Turning Your Users Into Your Best Marketers with Jonny Steel @ Payoneer

Posted on Oct 29, 2020

Episode: S02E09

Podcast Guest: Jonny Steel
Role: VP Marketing
Company: Payoneer

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Okay, not to get too deep into your marketing budget but what if you could hire, say, two million marketers?


In a world of platforms – Airbnbs, Ubers, Amazons and Alibabas – sellers need to get paid.

And powering a shocking number of these sales is Payoneer, a unicorn that got started early and never stopped. In this episode of Marketers in Capes, with Jonny Steel, Payoneers’ VP Marketing for six years, we dive into the early days of Payoneer and how a killer combo of localization, community, and events turned their users into their best marketers.

We also explore how an event strategy that included 30+ events annually pivoted to digital, how virtual events are different than physical ones (it’s not just because you’re not wearing underwear), dealing with crisis communication, and more.

  • Payoneer’s referral program
  • Jonny’s kickoff of their 24 hour virtual summit (yea, 24 hours) with 125 speakers and 75 sessions (plus, entertainment from their users)
  • A great clip of Jonny chatting about driving intelligent PR from influencers
  • Two awesome pieces of content that leverage payment data and surveys to show how the Pandemic is

Episode Transcript

Eytan Buchman: [00:00:00] All the world’s a platform tech company and all of us are but users. Okay. In my head, that sounded much more profound, but as platforms take over the world, companies and their marketers are rushing in to fill the void. Which is where we run into our old nemesis – attention. Grabbing attention from small business owners who are working for their own paycheck or for the gargantuan tech companies that make it happen is really hard. But in this episode, we speak to a marketing executive who combines referrals, community, product, and events, physical and virtual, to make it happen. And like Mastermind or making a dog out of a balloon, these all sound easy, but are really, really hard to do well. We also touch on dealing with massive crisis communication challenges when partners run into trouble and a core marketing theme that our guest has identified as working and has made work to his advantage. Before I hand the mic over. I’m Eytan Buchman, you’re tuning into Marketers in Capes with GCMO and my guest today might not be wearing a cape but he has the most superhero name I’ve ever hosted. Meet Johnny Steel, the VP Global Marketing of Payoneer so, what do they actually do?

[00:01:09] Jonny Steel: [00:01:09] Payoneer is a global payment company. We work with businesses of all sizes in all locations in the world, making it as easy to do business globally, as you can locally. I’ve been a parent here for six years and then that time, the whole company of Payoneer has gone global . So we went from a company that had two major headquarters to a company that’s now based in 23 locations, worldwide covering pretty much every corner of the world.

[00:01:32]Eytan Buchman: [00:01:32] Okay. So obviously 2020 has been an interesting year.

[00:01:36] Jonny Steel: [00:01:36] we’ve seen massive amounts of online payment growing, and we estimate it for ecommerce at least at around something like 10 years of growth within a series of a few months.

[00:01:47]Eytan Buchman: [00:01:47] Okay ignoring the past couple of months for a bit and I wish we could can you provide a little bit of context for what Payoneer was like when they got started and what having that early mover advantage did for you guys

[00:01:59] Jonny Steel: [00:01:59] So when we first started out, we found a really interesting niche of marketplaces, the platform economy. And really, if you go back 10, 15 years, it was really just getting started, Amazon and eBay were in that space. So we found ourselves in this world, the marketplace as well. On the one hand we have the marketplace or the platform as our client. On the other hand, they were also delivering the payments through, to the sellers, the freelancers, the hosts, whoever needed to receive the payments around the world. And that was really our entry from enterprise into SMB as well. So we started playing on both sides of this ecosystem.

[00:02:32]Eytan Buchman: [00:02:32] Marketing platform businesses can be really hard because they tend to be aggregators. So you’re marketing to a very diverse group of people. How did Payoneer overcome that ?

[00:02:42] Jonny Steel: [00:02:42] One of the smartest decisions that was made was to translate the platform into something like 20 odd languages, even languages of markets that we really had no idea whether we would end up serving, but what it did, it made the product accessible to a small business or an individual freelancer anywhere in the world.

[00:02:58] What we then started to see is really word of mouth, that people would hear about Payoneer and use it and figure out it’s really useful to get paid by this marketplace. As we build out the offering, they would realize it was really useful to get paid from another business, that I’m working with directly, even if it’s not a marketplace. And then once you start to get these pockets of activity around the world, then we were able to make steps to start to nurture that.

