Marketing is now going through such massive disruption, and it’s about to enter what they call the fifth paradigm. When classical marketing theories and concepts don’t work, we have to reinvent, reimagine, and change our marketing approach. Raja Rajamannar says this new way is what they call quantum marketing. Raja is the Chief Marketing and Communications Officer for Mastercard and President of the company’s healthcare business. He joins Dr. Diane Hamilton as they discuss reinventing the marketing approach away from the existing ways of practicing it. He also shares how his switch into marketing has led him to the forefront of this incredible movement.
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Quantum Marketing: Reinventing Our Approach To Marketing With Raja Rajamannar
I am here with Raja Rajamannar, who is the Chief Marketing and Communications Officer for Mastercard and President of the company’s healthcare business. He also serves as President of the World Federation of Advertisers. It’s nice to have you here, Raja.
It’s nice being here, Diane. Thank you very much for having me on your show.
You’re welcome. I’m interested in what you’re working on. Your work has been featured in Harvard and Yale and so much of what you’ve done is fascinating to me. First of all, I worked for AstraZeneca for twenty years. I have a marketing background. All of the things that I’ve read and watched about you are right up my alley. I’m super excited. I want to get a little background on you for people who might not be familiar with how you got to this level of success. Can you give us your backstory a little bit?
I’m originally from India. I’m a chemical engineer by training. I joined my MBA at the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore, where I was preparing to become an environmental management specialist, which is all about pollution control, climate, and all those good things. While I was there, before the second year, there was an internship, and I was interning at a color cosmetics company in India. I had been given a project on logistics. I was working on it in a small cubicle. I overheard a conversation in the cubicle next to me with my boss and he was talking to the agency people. They were grappling around how they should create a new campaign to remove the taboo that existed in India, particularly in some of the conservative circles about color cosmetics.Quantum marketing is to marketing as quantum physics is to physics. Click To Tweet
In those days, they felt that if a woman is wearing color cosmetics, she’s not doing something right. It was simple. Why are they struggling so much? I put a small headline saying, “Is it bad to look good?” It’s simple. I put a small picture and then I have written a few lines. I showed it to them. They were pretty impressed. It went on to become a campaign and that gave me a tremendous amount of motivation to switch from environmental management into marketing. I started taking the second year of MBA in all marketing courses and specialized in that and graduated. I started my career with a paint manufacturing company in a newly formed marketing department. I was there for three years.
From there, I moved to Unilever. I was in Unilever for about seven and a half years. I moved to Citibank, where I worked in Dubai, first in Dubai, then in London, and finally in New York with them. I moved to healthcare in 2009. I was there for four years before I came and joined Mastercard a few years back. Since then, I have been here. I oversee marketing and communications for Mastercard. I’m also the president of Mastercard’s healthcare business. We live in Cincinnati, Ohio, me and my wife and my second son, along with our two dogs. This is what we call our home.
It wasn’t too exciting going to Dubai, London and New York. You had to slow it down. My husband’s from Cleveland. Ohio does not quite divide London and New York, but I could imagine it’s a little more normal to slow down a little bit in that pace. That’s such an impressive resume. I am fascinated by a couple of things. I’m not even sure I know enough about Mastercard’s healthcare business. Tell me a little bit about that.
Mastercard, we are in the world of payments. We are a technology company that creates platforms for the banks and merchants to issue and accept credit cards, debit cards, prepaid cards, all forms of cards. We’re also heavily into services in cybersecurity and data analytics. I came to Mastercard from the healthcare industry. When I joined Mastercard, I saw there was a significant opportunity for Mastercard to play a role in healthcare, specifically starting with health care payments. When you look at products like FSA and HSA cards at the core, it’s moving of money between the insurance companies or the government to the various hospitals and doctors is something which we facilitate. All the payments which happen in the healthcare space is one part of it.
We also offer solutions to various hospitals. It’s what we call payment assurance solutions. A hospital, on average, loses about 40% of its consumer billings to bad debt. We try to help them model and give solutions to consumers like installment payments or whatever. They’re able to recover more money as opposed to losing 40%, 20% or 25%. We also help health insurance companies to be able to detect fraud, abuse and wastage. At the end of the day, they’re paying for these various treatments and procedures from the money that they collect from their patients towards premiums. We try to provide all these solutions and cybersecurity solutions as well to hospitals and health insurance companies. Nearly a third of all the major data breaches happen in the United States through the healthcare system.
My husband’s a physician and they tried to hack him. It’s a good thing he’s old because he kept everything in files. They couldn’t hold anything hostage on him. If he hadn’t, he would’ve been in trouble. It’s interesting to see that level. I teach technology students. I teach marketing. I teach a bunch of different things. A lot of what you deal with is what I’m fascinated about. Your book, Quantum Marketing, was fascinating to me. You hear quantum physics compared to physics. What do you mean by quantum marketing as compared to regular marketing?
There are two perspectives to quantum. When something significant, a dramatic change happens, like a big leap into the future, you call it a quantum leap. This is a humungous change that I’m talking about from the existing ways of practicing marketing on the one hand. The other aspect of quantum is if you look at the world of physics and quantum physics, classical physics explained well and still explains well the phenomena on how things work around us in the physical world, areas like gravity, electricity and magnetism. However, classical physics is unable to explain what goes on when you’re looking at outer space or when you’re looking inside of atoms and try to figure out what happens. You could not with classical physics.
