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Mastercard’s CMO on the existential threats facing marketers

Mastercard CMO Raja Rajamannar says marketers can't afford to stop learning about technology

The marketing and advertising industry is now facing a barrage of unprecedented threats, according to Mastercard chief marketer and chief communications officer Raja Rajamannar. From the splintering of corporate responsibility to the proliferation of bleeding-edge technologies to an utter lack of consumer loyalty, Rajamannar spells out the three trends disrupting marketing as we know it.

1. The dissolution of the marketer’s role is well under way

Marketing is in a deep existential crisis right now. If you look at the traditional definition of marketing, it had ‘the four Ps’: product, price, place and promotion. Today, product resides outside of marketing – marketers don’t handle products anymore in most companies, barring a few packaged goods companies. They don’t handle the pricing – it’s done by sales, product teams or finance. ‘Place’ is distribution, and marketing does not handle that. So marketing is barely hanging on to one of the four pillars of marketing. And that’s not cool. Marketing today is actually a very minimalized function compared to what it was meant to be.

[At the same time,] many chief marketer roles are being eliminated. New titles are being created, such as chief growth officer, chief revenue officer or chief customer officer. If you take away growth, revenue and customers, what is left in marketing?

Finally, when chief execs of major companies were interviewed, 70% of them said that they have zero to low confidence in their chief marketers and in their marketing teams to be able to drive business growth. Why? The fundamental reason is because when marketers are asked questions like, ‘We have spent so many million dollars on these campaigns – what exactly did the company get by way of return on its investment in marketing?’ Most of the time, the answers are fluffy or these folks look like deer caught in headlights. That destroys the confidence that the chief exec or chief financial officer may have in the marketing team. Marketers have to become quantitatively savvy to be able to connect the dots between the actions that they take and the business outcomes.

Collectively, these point to the fact that marketers have lost their seat at the table – and they need to win it back. Are we as marketers seizing [opportunities] off of this? Or are we a little unaware of what is happening around us? We should be awake.

Today, we need to as marketers understand technology, data, public relations, financial models and business models. The expectation for a marketer is that they have to be thorough and be able to connect the dots between these various areas and think about the impact. This means that marketers have to be true general managers and business managers, as opposed to marketing specialists. You have to realize that you’re a business leader first.

2. The proliferation of new and emerging tech will turn marketing on its head

Today, we are at the verge of witnessing almost two dozen technologies that are coming and are going to be hugely disruptive. And when 24 technologies come together, it’s going to be an absolutely unprecedented level of disruption in marketing. I’m talking about technologies such as artificial intelligence, augmented reality, virtual reality, extended reality, mixed reality, holographic projections, the metaverse, blockchains, autonomous driving vehicles, 3D printing, 5G telecommunications, the internet of things, wearables, smart speakers... the list goes on.

The way we do marketing today will hopelessly fail in the imminent future. It’s already failing. For example, in marketing, we used to talk about purchase funnels, with awareness, interest, desire, action, satisfaction – that was called the AIDAS model. But today, the purchase funnel has completely collapsed. So, we have to really think, ‘What is the new way that people are purchasing? What goes through their minds in different stages and how do we address them?’ We need to reinvent marketing completely. [Our current models] will not be applicable for the future, whether it is how we get insights, how we create products, how we reach consumers, how we look at programs such as loyalty, or how we communicate.

3. Humans are hardwired to be disloyal

Consider customer loyalty. I saw an article on the BBC where 70% of people admitted to cheating on their partners. That really got me thinking, and I started doing a lot of research on the subject and I saw that this was universal. [People] are aware that there are consequences of not being loyal – it could be reputational, financial or emotional damage – but in spite of knowing the consequences, people are still not loyal in their personal lives. So why would they be loyal to brands? We as marketers are completely kidding ourselves to think that consumers will be loyal to us because we’re running some stupid program. It’s not going to work – people are not fundamentally wired for loyalty, at least not to brands. All I’m saying is understand the true consumer. What you need is [not brand loyalty but] brand affection. What you need is brand stickiness. What you need is brand preference. You need to rethink loyalty platforms and reinvent them for the future.

The point is marketing will need to be reimagined. First and foremost, as basic as it might seem, marketers have to get a good grasp of these emerging technologies. There is a superficial awareness of the buzzwords, but there is not a grasp of the concept. You don’t have to become a subject matter expert in each one of these [technologies], but you should at least be knowledgeable enough to be able to leverage them appropriately. Ask the right questions. And when answers are given, make out whether those answers are substantial or fluffy. You cannot delegate this learning or knowledge to somebody else. If marketers don’t learn at this stage, they’ll become obsolete in no time.

The classical marketers are right-brained in their thinking and approach – which is all creativity, judgment and actuation. Meanwhile, contemporary marketers are A/B testing, quantitatively measuring ROI, targeting in a very precise, data-driven fashion – this is left-brain thinking. Marketing is getting more left-brained. The successful marketer will integrate the power of both the right side of the brain and the left side of the brain. That’s critical.

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