[00:03:20] Eytan Buchman: [00:03:20] Okay. So what Payoneer did here here is they identified specific growth areas, they built up very strong local relationships. And then they layered on a very simple elegant community marketing strategy

[00:03:32] Jonny Steel: [00:03:32] So we put a community manager that spoke the local language . With time, we’ve put that manager or team in the country. So they were there on the ground and we’ve been able to start meeting, organizing networking events, organizing meetups, and that’s how we created a sense of community on the ground.

[00:03:48] We call it our community team because we believe that the core, what we’re trying to do there is build communities of small businesses. And then they are able to bring them value through the product.

[00:03:56] Eytan Buchman: [00:03:57] So a lot of people talk about building communities, but it’s actually really hard to do because so many customers especially in the space already have their support communities set up. How do you actually manage to pull this off on a tactical level

[00:04:08] Jonny Steel: [00:04:08] In the beginning, the community managers sat behind a screen and they’re the very first thing they would do is to engage on Facebook and other social media. We created an online community forum where customers could come and chat. And whenever we were really starting to focus on a new market, one of the first things we did is we hired somebody to manage that community.

[00:04:27] I would say to them, just look at the data, go and put out a report of who are, who are our most active customers in that country. And get in touch with them, send them an email, call them and start talking to them to understand what is going on in that community. So we can find out who the right people are to connect with who, the influencers, who are the organizers.

[00:04:45] And then with time, you start to turn that into a more of an active group. So many of the markets around the world, we might have a dedicated Facebook group just for that market. We might have a couple brand ambassadors, a local marketing manager that will run that. And it becomes far more than a platform to sell our services. It becomes an opportunity to bring people together, to introduce them to new opportunities, to connect a wider network and we’ll be able to use this as an engine of building a community that will effectively, ultimately lead to a situation in which more paying customers will be brought towards us.

[00:05:17] Eytan Buchman: [00:05:17] What I really like about where this went is that the marketing team doesn’t need to be there every step of the way in some cases it was just about finding the right person and then getting out of the way so they could do their thing .

[00:05:29] Jonny Steel: [00:05:29] Our brand ambassador program was simply for that. What we were doing was we would find the biggest influences, but also using the Payoneer platform. We’d given an opportunity to be a Payoneer ambassador would give them a budget to spend locally and they could spend out on bringing people together and meetups and to them, this was a great opportunity to give them exposure, to have some funding, to be able to put these sorts of things on and let them get on with it. They would bring in the speakers and be able to build up a nice community that way.

[00:05:54]Eytan Buchman: [00:05:54] So, obviously it’s not all about brand. Can you dive a little bit deeper into the product led growth that takes place at Payoneer?

[00:06:00]Jonny Steel: [00:06:00] Payoneer was really built on the network effect. There are lots of different ways that marketplaces bring us customers, sellers, freelancers, or whatever. And also the customers bring us the marketplaces and the platforms.

[00:06:12] And then we powered that with a Refer A Friend program, which is what’s still one of our strongest marketing strategies that we use today, we’ve been using it for, I think, close to about eight, nine years where it’s a friend bring a friend, , and it just happens that people want to do this. We built it within the product very, very simple mechanism that for every customer that brings in another customer, that’s active, both of them receive , money into their accounts and it’s the money that the $25 or the $50 or whatever it might be, that is the currency of our business. Our business is payments. So it makes sense that they’re getting a little bit extra into their account.

[00:06:47]And then we really productize that through our make a payment service, which is a way if I will have, let’s say. Just give an example. I’m a freelancer, I’ve taken on a job to build a website and I’ve received the payment from your company. I then have a freelance designer and a freelance writer that I work with. And so having received the initial payment, I now have to do, bring it up and pay a little bit to this one and pay a little bit to that one, that I have an interest through the makeup payment product that if I pay them and that also a painter. Well, we do that transfer for free. So it gives me the incentive to bring my friends into the platforms so that we keep our costs down and that helps bring more and more customers into the platform.

[00:07:26]Eytan Buchman: [00:07:26] One thing that I’ve been discovering is that really great marketing teams typically have a few core acquisition channels, usually one or two that are working well and a couple in the mixer Payoneer is no different. And event marketing is really a natural expansion of the community. First approach they take. Here’s how it became another channel for them.

[00:07:44] Jonny Steel: [00:07:44] So something that started actually from these brand ambassadors and giving them some budgets to organize meetups is that fast-forward a few years and we became massive organizers of conferences and we call it the Payoneer Forum. It was delivered, I think it went live in over 30 cities each year for the last three years. If we take, for example, India, what we actually organized four of these forums, bringing together a couple of thousand people, we would invite the marketplaces, some of them would be in the U S and other parts of Asia, in Europe to come along and speak to online sellers or online freelancers, IT outsourcing companies. And that wait, we’ll be bringing together the both sides of the ecosystem and it’s a win win.

