Brand Makers

If you don't keep yourself up to date, you will get obsolete quickly: Mastercard’s Raja Rajamannar

Storyboard18 catches up with Mastercard’s global CMO Raja Rajamannar.

By  Delshad IraniJul 15, 2022 3:20 PM
If you don't keep yourself up to date, you will get obsolete quickly: Mastercard’s Raja Rajamannar
Raja Rajamannar, global chief marketing and communications officer, and president - healthcare business at Mastercard.

The world is going to be disrupted at an unprecedented level by a slew of new technologies and Mastercard’s Raja Rajamannar has actually counted them. “There are 24 technologies (from 3D printing to Blockchain), which are coming at us like a tsunami. Each one of these technologies is independently capable of disrupting marketing.” Rajamannar, who is the global chief marketing and communications officer, and president - healthcare business at Mastercard, tells us how he, as a decision maker, is advancing the adoption of new technologies and building Leonardo da Vinci marketing teams to future-proof the brand and business. Read on:

Let’s talk about The Great Disruption, as you call it, this confluence of technologies that’s completely disrupting marketing. How are you, as a decision maker and global marketer, advancing the adoption of new technologies and tech-driven strategies in the brand marketing ecosystem? 

As marketers we have to come out of our shells and say that we have to take charge. We need to understand what these technologies are and what they can do and how we can leverage them. It all begins with education.

We need to understand what AI is. What is metaverse? What are blockchains? What are NFTs? At least to the extent of asking the right questions and when an answer is given, to make out whether it is a genuine answer or fluff.

It's very critical that marketers educate themselves. That's where the journey begins. And if you're in a leadership role as a CMO, for example, you have to make sure that there are training programmes that are put in place for your team and hiring new talent who are really good at this. So that's number two.

Number three, unlike previous technologies, the amount of investment required to dip your toes in the water for these new technologies is very small. Therefore, you should actually try to figure out, understand and subsequently, if it works, scale it or see if there is a good opportunity for scaling and leveraging. But you cannot just miss out on this and watch the world go by fast.

Also, a very important thing is you need to become close buddies with your operations and technology folks because that partnership is really going to drive the development of the tech stack or the leveraging of the tech appropriately and bring the power of marketing technology together in this brave new world of the fifth paradigm.

So how do these progressive technology-driven strategies help you fast track business and brand growth? 

One of the things that technology does is it gives you a new kind of an enablement. AI actually helps you analyze mountains of disjointed data and come to insights in an unbelievable fashion. It just happens almost in real time and that can change marketing to the most appropriate fashion, based on the context in which the consumer is. So your effectiveness will go up. Your return on your marketing investment will go up.

The second one is in terms of bringing the costs down. In Asia Pacific, for example, at Mastercard, we created a digital marketing engine and what would have earlier taken an army of marketers and about six to eight weeks to develop, now takes one individual and a few minutes to come out with a campaign that is extremely compelling. It does dynamic testing and optimization in real time. We are seeing the effectiveness and efficiency score is like eight times compared to what it is for a normal digital marketing campaign.

So what happens is that your costs are very low, your speed to market is extraordinary and your efficiencies and effectiveness as a result of which are much more powerful. This is incredibly powerful and it's changing the face of marketing completely.

The same thing with metaverse. We have been sponsoring the Grammy Awards for the last 15-16 years and what we do is we have a number of special and unique experiences for customers like walking on the red carpet, getting the best seats at the concert and then having a meet and greet with the artists and so on.

Now we are leveraging technology to take it into the metaverse. So we partnered with Roblox and we created these virtual Grammy experiences. We found that the experience of the consumers was not exactly the same as in the physical world, but it was not far behind. And at a fraction of incremental dollars, we could reach 26 times more people globally. What this does is it disrupts your model of how you start looking at reaching consumers at scale, engaging them with them effectively and actually proving to yourself and your company the return on investment in a very tangible, credible fashion.

You recently launched a Music Album at the Cannes Lions. Not too long ago you launched the accessible card - Touch Card, for blind and partially sighted people, and before that there was the True Name card initiative, to support transgender and non-binary communities. How have these initiatives worked out and how do you measure their success?

