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‘Marketers must embrace voice to survive’ says Mastercard’s Raja Rajamannar

‘Marketers must embrace voice to survive’ says MasterCard’s Raja Rajamannar

Our devices used to just speak to us. Now, we talk back to them and it is changing the way brands are getting in front of people.

Whether asking Siri or Cortana for the weather, dictating texts to our iPhones, or buying diapers with Alexa, voice has increasingly become a part of the way we live. That’s why the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) recently launched the Voice Coalition, an expert group intended to help marketers understand the impact voice will have on the way consumers select brands.

Raja Rajamannar, chief marketing officer of Mastercard and WFA President, made a prediction at a recent panel run in partnership by The Drum and the WFA during Cannes Lions.

“From my perspective, different companies are in different states of self-evolution. The more progressive ones are clearly seeing voice coming as a huge wave. It’s amazing how fast it’s actually going, so it becomes imperative. It’s not about ‘I may do it; I may not do it.’ You have to do it if you want to survive,” he said.

“Secondly, because it is such uncharted territory right now, as a CMO or a marketer, you have to know what your game plan is going to be,” he continued.

“We optimized our brand visually quite a lot for digital and physical environments. But when looking at the change as far as voice is concerned, we created a sonic identity. We didn’t start doing this now. We started this two years back because it takes time to really perfect things and optimizes in any given situation.”

Last February, Mastercard debuted its sonic brand identity, a comprehensive sound architecture that provides a distinct, memorable melody wherever customers engage with the company. On top of the music playing in the background of Mastercard ads, events and sponsorships, there is also a ringtone for employees and a sonic signature that closes out every ad.

Rajamannar gave an interesting insight into the thought process behind launching the sonic identity. “You are doing the entire transaction without looking at any screen,” he said, referring to voice. “Whether it’s the weather, or it is reccomending the purchase or making the purchase, there is no visual real estate. So how does a brand show up in that space? When voice is the only medium, sound is the way you have to be present as a brand.”

While Mastercard is investing its money in voice, and 55% of WFA members say voice will be big and on par with influencer marketing, research conducted by the WFA with The Economist Group suggested that voice is still a relatively low priority among many marketers.

If Rajamannar is right, the industry could be making a severe mistake by not jumping on board sooner. And according to a study conducted by the BVA for the WFA, it looks like he may be right.

Some 18% of Alexa-users in the UK and US use voice to add items to their shopping cart/basket while 67% plan to use voice commerce to do the same in the future.

“It is going to be significantly changing the way people engage with brands, beyond anything we’ve seen so far,” said Stephan Loerke, chief executive of the WFA, expressing his agreement with Rajamannar’s assessment. “There’s also the question of the role of the voice assistant in that relationship, and that’s something they certainly need to get their heads around and understand how to thrive in that environment.”

Rajamannar didn't detail the next steps on Mastercard's journey, but he did said it "will not only react to what is happening but hopefully shape things as they evolve.

“The first scenario when you want to formulate your strategy is to know what the reality is. The study that was just written up under the auspices of WFA is a beginning step along those lines," he said.

“We are trying to prepare for various solutions from a technology perspective. Voice skills is one aspect of it,” he added. “But we are also trying to see what role AI plays in this scenario. What role does neurology or neuroscience play? For example, there could be some kind of behavioral change that consumers will have with a voice in the environment compared to an audio-visual environment or a visual environment. So we are trying to study and understand those and what the implications could be for marketers.”

When asked how brands should approach their budgets, given the importance of investing in voice, Rajamannar added: “You should look at this not only as a new medium for advertising or for getting your brand out there, but also as a new channel through which you are going to inform yourself or make purchase decisions.”

He continued: “Investing is not necessarily in terms of dollars. It’s in terms of time to think about it and strategize. If you were to think about what happens in an office context, whether you are on the procurement side or the administrative side, there could be some fascinating opportunities. And I am not sure how many companies are ahead of the curve and preparing to take advantage of that.”

“In the B-to-C space specifically, CMOs and marketers first and foremost know how to educate themselves. There is a lot of material out there, but there is also a lot of misinformation. You need to inform yourself and educate your team in the process. Everyone and their brother who comes to you with a pitch says, ‘I’m AI-powered,’ and when you start scratching the surface, there isn’t any AI there. It is just a talking point for them. You need to be careful of those kinds of things, and you also need to start talking to vendors.”

One of the final questions asked of Rajamannar was regarding the future of voice.

“The biggest issue is unknown, unchartered waters,” he said. “There’s a lot of things you don’t know about sound, about voice, and about the environment. For example, when you’re creating a sonic identity for your brand, it’s not like creating a jingle. What is the complex architecture you need for your sonic identity? To get to that point was probably the biggest challenge for us…You want to show up and be present, but not be annoying to the consumer. You should not be intruding their experience.”

Find more details about the WFA’s report on how advertisers can utilize Voice technology at the website.

Listen to the full session below:

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