[00:08:23] So the sellers would love it because they would learn about new opportunities, such as Google Shopping, coming to speak to them. Google Shopping would love it because they were looking to onboard new sellers with different types of products, into their platform and break into India. And we love it because once everybody’s chit chatting at this conference, we know that business is going to be done, payments is going to start transferring between them and that’s going to be good for Payoneer’s growth.

[00:08:46]Eytan Buchman: [00:08:46] Of course i had to ask if the shows are ROI positive and I really like ohnny’s approach to how events fit into his general marketing strategy

[00:08:53] Jonny Steel: [00:08:53] We would never measured the success of this campaign purely by that. And if we did it, wouldn’t be a ROI positive. We would look at everything else that we were doing in terms of building the brand and building the trust within that local market and see these events as a central piece of that, just as much as PR is.

[00:09:09] And then when you do it like that, sell opportunities of existing customers coming along to those events and starting to use more services, you start to wrap that in and get a sense of confidence in it that there are pockets that I can measure that are doing nicely. And overall, this is really driving our leadership position.

[00:09:23] Eytan Buchman: [00:09:23] Okay huge event plan and then Corona hits 30 shows suddenly get turned off what do you do? You go online right ?

[00:09:31] Jonny Steel: [00:09:31] So this year we turned it into what we call it the beyond summit virtual summit. Uh, we did one in India. So instead of doing full physical events, we did one online event. We got just as many attendees. And in fact, it’s been the largest e-commerce conference of the year in India for crossborder sellers. And that’s quite amazing to think that it was a payment company that put that on and not any commerce association or an eCommerce platform.

[00:09:55]Eytan Buchman: [00:09:55] And by today we’re at the point in the marketing COVID lifecycle where my grandmother is practically running her own webinars but very few are doing it well what’s the trick to shifting physical events online

[00:10:06]Jonny Steel: [00:10:06] you can’t just try and do exactly what you were doing offline and turn it into a virtual summit. You have to adapt the type of content the way it’s delivered. You have to think very much about what happens afterwards because knowing the fact that majority of people are not going to spend the two hours or five hours or 24 hours as we’re about to do in a virtual conference the whole time.

[00:10:26] Try and think of the soft touches to it, the fun and the breakouts of it. So one thing that we’re doing for this big 24 hour conference that we’re putting on is we have entertainment throughout the day. Now, some people would go and hire a DJ and get the DJ to perform something. We thought it’d be far more interesting to actually reach out to our customers. We ran a Facebook campaign to our customers saying, you know, you’re a performer. Do you play an instrument? Do you sing?

[00:10:49] Do you do magic? Would you like to perform at our conference? And we’ve got a great lineup of customers who are going to be doing everything from a magic show through to playing the clarinet at the upcoming event.

[00:10:59]And another thing that we’re exploring as well, and things like a virtual photo booth, One thing we realized in some of the virtual events that we do is it just doesn’t seem to create the same amount of buzz online as a conference would. At a conference. People say pictures, they put them on Twitter and other networks, you don’t get that so much online.

[00:11:17] So we’re trying to figure out how we can manufacture different, fun ways, having an ability to create a group picture on some type of, social platform and be able to share it. So we’re trying to do something fun stuff that is missing when you just go kind of from session to session,

[00:11:33]Eytan Buchman: [00:11:33] Okay, but it’s not all roses, communities, and magic shows of 2020. Wasn’t crazy enough. Earlier this year, one of pain years partners went through an incredibly public meltdown. And that left a huge communications challenge on their hands.

[00:11:46]Jonny Steel: [00:11:46] we had a situation in which one of the providers that we were using was involved. It was a major story at the time earlier this year was involved in a big fraud. And the result was that during this period of time, and it was actually a period of time that lasted only three and a half days.

[00:12:01] The regulator in the UK froze one of the products of this provider of ours, which meant that a bunch of our customers had funds in this product that were unable to access it through a period of time. And again, it was only three and a half days. It was over a weekend, but that was really meaningful and impactful on our customers

[00:12:17] Eytan Buchman: [00:12:18] Okay. So how do you actually handle that?

[00:12:21] Jonny Steel: [00:12:21] The whole thing around crisis management. I’ve got a great quote , be quick with the facts and slow with the blame. And it’s that first half, it’d be quick with the facts that is so important. And it took us, I think something in the region of, about 6 to 12 hours before we got out our first communication explaining what was going on.

