Rahul Sachitanand
Feb 22, 2021

Marketers risk losing their credibility and seat at the table: Mastercard CMO

Dozens of new technologies are disrupting the art of marketing in unprecedented ways, bringing about an inflection point where some will adapt, and some will not, Raja Rajamannar told attendees at Spikes Asia X Campaign.

Raja Rajamannar
Raja Rajamannar

As marketers face up to a new technology- and data-driven world, many of them may be unable to keep pace with changes fundamentally disrupting their businesses. As technology takes centre stage across marketing teams, CMOs who have built their careers on classical marketing concepts such as the 4Ps, customer loyalty and the purchase funnel, run the risk of being outmoded, Raja Rajamannar, Mastercard's chief marketing and communications officer, as well as its president for healthcare, told attendees at Spikes Asia x Campaign Monday afternoon. 

While classical marketers excelled at classical marketing, the subject is in the midst of a possibly irreversible change. Many CMOs were comfortable with understanding softer aspects of people's emotions and aesthetic sensibilities, but the rise of a phalanx of new technologies and connectivity has sent them careening out of their comfort zone. "When internet and data analytics came into the field of marketing...marketers started feeling a little out of place," he said. 

Armed with loads of data, CEOs are now asking their marketing heads business-centric questions rather than purely marketing-based ones. "The moment you give a marketing answer to your business question or to your finance question, it looks like either you don't know the numbers, or you don't know what exactly is the contribution that you're driving to the company's reserves," he said. "Or that you're not comfortable with that whole field of numbers, which is even more disastrous."

Rajamannar, who is also president of the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA), said that industry body is promoting a new way of thinking around marketing called 'quantum marketing. The term draws a parallel to physics, another field where classical laws proved unsuitable for understanding and operating in a new realm—that of subatomic particles. "Quantum marketing is the new frontier for marketers, because we’re entering a realm where the classical rules fail to apply," he said. Quantum marketing explains things classical marketing can’t when everything is being turned on its head. While the old rules of the game helped CMOs in the disconnected days, a raft of technology is completely changing the rules of the game, he contended. 

Watch Rajamannar's Spikes Asia X Campaign appearance:

Yet Rajamannar stressed that the changing environment is really an opportunity for those who can keep up. "The importance of marketing as a function is going to be exponentially higher tomorrow than it is today, because when things are democratised, when the playing field is level, that's where marketers are really required the most," he said. "This is a very exciting, inspiring moment. But if you don't get your head around it, you can get obsolete very quickly."

Drawing from his book on the topic, Quantum Marketing, and a wealth of experience through his career as the CMO of Mastercard, Rajamannar explained how some old concepts, such as customer loyalty, may be outdated in a techno-centric era where consumers access multiple devices across multiple services. One such field that is being taken apart is customer loyalty, he reckoned. 

"We need to re-do the concept of loyalty completely," he said, adding that the concept of winning the consumer once and keeping him or her in your pocket for good, is "absolutely a fantasy." Instead, Rajamannar argued CMOs need to focus on "preference management" or winning the consumer's preference every time they are faced with a purchase decision. 

As CMOs deal with waves of technology washing over their businesses, several other marketing norms are being upended. "You're talking about understanding this multisensory marketing, it's a completely new approach of how you market today," he added. "(Traditionally) marketers focus on the senses of sound and sight predominantly. But human beings absorb information from five senses. Why should we restrict only to two?" Instead, Mastercard has already rolled out marketing for a third sense, taste, and is getting some strong results in that space. 

Rajamannar thinks that this fundamental shift will also impact other parts of the marketing ecosystem. For example, in a world of connected devices how do you manage ad bidding in an internet-of-things environment? "How do you serve ads on my refrigerator? Or to my dishwasher? Or on my washing machine? How do I as a brand marketer market to you through your Nest thermostat? Each one of the connected devices is a marketing device.... You need to think about how can I reach the consumer in a non-intrusive, non-annoying, organic fashion to add value to the consumer, yet promote your brand in a suitable fashion."

Even as CMOs debate these topics, they need to continue to keep a wary eye on their own jobs. Several companies have dropped the CMO title completely (although some brands have also reintroduced it) and yet others have shrunk and reshaped the title.

Many companies are creating new roles like chief growth officer, chief customer officer or chief revenue officer, either to substitute or complement CMOs, Rajamannar said. "If you take away revenue, or growth, or customers, what are marketers supposed to be doing anyway?" he asked. "So when you have a chief growth officer or the chief revenue officer or the chief customer officer, you need to wonder what exactly is the role that the CMO is playing." In a time when these executives don't have responsibility for products, place or pricing (and a shrinking portfolio for promotion), CMOs will need to re-invent themselves quickly or risk getting left out in the cold. 

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