Emoji as financial 'statements': What brands can learn from Venmo

It is tempting to look at emoji as merely cute digital icons. However, marketers could learn a lot from them, especially when related to financial transactions.

Veronica Marquez
Veronica Marquez

Venmo, a peer-to-peer payment app (currently only available in the US) that allows people to transfer money as if they were sending an SMS, requires users to describe their transactions. And most people, especially millennials, use emoji to label their payments. Transaction descriptions are public by default, so users are able to navigate a news feed of their friends’ financial moves, although the paid or requested amount is hidden.

By socialising personal finance, which was once considered private and to some extent taboo, people are looking for a way to share their transactions that is more fun and engaging; in the same way they tell their daily story on Instagram or Snapchat. Nowadays, people not only track and share what they’ve seen, where they’ve been and who they’ve been with, but also what they pay for.

This article is part of the Cultural Radar series

Emoji present an opportunity to express something usually seen as tactical and dull in an enjoyable way. They can also add a bit of mystery given their potential ambiguity—paying with a star or even a girls dancing emoji can mean multiple things, teasing the imagination of those viewing the transactions.

Venmo’s autocomplete feature further encourages the use of emoji by suggesting the corresponding emoji whenever a user begins to type a word. For example, if a person types the word “beer,” the beer emoji pops up. The result is a visually engaging, easy to capture “financial statement.”

According to the company the most “expensive” emoji of the past year in the US—or the emoji equating to the highest dollar amount per transaction—is the two-story house, which represents rent. While the most commonly used emoji are pizza, beer, wine and cash. Could brands use this information to connect with consumers in relevant ways?

Venmo’s payment volume has grown 154 percent year-over-year, reaching $3.2 billion in the first quarter of 2016. The growing platform is quickly becoming a social network, as users are able to ‘like’ and ‘comment’ on friends’ payments. Non-profits have already leveraged the app to encourage donations. The American Heart Association and Malaria No More have partnered with Venmo to tap into its existing social platform and motivate people to support causes that they care about. Perhaps it’s time brands explore partnerships with Venmo as well. For instance, Dominos could provide in-the-moment offers; when someone pays with a pizza emoji, they could be sent a coupon for their next Domino's order. Or a wine company could suggest a food pairing when someone pays with a red wine-glass emoji. The possibilities are endless and although this is an emerging space, we can certainly assume transactions via peer-to-peer payment apps are going to continue to grow.

Veronica Marquez is senior research executive at Flamingo New York, where Ana Turco-Rivas is an intern.

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