What we do here, pretty maniacally, is to measure the business outcomes for every single one of our marketing actions. The True Name card we tested to death, before we actually went with it to the marketplace. We launched two years ago and today we have launched it in more than 34 countries across Europe and North America. It's one of our most profitable products, even as it is solving one of the most significant issues that this particular community faces on a day to day basis.

Now when you look at something like the Touch Card, what this does is an amazing thing. Number one, it is creating the brand as a brand that understands consumers, cares about people, and is hugely intrusive. So the brand affection scores are shooting up. As a business we have banks lining up around the world to launch this product. So that’s straightforward business growth for us. And third, it is a competitive advantage.

So many people have actually come back to me personally showing their appreciation for this product. It has got a positive ripple effect. It cascades eventually to business and brand results but most importantly, you're creating the right social impact. That to me and my whole team is hugely gratifying because it's not always about chasing the corporate objectives, but really also about leveraging the power you have, the financial resources, the network resources, the creative and communication assets. Use all those things to make a difference. You do something good in society, profits will follow.

Dialing back to the point about technologies like blockchain, metaverse, NFTs, etc. Tell me, as a leading marketer and CMO, what are the skills and key traits that you look for in young marketing talent today? 

As we look forward to all these new technologies, you need to deal with them, you need to leverage them, which means you first need to understand what they are. So the kind of talent that we should be looking for is those people who either already know these subjects and technologies or they have the aptitude and attitude to learn.

These technologies are evolving and transforming very rapidly. So the significant qualities of new talent that we bring in is learning curiosity and learning agility, and need to stay ahead of the game.

Typically, most of the people are either right-brained or left-brained. So the left-brain ones are the ones who are more into technology, data, analytics systems, and experimentation. The right brain is about intuition, creativity, aesthetics, design, psychology and so on. Very rarely we will find people who are extremely good on both these hemispheres of the brain. They are the Leonardo da Vinci kind of people. If you find those people, pay them top dollar, get them into the company. It's an investment.

Now most of the majority of the team would not be of this calibre. Which means you have people who are the traditional classical marketers who are fantastic, but give them enough training to be able to understand and speak the same language and ask the right questions. On the other hand, you have other folks who understand the technology and the data extremely deeply. But they don't see the rest of it. They need to be sensitised to aspects of psychology, emotions, design. So you actually can find people who have the sensibilities of the other sphere but the deep expertise of the primary area that they actually focus on. You need to identify this kind of talent.

And then we have got those rare Leonardo da Vinci's - over-promote them, over-reward them, keep them in the company at whatever cost.

You are one of the most influential CMOs in the world and you were recently inducted in the Forbes CMO Hall of Fame. What does it take as a CMO to make an impact today? 

First and foremost, the CMO has to be an evangelist for marketing within the company because typically there is a lot of scepticism about marketing. So the CMO has to evangelize and rally the C-suite, starting from the CEO, and earn credibility on behalf of and for the marketing function.

At the same time, the CMO has to really inspire the team to not only be extraordinarily creative, innovative, and be very insightful of the consumers’ needs, but they should also be sensitive to the business dynamics.

Marketing has to serve three big purposes. It should protect and build the brand. It should drive the business. It should drive competitive advantage for the company. If you don't do all these three, you're doing marketing for marketing’s sake.

It's a privilege to be a marketer. You really have tons of resources, skills and opportunities to serve the community and the society. So put your marketing network and resources to use for the good of the community.

And lastly, what I would say is, you set an example from the top of the house in this environment. When things are changing so much you have to invest in your team, on their learning and development programmes.

We created a Quantum Marketing Institute within the company and we have partnerships with various top universities so we can create these learning opportunities. I'm passionate about books so I said ‘hey guys, let's actually have a book club.’ So I read with them and try to understand all these new concepts and technologies, and their applications in the context of our company. I myself actually spend hours every week and weekend to really learn. So when people are talking to me I say, ‘Look, if I can do it at my stage in life and in career, you should also be able to do it.’ It's good for you, for your own advancement and for your own relevance in the future.

If you don't keep yourself up to date, you will get obsolete pretty quickly and you cannot let that happen. So set an example and inspire your team.

First Published on Jul 15, 2022 3:20 PM