[00:12:38] And the reason was that we wanted to try and collect all the information, really get on top of things and be able to communicate something really clear once we knew everything. And my lesson learned from those few hours or so that’s not the way to do it yet. You have to get out there really quickly and put out a message saying, okay, we’re on top of this.

[00:12:55] So we had our senior executives putting out videos every 12 hours, giving an update on what was happening, how we were handling it. And we saw very quickly that this reservoir of trust that we had to begin with was there to back us.

[00:13:08] We had a major turning point. When we put out a statement from the CEO saying that don’t worry, we’ve got your backs, no customer is going to lose any funds. We’ll make any difference if that happens. And we even saw that video got quoted in the Financial Times that same day. It was for me, really revealing to see that when you really to communicate and you just give out information as it’s happening, people stick with you, they trust you. You really end up sometimes in a situation where you’ve got better and stronger trust and relationship with your customers than you had beforehand.

[00:13:37]Eytan Buchman: [00:13:37] Okay I come from a crisis communications background too and i know that when these things hit you just have this gut instinct to try to bury it. Is that an approach that actually works or should be checked at the door ?

[00:13:49] Jonny Steel: [00:13:49] You can’t underestimate the power of word of mouth today. And you know, when there is a real problem in place, I think you have far more to lose by trying to hold back and keep it quiet than just going out and being really transparent

[00:14:03]So when we’re creating,

[00:14:04] Jonny Steel: [00:14:04] we’re saying day by day, but it was oftenf an hour by hour. Updated messaging and we’ll have a team representing all the different parts of the organization that we’re dealing with clients, dealing with customers, dealing with partners, dealing with banks To make sure that we were all saying and sticking to the same messaging document and making sure that everybody was updated as things changed.

[00:14:22] And in a crisis, things do change by the hour, by the minute, make sure everybody was getting that information. And that’s how it didn’t matter which channel a customer came to us. They were hearing the same thing and getting that message updated throughout the day.

[00:14:35]Eytan Buchman: [00:14:35] If you’ve been paying attention and i know you’ve been taking notes there’s an interesting common theme across how johnny views events and crisis communications it’s actually quite central to his general marketing approach

[00:14:45]Jonny Steel: [00:14:45] The core that I would focus on is this concept of building trust. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got the best product, if customers don’t feel that you’re a platform that can really be relied upon, they’re not gonna put their faith in you. But I think it’s really true for anything, whether it’s a B to C, B to B, whether it’s enterprise or SMB, is how do you build up that reputation from the get go?

[00:15:04]Very close interaction with your first customers is absolutely critical. Turn your earliest customers into ambassadors, try and get them spreading the word through word of mouth and ambassadors we’ll continue to be able to build this layer of trust. That makes it so much easier to put everything else on top of it.

[00:15:22]Eytan Buchman: [00:15:22] Okay last question here how do you stay on top of marketing developments especially when you’ve been running marketing at one company for awhile.

[00:15:29] Jonny Steel: [00:15:29] There are loads of podcasts out there, there’s loads of blogs, there’s loads of good things to read. I think the, uh, the best thing that I would recommend is firstly, talk to people, talk to other professionals in other companies, other marketing meetings and hear what they’re doing. And sometimes you’ll hear more from what actually somebody is doing rather than hearing, reading what somebody has written.

[00:15:48]Driving all of this is you have to be willing to test stuff and do stuff that even if you’re not quite sure if it makes any sense, be willing to experiment and step outside of your comfort zone.

[00:15:58]you gotta be willing to try different things, and puts members of your team that, you know, you hired them to do one thing you want to try out podcast advertising, give that project to somebody and seeing what run with it. Explore it. I’ve got no idea how it works. Find out how it works. Let’s try and put some budget into it and see whether it could be effective

[00:16:14] Eytan Buchman: [00:16:14] One of my favorite takeaways from this interview is how often Payoneer manages to win over trust from users or partners to get them to do the marketing for them. Magic shows from customers lectures from partners, events organized by influencers, all rather than going out there and running it themselves.

[00:16:31] They put focus on creating the infrastructure and then stepping out. When you’re done reading about their crisis communication in the Financial Times, you could learn more about some of Johnny’s favorite tools in the show notes at buchman.co.il/payoneer, or you can go swimming in an ocean of e-commerce content at payoneer.com/resources. You can also hear an infinite loop of a song about a chicken on a raft chickenonaraft.com. Not sure you should.

[00:16:57] While you do that. My name is Eytan Buchman. This was an episode of marketers and caves with GMO. And yes, I can make a balloon dog. But not a very good one.