Mastercard's Raja Rajamannar: 'The role of the CMO is being eroded'

Raja Rajamannar, chief marketing and communications officer, Mastercard

Mastercard’s chief marketing officer and World Federation of Advertisers’ president Raja Rajamannar catches up with The Drum on the biggest issues facing the industry ahead of the reveal of the Marketer of the Year nominees.

Rajamannar took over the reins as president of the WFA earlier this year and has already set an agenda focused on upskilling talent and addressing the issue of brand safety on social platforms at an industry-wide level.

He has been at the helm of Mastercard’s marketing department since 2013 and made headlines this year for its sonic logo and revealing the brand's physical 'flavour'.

Answers have been edited lightly for clarity.

What have been the biggest trends of 2019?

New technologies have started taking more route in various aspects of marketing. Whether it's AI making headway, connected TV getting to critical mass, new platforms like TikTok coming in – which makes you rethink how you're going to communicate with the consumers that engage with it. We have seen technology marching on.

The second thing is voice commerce. Statistics show that more than 10% of all households in the US, for example, already have a smart speaker. And that is changing the purchase funnel. The WFA has done research which shows more than 70% of people have said they have at least made at least one purchase purely driven by voice. And that changes the dynamic.

This year, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola and Johnson & Johnson have all got rid of the CMO positions to spread duties across a number of roles or bring in a chief growth officer or chief customer officer. Why do you think this is happening?

We have seen a further erosion of the chief marketing role this year. The pressure on the CMO in particular and marketing departments, in general, continues to mount as companies justify the investment that is being made in marketing. There’s an expectation from the CEO and they are being held accountable, quarter in and quarter out. But most company CEOs don't see the clear evidence that the investment being made into marketing is producing results. As the CMO or marketing department you need to be able to show the reason and linkages.

Many CMOs have risen to that level through the creative side of the house, typically, with right brain skills. They don't have experience managing P&Ls of businesses across multiple functions. If they struggle to connect the dots, then there's the question of who can. And that's where you see people from a non-marketing background being appointed to those roles like chief customer offer and chief growth officer. The entire marketing department is not being eliminated, it's having a non-marketing person leading it that's the big issue as I see it.

There is an urgent need for the marketing community to really take a hard look at what they are doing and how they are doing it to connect the dots between the activity they are doing and the business outcomes in a credible and clear fashion.

So, what should be done to solve this urgent need?

One of the things is to prepare marketers to do better marketing. Equip them with tools and to be able to transcend their roles in companies. But this is not an overnight step.

We are working with professors at various colleges so that they are teaching students with the right syllabus. We're updating curriculums to remove a lot of obsolete stuff from MBA schools. We're asking professors to come in and shadow CMOs.

We are also bringing in proper training programmes for people. At Mastercard we have a series of modules to train, retrain and cross-train our people. We need to rotate people in and out of marketing; they need cross-functional exposure and to manage some P&L's along the way so that when they reach the CMO level they are able to speak the language of the finance and the CEO confidently and assertively.

Ensuring brand safety on social platforms remains an ongoing issue for marketers. Are you seeing improvements?

We are funding all these social media platforms and we need to hold them accountable for keeping our brands safe. If it was a problem that was easy to fix, it would have been fixed by now. It's an incredibly complex situation and the platforms have been playing the game. But what has been happening is each platform has been taking a limited solution for their own site. So the WFA has founded the Global Alliance for Responsible Media, in which we have all the major advertisers, holding companies and social platforms. It's a community to own and drive the agenda. We want to make sure we're all talking about the same standards, expectations and the same language so that we don't have an isolated platform level solution but something more pragmatic that is cross-media.

But the fact we've got all parts of the ecosystem together has been one big step. There's a taskforce against each charter item and progress is being made. It's very early days, we're optimistic and are approaching the problems with a sense of optimism to make sure we come to a solution.

Marketers continue to in-house certain elements of the marketing mix. What’s your assessment of the client-agency relationship?

The landscape is transforming rapidly. on the one hand we've got the consulting firms expanding into the value chain and new technologies like AI disrupting things quite a bit. But agencies are also reinventing themselves to stay relevant and on top of all these changes. In this background it's critical that agencies and clients are aligned as it pertains to what the purpose and objectives of the relationship are. It's critical. The agency has to be an extension of the marketing division, bringing value to the brand. That evolution is happening.

What are the biggest opportunities for marketers in 2020?

More and more of what marketers will be benefiting from are three areas.

1. Partnerships - anything you want to solve these days you can't do it yourself.

2. Emerging technologies - whether it's AI, AR or we're talking about smart speakers, connected cars, IoT; there are so many things coming on the back of 5G that will be huge enablers of consumer engagement if you know how and what do to with them. It can be game changing for those ahead of the curve.

3. Data - there's a significant opportunity. You have to keep privacy as sacrosanct, but there is still opportunity to analyse very disjointed sets of data thanks to AI. The kind of insights you can get give phenomenal opportunities.

The Drum has partnered with the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) on its Global Marketer of the Year project.

The award looks to highlight the role that regional and global marketers play in setting the course of the industry and spotlight individuals transforming marketing landscape. You can read more about it here.

Nominations will be announced in the coming days.

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