Corporate card and financial product startup Brex is best known as an enabling platform for businesses, with a focus on startups. The three-year-old company, which is reportedly valued at $2.6 billion, initially spread the word about its offerings through word-of-mouth referrals.
But that’s quickly changing. As it grows its customer base, Brex is taking a mass approach to marketing reminiscent of direct-to-consumer startups like SoFi, TransferWise and N26. Since April, it’s been running a biweekly podcast called Brex in the Black. It’s opened a lounge and co-working space for customers in the Bay Area, and last year, it reportedly spent $300,000 on a set of billboard ads in San Francisco, a campaign that’s since expanded to Boston and New York.
In an interview with Bank Innovation, Elenitsa Staykova, Brex’s vice president of marketing, said billboard ads, podcasts and events complement digital marketing efforts and help maximize reach for the young company.
“We’re a new company on the market and we don’t have brand awareness yet,” she said. “The goal [of the strategy] is to create conversations and reach people throughout the day in different channels, whether that’s online or offline.”
Staykova, who is Brex’s first-ever vice president of marketing, joined the company in February and manages a team of 18 marketers. She wouldn’t comment on the size of Brex’s marketing budget, but said half of the company’s marketing budget is dedicated to brand advertising, both online and offline, as well as events and other field marketing efforts.
Among fintech startups, Brex isn’t the only enabling platform that’s taking steps to promote itself to a wider audience. For example, card issuing and processing startup Marqeta recently hired a chief marketing officer and is throwing its weight behind traditional marketing plays, including billboard ads.
As Brex builds its product suite beyond cards, the Brex podcast is seen as a medium to nurture conversations about bigger-picture business and accounting topics. It evolved from blog posts the company’s chief financial officer Michael Tannenbaum developed in response to queries from clients. The decision to add audio content was based on a desire to reach busy clients who prefer to access the material on the go, Staykova explained.
“Founders and heads of finance who work at startups are busy people, so being able to access that content on the ground when they’re driving or going from one meeting to the next is important,” she said.
The audio programs, hosted by Brex data scientist Chris Read, include interviews with Tannenbaum on such topics as payroll, benefits and taxes. Staykova wouldn’t share how many users have downloaded Brex podcast episodes, but she said the content resonates with the target audience because it’s focused on practical advice instead of theory.
“If you search for finance and and accounting podcasts, there are actually not that many, and they’re not done by practitioners — people that work and know startups,” said Staykova. Brex in the Black has recently added guest interviews, including a recent episode about 401(k)s, IRAs and HSAs with Guideline CEO Kevin Busque. Guests are not paid to participate in the podcasts.
While the podcast initially began as a tool to engage existing customers, Staykova said it has now evolved to become a customer acquisition tool. If interest in the podcast continues to grow, the company plans to add interviews with a wider range of startup practitioners who could offer perspectives on their companies’ growth trajectories, she added.
“The podcast has become a top-of-funnel channel that drives interest in Brex in general, and people find out about it from other founders,” she noted. “I’m a big believer in providing more value [beyond product offerings] – we want to be helpful to founders and make their lives easier.”
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