Visa’s Olympic-Scale Payments Adventure

The Olympics are undeniably about sports. Sure, there’s the part about international community and the peaceful interaction of nations – but there is a reason people from around the world tune in, en masse, to the Olympics and not to the U.N. when it is in session. Both are important to a more peaceful world, but Usain Bolt will never win a triple-triple at the U.N.

Given the dialed-in focus on athleticism, brands like Nike and Adidas are the expected Olympic brands – since their business is sport.

But when your business is payments – like Visa’s – the Olympics may not be as immediate a mental jump.

Visa has been an Olympic partner for 30 years because apart from being a sporting event, the Olympics is a giant adventure in payments and commerce with multiple languages, currencies and payment form factors all descending on a single location for about two weeks and utterly changing everything about how business is conducted in the host City. In 2016 there was the added adventure that all of this is happening in Rio – an up-and-coming city in the developing world with infrastructure far less evolved than what was available in either London or Beijing.

It’s the type of job that more or less beckons the biggest payments network in the world – and one that Visa has been doing for so long that it’s almost part of the background.

“Our first goal is to really optimize payments infrastructure for the Olympics,” Visa SVP Shiv Singh told Karen Webster in a recent interview.” We know how to do it, and at this point it’s really table stakes for us.”

But beyond the “table stakes” of making business hum when people from all over the world descend on the host city, 2016 offered Visa a unique opportunity for a synchronous message with the games.

“We wanted to demonstrate our mantra of being accepted everywhere and wanting to build a world where everyone is accepted everywhere. It is why we jumped at the chance to support the refugee team.”

The Olympics tells a story, Singh told Webster – and it’s a story that speaks to a global audience that aligns neatly with Visa’s global message: A world that is better connected, where people have more access and choices.

“We wanted to actually demonstrate the actual advances that we, as Visa, enable,” Shingh said of the opportunity.
Act Locally
Singh said that Visa wanted to tell the story of the importance of acceptance – any form factor, any payment method. But Singh also said that simply telling the story wasn’t enough – Visa wanted to use the Olympic opportunity to educate the global community about what innovative new ideas are emerging, and how to use them.

“We wanted to demonstrate that we aren’t the card, we’re the payment network. Regardless of whether the consumer is using Samsung Pay or Apple Pay – it’s likely that Visa is driving it, ” Singh remarked.

Singh acknowledged that “educating” the consumer is tough, especially about something as complex as payments and innovation. The challenge is striking the balance between becoming too “rational” about explaining new things to a global community and “too emotional” which leaves the consumer feeling good, but not always remembering about what. “Visa 360 is about the right balance and capturing the consumer attention – but also that really brings them important education about new payment innovations.”

Think Globally
Visa 360, Singh said, is an online experience full of “snackable” stories that can only be unlocked if the consumer first takes an action that emulates a Visa-enabled payments experience. Rolled out to 80 countries and seven languages, these snackable stories not only familiarize the global consumer with all of the form factors and methods that Visa powers, but also creates some excitement and enthusiasm for adoption of those new innovations in those countries.

And these stories all synch back to Visa’s core message: global acceptance.

“These are stories of all kinds that are human stories about acceptance, and what it means and how it ties in with our values of being for everyone, everywhere. To unlock any given story, a consumer has to take a payment action – dip a virtual card, swipe, or wave at NFC. It’s a different action for each snackable story.”

For Visa, Singh remarked, the Olympics were a canvas – one upon which Visa could paint its story about acceptance, and its ability to power the payments innovations that will make the future in every country in the world an interesting place to live.

“Using the halo of the Olympics gives us an opportunity to do something that is really interesting for consumers. We can get everyone involved.”