Brand Strategy Mastercard Marketing

Mastercard CMO Raja Rajamannar on what – and who – has influenced his career

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By Jennifer Faull, Deputy Editor

June 2, 2023 | 6 min read

The financial service company’s chief marketing and communications officer has been named Advertising Person of the Year by the Ad Club of New York.

Raja

Raja Rajamannar, Mastercard CMO and Ad Club of New York winner

Raja Rajamannar has worked in advertising for over three decades. The last 10 years have been spent at Mastercard, where he has not been afraid to experiment and push the brand into new frontiers. He most recently spearheaded a unique web3 music-focused program as part of his strategy to engage consumers with their passions via multi-sensory marketing.

In this interview, we catch up with him on his career, influences and the challenges facing young marketers today.

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Tell me about your first marketing job? What was the biggest lesson you took from it?

Fresh out of business school, I started my career at Asian Paints. I had a fascinating remit. The company didn’t have a marketing department when I joined, so part of my role was to build out the department. As somebody who loves to learn, it was a phenomenal experience for me. I studied marketing, I meticulously examined how other companies approach marketing and I brought those learnings in and uniquely tailored them for Asian Paints. That experience taught me an important lesson that has stuck with me ever since – every company has its own definition of marketing. There is no one-size-fits-all template. Marketing manifests differently for each organization based on its unique needs and a leader’s role is to be able to deploy a distinct plan that works best for the organization.

Who is the person during your career who has had the biggest influence on you?

Mastercard’s former CEO Ajay Banga. All in all, across companies, he was my boss for nearly 25 years. If you don’t know Ajay personally, then I can tell you that he is both an extraordinary professional as well as a wonderful human being. Truly inspiring. Through his words and his actions, he has underscored that companies in general and marketing in particular can and should be both a force for growth and a force for good.

What’s the hardest lesson you’ve learned in your career?

Sometimes the best ideas collapse. Not because the competition is intense or the market conditions are not appropriate, but because of internal politics. This is why getting your colleagues across the company involved and aligned is essential. In fact, I’ve found that co-creating concepts is the way to go, so people are bought in from day one. The goal is for everyone to move in lockstep together.

If you weren’t a marketer, what field would you want to work in?

Veterinary sciences. I love animals and veterinarians take wonderful care of animals’ wellbeing.

What’s the biggest challenge facing young marketers today?

When I started my career, marketing was largely considered a creative field. We trusted our gut instincts and focused on driving emotion. Today, marketing is quantitative and technologically driven, as well as creative. It is a field that requires right- and left-brain thinking. Marketers, specifically young marketers, need to learn how to apply practical and creative sciences to their work – contributing equally from both sides of the brain.

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What’s your advice to those just starting their careers?

Learn like crazy, seek mentors, network very early into your career and get as many experiences as possible in and outside of marketing. We are in a wonderful field. But it’s a field that changes rapidly and is sometimes hard to keep up with. Having a strong network of people in different roles and from different companies allows you to get the advice and insights needed to gracefully navigate challenges and opportunities as they appear. This, ultimately, is what will shape your career.

Brand Strategy Mastercard Marketing

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