Updated: Apr 14
Danish corporate card issuer Pleo is one of the fastest-growing European fintech start-ups. Founded in 2015, Pleo has already successfully completed two funding rounds and raised nearly $80mn. However, Pleo doesn't want to be seen simply as a "challenger fintech", but more as a sector liberator creating its own new product category.
How has Pleo positioned as a "non-fintech" fintech? How has it kept the balance between short- and long-term growth marketing? And how has it managed to adapt the global brand to meet the local market needs? To find the answers to these questions, we spoke to Luke Richardson, Director of Brand & Comms at Pleo.
What’s it like to be running Pleo’s brand and communications department?
Fun! I really love my job, and am proud of the team we've been able to build so quickly. It's a mix of motion designers, graphic artist copywriters, product marketers and more. So, in effect, like an internal creative agency.
We very much see the brand as a service – providing content and support for basically everyone across the company, whether it's new feature launch videos, sales collateral, ads, support material, merch – we do it all.
What makes Pleo, PLEO? What’s unique about Pleo’s brand?
So, we went through a full re-branding process from September last year, completing in February. In effect, we were growing up, refining our messaging, what we stand for, the problems we are trying to solve and the aesthetics that steer that effort.
We don't quite see ourselves as a "challenger fintech". We're not rebelling against the status quo, we want to liberate the sector – building a spend solution for forward-thinking teams. Typically, these teams acknowledge that good work is built on trust and autonomy, which is exactly what our product is about.
Moreover, we have a comprehensive product – with new features dropping monthly – that we know will give even the most control-conscious finance director the peace of mind to believe that Pleo is the way teams built for the future should be paying for stuff. No expense reports, no reimbursements. None of the crap, basically.
On LinkedIn you mention that you think a lot about short- vs long-term marketing strategies. How do you keep the balance between both? What does Pleo’s marketing funnel look like?
I know that the short- vs. long-term rub is singlehandedly the most common issue for scaling marketing teams. In short, there's no simple formula, but you need to build a framework that allows for experimentation, placing bets and learning – while making sure your growth doesn't plateau.
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Historically, we've done a fantastic job with direct response ads. In many ways, this is our bread and butter for generating leads. Coming out of the COVID-19 fog, we're starting to liberate our budget framework, and placing those bets elsewhere, like OOH, media campaigns, gated content and pioneering outbound methodologies. Effectively, we want to spend time building brand recognition and balancing our heavy acquisition efforts with more top- to mid-funnel plays. This is also crucial as we start to more actively go up-market (where, effectively, the sales cycle is a lot longer).
Pleo has also been expanding internationally and has now entered the Spanish and Irish markets. How do you adapt the global brand to meet the local market needs?
This is probably the other big challenge for scaling teams (mostly in Scandinavia). You've built strong brand recognition and product-market-fit in one or two English-speaking-friendly markets, but how do you land in new countries that have never heard of you? Of course, this is an exciting, fortuitous problem to solve, but there's no fool-proof approach. It takes trial and error.
Ultimately, "glocalising" your brand (forgive the awful buzz term) is key. You need to find that sweet spot where your core value proposition rings true on the ground in a new market, but you're able to adapt local nuance and relevancy to nail it. Naturally, your product needs to adapt to the market over time, from relevant product partners to integrations and full-blown features (a big one for us – Germany's love of cash handling. We have a great product feature in the works to solve this admittedly quite outmoded reality for our customers there).
The key to all of that is expertise. For every market we launch, it's vital we have a marketing and brand manager that can be our ear on the ground picking up those local insights while simultaneously using a proverbial megaphone to help spread the word about our solution.
One mistake I often see brands fall into the trap of is brand inertia – you've locked down your brand guidelines, and you're sticking with them! In reality, your brand needs to evolve over time – just like the people behind the brand changes, and your product becomes more ubiquitous. I'm not suggesting a logo change every year, but more the way your brand walks, talks and lands to a widening customer base (across yet more markets, I'm sure).
What do you consider to be Pleo’s biggest branding success so far? And failure? What hasn’t worked?
Tough one. In many ways, I think we're just getting started. We pretty much wrapped up the re-branding as COVID-19 started to kick in. Naturally, that impacted some of our budgets and bets we were willing to make. Now, however, we're picking things back up again.
I would say the product marketing launch of our email receipt finder feature, Fetch, was a big success – and arguably the best day of my working life (surrounded by 10 puppies, effectively aping the classic customer use case interview model, with the pups standing in for a Pleo customer). It was successful not only in the social selling sense but in product adoption, with Fetch now one of the most popular product features we have baked into Pleo.
Failures .... we fail a lot! You need to. This is all part of being comfortable placing bets, after all. One fail that does jump to the top of my mind is in the unveiling of our re-brand and effectively looking to change our homepage over night. We were very happy with it in the brand sense, but we hadn't done the hard work to loop in our performance team to see what sort of impact this might have on campaigns running concurrently. Luckily, we turned this oversight around with a strong split-testing approach – the backbone to most solid performance experiments.
What does the future hold for Pleo?
In a phrase, onwards and upwards.
We have some legitimately exciting product releases coming out over the next few months. These will galvanise our business and brand strategies, diversify our acquisition channels and support the move going up-market. Plus, we're also growing one helluva lot. In marketing/brand alone, we have outlined around 15-20 new hires in the next 9 months.
For me, I am very impassioned by the work we're doing and happy to be along for the ride.
About Luke Richardson: Luke is the Director of Brand & Comms @ Pleo, leading the company's product marketing and local marketing manager teams, plus internal creative agency (the Brand Studio). He also steered the Pleo re-brand initiative in 2019.
From London, he moved to Copenhagen 2011 to kickstart a Masters programme in Film before pivoting to the city's thriving startup scene. He spearheaded content strategy at Momondo and Comms at Airtame before finding his feet at Pleo.