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Mastercard's Raja Rajamannar on what being a 'global' marketer really means

Raja Rajamannar

The Drum speaks exclusively with the World Federation of Advertisers' new president Raja Rajamannar in the latest issue of the magazine. The Mastercard marketer discusses how brands can balance the local with the international, attune themselves with different cultures and nurture marketing talent.

When Mastercard dropped its name from its intersecting circles logo earlier this year in an act of “digital simplicity”, the business not only proved its confidence in the ubiquity of its brand, it also gave others a lesson in taking a truly global approach.

Fast forward (almost) three months and chief marketing officer Raja Rajamannar says the move has been received “very positively”. Testing in developing markets, and in-field experiments at the likes of the British Open, showed that some 80% of consumers recognize Mastercard by marque alone. “We feel very privileged to have that kind of property,” says Rajamannar. “It has been working brilliantly for us.”

Behind the scenes, though, Rajamannar’s global team has been working on a whole lot more than stylistic changes. His marketing department is in the midst of a three-pronged transformation strategy focused on brand building, business results and creating platforms that give Mastercard a “sustainable competitive advantage”.

Rajamannar says this renewed marketing blueprint has been “chugging along quite nicely”, but implementing it has required not only a change in mindset but also the need to “socialize” it across the business – to make sure marketing has “the right gravitas and the right seat at the table”.

The job’s not finished yet, he explains. In line with progress in his own department, however, Mastercard’s revenue for 2018 was $14.9bn, up 19.63% year-on-year and indicating that internal improvements are yielding fruit.

A workforce worldwide

For Rajamannar, a big piece of the puzzle that still needs to be solved is talent. As Mastercard’s global footprint grows, so does the need for its marketers to understand different internal facets, as well as how to work nimbly and efficiently across markets.

Marketing as a whole is undergoing “a bit of an existential crisis”, according to the adland luminary. In a world where marketing bosses have bigger budgets than chief technology officers, where data is a business’s lifeblood and where the sensibilities and customs of local markets must be respected and followed, it has never been more challenging to build a brand.

When Rajamannar graduated in 1985 with an MBA from the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore, “the best” talent automatically gravitated toward marketing. However, it has now lost its “gravitas and glamour” – so much so that some of the “top notch” companies are doing away with the chief marketing officer role entirely. Coca-Cola and Mondelez are among those sunsetting traditional chief marketer positions with local and regional marketing leads.

“What does that tell you?” he asks. “As marketers, we can’t connect the dots between marketing activities and business results. We simply need to fix that.”

For Rajamannar, the key to solving talent issues lies in hiring and nurturing “superhuman beings” who can spin a lot of plates. It means working with institutes such as the University of Oxford, Yale University and Singapore Management University to make sure their syllabuses are fit for a new generation of talent, and not “antiquated”. For guidance, Rajamannar lets professors from these colleges ‘shadow’ him to get a grasp of the “life of a chief marketing officer today”.

“We want marketers to have business orientation, not just a creative, fluffy, advertising-only way of thinking.”

Internally, Mastercard is offering job rotations that give marketers the chance to experience other areas of the business, such as finance and technology. Similarly, employees from other departments have been welcomed temporarily into the Mastercard marketing team on secondment to learn the ropes.

“It means everyone gets a good, 360° exposure. By the time these people go back into their roles, you have staff who are more like general managers as opposed to marketing specialists, which is very important.”

On top of this, Mastercard is partnering with industry bodies such as the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) in the US and the WFA globally to “better the craft”, as well as opening its offices across the world to interns, letting them get stuck into “meaty” and significant projects.

Being global and local

Having himself worked in India, the US and the UAE, Rajamannar also sees the value in going beyond letting staff get a taste of different departments, by having members of his team take part in geographical rotations across the 200 or so territories in which Mastercard operates.

Explaining why he thinks this is “critical”, the marketer says: “It’s a very diverse planet. Marketers have to deal with a lot of people of different cultures and sensibilities, and what is loved in one country may not be loved in another.

“People who have experience across multiple companies and industries have really seen marketing manifesting itself, as well as the dynamics, in many different ways than those who just stay in one place. People should look at it as a learning experience and move to different places – it’s fascinating to see such talent come through the doors.”

This type of thinking most recently manifested itself in Mastercard’s sonic logo, a unique melody that now plays when customers interact with the brand in-store (point of sale or payment acceptance sounds) or online. To ensure it would resonate with global audiences, Mastercard asked musicians, artists and agencies from across the globe to record different versions of it, including Mike Shinoda from Linkin Park. As well as local iterations, the sound has been adapted for different situations, with varying instruments and tempos delivering it in operatic, cinematic and playful styles.

It’s not just creative and digital that require global mindsets though – Rajamannar says there are challenges for him in managing employees based around the world from his New York office.

“The work ethic of people across countries can be different culturally too,” he says. “There are still questions around how to manage people and communicate with them around the world in ways that are effective. It’s never the same, although the commonalities and principles are – even if you’re on the road a lot and commuting, the fact that Australia is 14 hours ahead of New York isn’t an excuse to not make a connection.

“It’s fun and exciting though.”

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