47 minutes | Oct 12th 2020

MASTERCARD CMO, Raja Rajamannar on Serving vs. Selling [Episode 24]

Raja Rajamannar is the Chief Marketing and Communications Officer of Mastercard and the President of its Healthcare division. In the past, Raja has held management positions at multiple Fortune 500 companies, including Unilever, Citigroup, Anthem, and, most recently, Mastercard, where he’s been for the past 7 years. 


Raja has been named as one of the Top 5 World's Most Influential CMOs by Forbes, is a member of the Campaign Power 100, one of Business Insider’s 25 Most Innovative CMOs in the World, a Top Branding Power Player by Billboard, a member of The CMO Club, and of course one of PRovoke Media’s Influence 100. 


Recently, Raja has been an incredible thought leader on the obligation that brands have to do the right thing during Covid - he’s specifically been quoted most notably for saying, “now is not the time to sell, but to serve.” In this conversation, Raja delves further into this concept and also discusses the evolution of Mastercard’s Priceless campaign, the magic of comms-led creative, and the fascinating world of sonic branding.


Below are key takeaways from this conversation with Mastercard CMO Raja Rajamannar and Lippe Taylor CEO, Paul Dyer. 

Hire a Chief Risk Officer for your marketing cabinet. 

Of the many brands that faced downturns during covid, Mastercard was one of the few who was able to thrive, and Raja attributes this to the work of his Chief Risk Manager. This position was created only a few years ago, and while originally created to monitor risks in security, brand reputation, and finance, its framework enabled Mastercard to immediately jump into action in the face of the crisis because they had a team ready to craft solutions. When crises arise, most companies assume an ‘all hands on deck’ position and loop in key management to arrive at solutions. As effective as it may sometimes be, this approach collectively disrupts business as usual by pooling the collective brainpower AWAY from the day to day work and responsibilities of some of your most crucial people, which can destabilize a company. Establishing and nourishing a risk- management position and team function is critical for creating a culture of safety and stability. 

Use Comms as a Force Multiplier. 

Raja is very enthusiastic when discussing the structure of his marketing team, specifically how thoroughly integrated communications is throughout the entire marketing function. This level of integration has been such a breakthrough that Raja refers to it as a force multiplier, whereby the comms function and marketing function greatly increase each other’s efficacy by quantum leaps when they’re working in tandem as opposed to separately. This integration has allowed for a free-flowing supply of well-rounded ideas that have serious media legs.


When Mastercard's comms team discovered that many transgender people faced painful suspicion among checkout tellers when using cards that had their outdated names on them, they not only solved this problem but executed a highly successful campaign that documented the struggle with a happy ending. The campaign was fully integrated between comms & advertising, which enabled it to be both creatively compelling and culturally relevant.

Use creative risks to learn more about your customers. 

With the Fan Wave concept, Raja & his team wanted to find a way to create an engaging virtual event that sports fans could participate in, so they came up with the idea of the largest ‘fan wave’ in history, whereby consumers all over the world would record themselves performing a wave (when groups of sports fans rhythmically recreate an oceanic wave by standing up and sitting down in synchronicity). The problem was, the marketing leaders didn’t know if their adult customers would participate. They ran it anyway, and in the end, the program was a smashing success; over half a million people participated with over 1 billion video views, and a world record was set.


As crucial as it is to turn to data and analytics to inform creative concepts, sometimes you simply have to test ideas on the market directly to see what works - ultimately, this allows you to uncover new insights about your customers that the data may not have shown you. In the case of Mastercard, they discovered that the majority of their customer base were kids at heart. 

Raise your DQ (Decency Quotient).

Raja believes that IQ & EQ are important for success, but an ingredient that is often missing in many corporate cultures is DQ, your Decency Quotient. Raja elaborates on how there are many paths to success, but the most meaningful and sustainable paths are paved with ethically sound decisions and conduct. Raja further stipulates that being a good human being should be a precursor to being a good marketer, as values of empathy and humanity are critical for effectively reaching & benefitting your target consumers. 


With this concept in mind, Raja has been very outspoken about how this time period is not the time for brands to sell, but to serve. During uncertain times when consumers are nervous, it is easy to exploit their fear for short term gain, but this approach ruins loyalty. Serving customers during difficult times in favor of short-term gains not only strengthens brand loyalty and profitability in the long term, but it’s the right thing for brands to do. 


Produced by Simpler Media

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