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The Acquire Podcast Ep. 9: How Oxygen’s new debit loyalty program Elements is winning rebels and change makers

  • Oxygen’s SVP, head of business development and strategic partnerships Ryan Conway, and creative director Sani Gad join us on the Acquire Podcast.
  • ‘You name it, they tried it’ – including a hit summer tune with Megan Thee Stallion.
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The Acquire Podcast Ep. 9: How Oxygen’s new debit loyalty program Elements is winning rebels and change makers

Welcome to Acquire, Tearsheet’s Marketing Podcast. I’m your host, Rebecca Cohen, Head of Tearsheet Studios.

Today’s episode is about digital bank Oxygen’s campaign for Elements. Elements is Oxygen’s multi-tier debit card loyalty program for creatives and solopreneurs, and its campaign brought about a new face to Oxygen at large. To delve into the thinking and execution behind Elements, we’re joined by Oxygen’s SVP, head of business development and strategic partnerships, Ryan Conway, and creative director, Sani Gad.

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The following excerpts were edited for clarity.

Ryan Conway, Oxygen: I’m Ryan Conway, head of business development at Oxygen. My role primarily consists of two main areas of the business: marketing and product partnerships.  On the marketing side, I oversee social media and influencers, lifecycle marketing, public relations, distribution partnerships; and as I mentioned, I’m also heavily involved on the product side.

Specifically on Elements. I was heavily involved in ideation and strategy of that product, as well as embedding some of the partners like Priority Pass and insurance benefits. I do wear many hats, and no two days are the same which makes it interesting and a key reason why I love my job. 

Sani Gad, Oxygen: I’m Sani Gad, creative director at Oxygen for almost two years. My job mainly consists of working with our incredible creative team to create a viable brand, and also produce the vast majority of our brand visuals in house. Every day, we try to bridge the gap between culture, design, and financial services. 

Personally, I specialize in 2D and 3D design, animation, and video production. This allows me to set a distinct look and feel for Oxygen. I also strive to break the norm, and innovate and design as far as I can dream, hopefully making Oxygen one of the most unique brands – even beyond the financial space. 

For the free thinkers, rebels, entrepreneurs 

Ryan: When we looked at the big idea of Oxygen, the problem we’re trying to solve is enabling true access to the financial system for one of the largest and fastest growing segments of the economy: solopreneurs. 

Looking at the choice of words, and who is representative among this segment, it tends to be these creators and rebels, the people that are really bucking the norm.

Our founder and CEO, Hussein, came up with the idea of Oxygen when he was working as a freelance consultant while getting his MBA at Berkeley. And despite being in high demand (he had a PhD in computer science and making a really good income), he couldn’t get basic access to financial services and credit, and too often he was being pointed in the direction of payday type lenders. 

He was working at WeWork at the time, and he started asking others working there – designers, copywriters, influencers – and they all had the same problem: business banking was overlooking them, despite the fact that many were quickly becoming what is the fastest growing segment of the economy. 

Oxygen’s mission is to provide easy access to financial services for this segment, allow them to easily manage their finances across both personal and business, and create wealth in one single application. And I think that our brand speaks to that. 

Sani: We definitely believe in the creator economy, and it’s literally right there on our website. We are for the go getters, creatives, visionaries, challengers, entrepreneurs. And it’s setting a standard for everyone who aspires to be those things. 

That’s where Elements comes in – it’s an elevated product designed to appeal to that specific complex persona, which we believe is the benchmark right now in the industry. It gives them everything they need and deserve, to keep their flow going – hassle free.

A brand elevation

Ryan: It wasn’t a full rebrand, as it was an elevation of the brand. We’ve always had a very similar type of look and feel, and this was a little bit of a natural extension of that. Any brand is going to grow, so this wasn’t a complete reset on the brand, rather a natural extension of how we’re looking at that, and it happened to fit in with what we were doing from a product perspective.

Earth, water, air, fire

Ryan: We really wanted to reimagine what a modern debit loyalty program could look like. When we looked at what was happening in the market, we said, ‘Okay, suppose we do our job and get these people to the next level of where they’re at from a financial perspective; where do we go from there?’ 

And the answer always seemed to be ‘Somewhere else’, because we thought it was important for people to have a place to start wherever they’re at in their financial journey, then a place for them to go as they get more sophisticated and continue to build wealth. 

So by doing that, Elements includes increasing levels of cashback, a savings product with increasing high yield savings APYs, as well as retail travel and streaming perks from brands like Netflix, Peloton and Priority Pass. 

These are available depending on which tier you are in, which is one of the reasons why we think that this debit program looks much more like a credit product, from a loyalty perspective. We didn’t see anyone in the market that was doing anything similar in which you graduate your way up as you continue to build wealth. That’s something that we thought was pretty differentiated.

Sani: This all comes back down to how we decided to create our tone of voice; we wanted to empower creatives, and inspire them to lead extraordinary lives and bring about their cultural change. It all comes back to our slogan, which is ‘stay extraordinary’ – which starts with the question, ‘What is extraordinary?’ 

