By ASHRAF FARID
Even the name PayMaya is deeply rooted in Filipino culture. The word ‘maya’ is a colloquial term used by Filipinos as a catch-all for commonly seen small birds.
PayMaya’s problem statement
How would you sell an app that offers digital transactions to someone who has never owned a bank account?
This was the challenge faced by PayMaya, a Philippines-based e-wallet and payment gateway that was launched in 2007, and currently serves as one of the leading choices in virtual payment providers for the nearly 110 million people that call the Philippines home.
In a recent in-depth interview with Kushboo Nangalia of Beyond 99, Raymund Vilanueva, Director and Head of Business at PayMaya, described the obstacles faced when marketing digital products to emerging markets, as well how he believes PayMaya was able to enable its consumers to make the crucial mental leap.
To compound matters, not all emerging markets are created equal. In the Philippines at the time, about 70% of the national population had never owned a bank account. This was also exactly the group that PayMaya wanted to reach, as they would reap the most benefits from being able to conduct digital transactions. They saw the need to be able to give a financial account to someone very easily. That was the biggest customer insight to be addressed.
In six months, PayMaya grew eight times in terms of new account holders while doubling the monthly activity of existing users.
The solution was to bind accounts to unique QR codes. This meant that PayMaya accounts serve as an independent store of value that did not have to be connected to banks. In fact, for many, PayMaya would essentially be their first ‘bank account’.
So, now the product was ready, they needed a good marketing campaign.
Understanding the power of words and national pride
It should be noted that PayMaya was far from the first e-wallet app to set its sights on the Philippines. It had plenty of competition from established global fintech companies with deeper pockets and greater reach. We all love stories of hometown heroes prevailing against outsiders, and PayMaya’s unapologetically patriotic branding no doubt contributed massively to winning the hearts of its people.
Even the name PayMaya is deeply rooted in Filipino culture. The word ‘maya’ is a colloquial term used by Filipinos as a catch-all for commonly seen small birds. By associating the two, PayMaya’s very name shares its mission of making digital payments as ubiquitous as these birds. And no one but a Filipino would get it. From the outside, it appears simple, but clearly no small amount of thought has gone into it.
PayMaya’s official mascots modeled after the ubiquitous maya birds of the Philippines
Raymund attributes much of PayMaya’s success to the ability of its team to accurately explain their product using language that was simple and clear.
Raymund points to their 2019 campaign, ‘Don’t Pay Cash, PayMaya’. With just a few simple words, it taps into the reader’s background knowledge and helps bring clarity about the product. Yes, a majority of their consumers may not have had bank accounts, but it was safe to say everyone has bought or sold something using physical currency. Those same people would also be aware of the frustrations that come with this.
The second half of the slogan then presents PayMaya as an alternative.
PayMaya executives at the launch of its “Don’t Pay Cash. PayMaya!” Campaign,
Instinctively, as a reader, you know this product has something to do with monetary transactions and is offering an alternative to physical payment. With just four words, the slogan fulfilled its role: hook the reader, and make them invested enough to learn more about the product.
To drive home just how powerful a slogan can be, when Kushboo asked Raymund to share unsuccessful campaigns, he recalls an earlier attempt to promote PayMaya. The slogan they used was ‘Now You Can’. Although it was shorter (brevity is always appreciated) it was too unclear about what it actually did. As painful as it was, Raymund considered it a necessary part of the learning process.
One would be hard-pressed to argue his point, looking at the success of the follow-up campaign. In six months, PayMaya grew eight times in terms of new account holders while doubling the monthly activity of existing users.
It’s not just a buyer and a seller – it’s a whole ecosystem
To succeed in any industry, it pays to identify all the players and stakeholders that contribute to and take away from the ecosystem. Strengthening the position of certain players will have spillover effects that strengthen the ecosystem as a whole. This in turn can directly or indirectly improve your own position. In the case of PayMaya, the other key players they approached were the government, merchants and small, medium and micro-sized enterprises.
The Philippines government has long been supportive of virtual cash initiatives. Geographically, the Philippines is quite large. Covering 300,000 square kilometers, and with numerous islands, mountainous, and rural areas, it has been a logistic struggle to transfer aid to those who need them most. Thanks to collaborations with PayMaya, this aid can now be transmitted along a virtual chain to physical outposts at strategic locations that make aid disbursement much more reliable.
Unique QR codes to account holders also mean that no-one but that person can ultimately redeem and receive the virtual cash, reducing the risk of corruption. In return, many of PayMaya’s initiatives are sponsored and aided by the government. PayMaya helps the government, the government helps the people, and ultimately, the people help PayMaya by having more spending power.
Listen to the market
The focus on small, medium and micro enterprises was a specific reaction to market behavior during the COVID-19 pandemic. Raymund points to the rise of what he dubs ‘conversational’ or ‘community’ commerce, where people are keener than ever to support local businesses and vice versa.
PayMaya aims to help these smaller entrepreneurs establish a secure and convenient payment system. As a business model this makes sense as companies should always follow spending trends. From a public relations standpoint, this is also a brilliant move as they will be seen helping the underdog, and as markets recover,rewarded with customer loyalty.
PayMaya’s current campaign, ‘BalikBayad’ (roughly translated to cashback) encourages cash to remain circulating throughout the economy by offering numerous rewards and benefits for users who perform transactions.
This quick reaction to market movements is reflected in the culture of PayMaya. Raymund shared that his team held online meetings up to twice a day. They were ever ready to reprioritise product road maps to feed current needs. The good news was that the market was very vocal. They just had to listen and answer.
A finger on the pulse of the nation
As for Raymund, although he had been born in the Philippines, he had returned after completing his MBA in Marketing in San Francisco and spending the first ten years of his career serving various tech companies in the legendary Bay Area. At 30, Raymund decided to return to his homeland with big plans. All too soon, he realised the difference between a developed market like the US and an emerging market like the Philippines. Much of what he had learned was no longer applicable.
Make full use of the home soil advantage, not to exploit it, but with the conviction that these are your people, who better to serve and add value to their lives than you?
However, he returned not for fame or riches, but to help the Philippines move forward in any way he could. This was a man whose dream was not for himself, but for others. This certainly showed when he answered a question on his favourite social media platform. While saying he preferred LinkedIn, he had to go with Facebook because ‘the Philippines was a Facebook country’. A quick search of PayMaya traffic confirms this.
As companies the world over gripe over losing business, especially homegrown organisations in the B2C arena, consider PayMaya as an example of how to approach the market – by tapping into local cultures and idiosyncrasies. Empower whole ecosystems to the best of your ability. Make full use of the home soil advantage, not to exploit it, but with the conviction that these are your people, and who better to serve and add value to their lives than you?
The full interview may be found below:
Ashraf Farid had been happily teaching English until one day a student challenged him to ‘get a real job and prove he could make it outside the classroom’. He is currently a part of the Leaderonomics Editorial Team. His passion includes singing in the shower and fighting neighbourhood cats. During his free time he writes wicked bass lines he secretly knows are ripped off from Muse songs.