment also ensures that it can maintain and enhance its brand differentiation as the payment network scales.
Collaborations. Cash App collaborated with everyone from Travis Scott to Red Bull to Cardi B to Meghan Tee Stallion and Miley Cyrus. These collaborations include cash and stock giveaways, tutorials and Cash App financial wisdom. Through linking itself with celebrities, Cash App embedded itself not only in communities of its users and fans, but also in the wider culture. Collaborations extend to charitable causes, like matching donations and emerging artist promotions.
Curation. “The alternative to Venmo has become ubiquitous in rap lyrics. How did that happen?” asked GQ last April. Cash App curates its brand narrative around the hustle ethos, hip hop aesthetics, and voices of those who have often been traditionally excluded from the establishment but who are in charge of cultural innovation. Cash App started with empathy for a particular group of people and their particular interests, tastes and values. The outcome is that Cash App’s users feel like there’s nothing out there that’s like it - and that they are creating culture together with the app and all others who use it. Commercial activity becomes cultural activity.
Content. Over time, Cash App created recurring content streams, delivered in Gen Z-meets-hip hop aesthetics and revolving around democratization of investing and improving financial literacy. “Cash App Wisdom” is a series of explainers focused on everything from the basics of stock investing to account protection. Various money lessons are regularly delivered by Meghan Thee Stallion. A Red Bull Racing content partnership brings one up to speed on everything crypto. Content creates a massive following and differentiates Cash App from other financial applications (for example, Venmo’s social content is more similar to traditional banking institutions than to the language of cultural conversation).
A successful brand revival does not happen in a single moment. There are no shortcuts. There is only a continuum of strategic, creative, and operational decisions that, if executed consistently, put a brand on the path to cultural relevance, consumer love, and business success. This story is much less exciting to tell, but much more effective in the long run.
You can access the full Harvard Business Review article here.