It’s the unusual, the outstanding, the unexpected. So we wanted it to be something unusual, outstanding, unpredictable: why would a financial service do something so bullish like calling cards ‘earth, water, air, and fire?’ 

We’ve done a lot of thematic research of what our tone of voice should be. In the end, we settled on three themes: freedom, fearlessness, and inclusivity. 

These carry over into everything: the typography, colors, overall visuals of the brand, how we use big text that takes up space which implies freedom; how that very design technique in it of itself is bold in an attitude that carries over the app, website, or socials and the boldness of that is very fearless; then comes inclusivity, in which we are very approachable because we don’t use regular card names like platinum, gold, or silver – our names are more approachable, and it kind of inspires a story. 

Each element has its own slogan. You start off with Earth which says, ‘Your space to grow’. Then you upgrade to Water, then to Air and it says ‘Your space to rise’. It’s not very defined, but there is a narrative to that and a story being told of how someone should grow within these elements; there’s that ancient tribal origin of them in how the elements transcend: earth, water, air, and fire (and then ether, which is the spirit). Elements had its own story, which makes it approachable, which I believe inspires inclusivity.

Making a splash 

Ryan: We utilized a number of different channels, including our existing channels because this was an upgrade from a singular product into four. We had a large user base that were immediately available for an upgrade on number one, so that was an email channel. 

On the digital front, we used a lot of the traditional channels including paid media in large social networks, we used a lot of influencers, we utilized television, podcasts, outdoor ads, because we really wanted to make a big splash here. 

We worked with four of the biggest pop stars globally on a music video mashup: Megan Thee Stallion, we had Lisa from Blackpink, Ozuna, and DJ Snake. They launched a music video called SG, with product placement of Oxygen, and it has over 152m views on YouTube. It’s a great summer tune, and led directly to a lot of engagement, and awareness drove directly to the app. 

Following the numbers

Ryan: Everything we do at Oxygen is data driven. Our data science team is headed by Ivy Lu, who’s our chief data scientist. Her team is immensely helpful across all marketing and product efforts. 

Before we launch any product, there’s a number of KPIs and try to look at what is actually leading to real business outcomes: average spend, average deposit, lifetime value over time, average revenue per user, time to direct deposit, uptake on other products, cross sell – standard KPIs that we’re looking at every day. 

Many of the channels we look at are digital, so we can look in a very informed way at which things are working and which are not. Like I said, we’ve tried a lot of things we’ve learned what works and what doesn’t more importantly, so we try to double down on the things that do work. We think that we’ve had some pretty good success thus far. 

Today, after the launch of Elements, upwards of a third of our income comes from the top end of the spectrum, so we’re proving that we can move people to a higher tier, which is a higher revenue perspective for us. 

Netflix, Peloton, and chill

Ryan: If you’re using a card in a subscription, the thought process is that they will continue to use that spend. So we give subscription discounts to both Netflix and Peloton digital products. We wanted to do that because we saw a pretty large uptake. We did some studies, and looked at our own internal data, and found that Netflix is just something mostly everybody has, especially in the pandemic, which was when we launched. A lot of people had a lot of free time and were watching a lot of Netflix, so we wanted to reward our customers. 

Another thing people were getting into in the pandemic, because they couldn’t go to the gym anymore, was home gym offerings, and Peloton was very popular at the time. Both of those have been extremely popular for our top tier products.

A word to the wise 

Sani: We approached it by looking for inspiration from our audience. We’re trying to appeal to creatives, which is a general word, but also a great benchmark for that whole market segment; they are go-getters, they are hustlers. They have that complex financial nature that we are trying to relieve to make their lives easier.

So, in this day and age, creatives are heavily inspired by pop culture. The pop culture today, and what creatives are inspired by, is mainly the high fashion of massive influencers, mostly musicians. So I looked to people like Travis Scott and Kanye West – people who are really changing culture when it comes to design and a bold tone of voice. So visually, our brand is very inspired by street wear.

The advice I would give is: Listen to the people you’re trying to appeal to – what are they doing today? How are they talking? What are they interested in? That should be your main influence when designing a brand.

Love what you do 

Ryan: As with anything, it’s the ability, inquisitiveness, and curiosity to grow. I’ve been in fintech and payments for the better part of the last decade, and one of the things that has been really consistent across that is change. 

The thing I pride myself on is coming to work every day and really trying to learn something new. Because even for the people who have been in financial services and fintech for a long time – everything’s changing. It’s about the ability to look at the underlying core infrastructure and what’s changing, and apply that curiosity and ability to want to continue to learn. It’s something that I think makes me good at my job, and keeps me excited about it. 

Sani: I’m super excited whenever a new day at Oxygen starts, because everything about Oxygen, design wise, is super innovative, super creative, and we’re trying to do something new every day. And that’s basically heaven for anyone who works in design – you’re not confined by the norm. We’re trying to break the norm with each and every design we create, and that’s very exciting and liberating for any creative out there. I’m fortunate to be working on all these amazing products and making them look as good as possible. That’s absolutely why I love the job.

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