When objects are moving fast and approaching the speed of light, classical physics breaks down. That’s when quantum physics came in, Max Planck was the person. It explains these phenomena by taking a completely and radically different approach to life. From that perspective, I said, “What physics has witnessed is true for marketing.” Marketing is going through such a humongous disruption. It’s about to enter what I call the fifth paradigm. Classical marketing theories and concepts will simply not work in this fifth paradigm. We have to reinvent, reimagine, change our approach to marketing, and that new way is what I call quantum marketing. Quantum physics is the physics of what quantum marketing is to marketing.
I listened to Neil deGrasse Tyson’s book, Death by Black Hole, many times. It’s one of those that I keep going back to. In one of the chapters, he talks about how you have to know when to get up close and when to step far back. It’s almost like looking at a painting. If you get close, you see the brushstrokes. If you get far back, you see the picture. There’s a lot of aspects to marketing that we haven’t even explored. Having taught it many times, we all know there’s the four P’s of marketing, product, price, place and promotion. Most of that is not even done by marketing anymore. That’s an interesting discussion of what’s happening to marketing, who’s doing the things they used to do and what’s being disrupted.
Marketing has already been disrupted quite a lot. If you looked at the first two paradigms of marketing, as I call it, the first one was all about product marketing, where the premise is that you produce a fantastic product, package it well, price it appropriately and make it available everywhere. People will come in and buy it because why would they not? After all, they’re logical, rational in their thinking, and they have no reason to refuse that product. That mentality or approach persisted for several centuries. Marketing, as a craft, was being practiced since antiquity.
Marketers discovered a field called psychology. Through psychology, sociology, anthropology and other behavioral sciences, they figured out that people do not decide rationally or logically, but they are emotional beings. Their decisions are driven by emotions and feelings. That was the birth of the second paradigm, which is emotional marketing, which got a huge boost with the advent of radio first and television next where marketers could tell beautiful stories about the products and services and bring them to life. They connect with the consumers emotionally and consumers will buy it.When technology comes in a big way, it levels the playing field for all the players. Click To Tweet
One of the classical examples is Mastercard, where when we launched our priceless campaign, we don’t talk about the product. The whole campaign is to the exclusion of products even. For example, when we show that the father and son have gone to a baseball match and the ad goes something like, “Price of baseball game tickets, $10. An autographed baseball, $40. The time spent with your eleven-year–old son, priceless. There are things that money cannot buy and those are the important things. For everything else, it is Mastercard.” You’re always minimalizing the Mastercard’s role. It’s saying that it’s there for all the other things but priceless is what matters in your life. If you look at it, there is nothing about the product, safety, security, credit limit, rewards, cashback, nothing. Still, it became an instant hit. That was the paradigm two, which is emotional marketing.
Until about the mid–90s, that worked quite well. The mid–90s is where some dramatic shift has happened, which is the onset of paradigm three when the internet has been born and marketers have something called data analytics. Suddenly, marketers were forced to start grappling with the left side of their brains because it’s more rational, logical, technological and mathematical, which are not areas that marketers are equipped with. That was the beginning of the erosion of marketing for the classical marketers. The agenda was being taken right under their noses by folks who understood technology and data extremely well. At the birth of digital marketing, many marketers got left behind.
The fourth paradigm came in 2007 with the advent of the iPhone, which was launched in 2007. The digital mobile devices were created and they are connected. They had social media platforms like Facebook, which scaled in 2007. The combination of social media and mobile has taken marketing even more into the sphere of technology in an unprecedented way. What happened during all this time is a new breed of people who had no marketing training are the ones who are setting the agenda and driving and saying how marketing should be and how the advertising ecosystem should work.
Because the competition has been changed with the advent of the internet, a lot of companies, particularly the large companies, have been under tremendous pressure. Even small companies could effectively compete against the large companies in this democratized world. The CEOs and CFOs of companies would ask the marketing guys, “We are giving you tens of millions of dollars or hundreds of millions of dollars. What exactly are you delivering for the business?”
Unfortunately, marketers, most of the time, were caught like deer in headlights and their answers would be marketing answers, “My brand awareness has gone up. My predisposition has gone up. My net promoter score has gone up.” These answers, while they are correct, appear more fluffy than non–marketers. That’s exactly what happened. Most surveys amongst many CEOs have shown that 70% of all the CEOs who have been surveyed have expressed little confidence in their CMOs or in their marketing departments, which is rather sad.
Many of the CMO roles have been eliminated. Companies like Johnson & Johnson, for example, have taken away the role of CMO. A new breed of C-Suite executives started creeping up the chief revenue officer, chief customer officer, or chief growth officer. If you take away growth, revenue, and customers, what else is marketing about? Marketing has lost a lot of its gravitas and seat at the table over the last several years. It started probably towards the late 1990s. From then, it has been downhill.
To your earlier point, which I completely agree with, the four Ps of marketing are not being handled by marketing anymore. A vast majority of companies have products being managed by a different department. You then have distribution. It was never handled by many marketing companies. Even in the old days, that has got consolidated, pricing is done by finance or by the product people. Marketers are barely hanging on to one aspect of the four P’s, which is the promotions, and that do more than thematic promotions because schematic promotions are done by the salespeople in the field. This is the existential crisis that marketing is in at this point.
When I was at AstraZeneca, I was a pharmaceutical rep. They brought me back to Wilmington to go to the marketing department to get their visuals and test them out in the field. It was fun to see how sales and marketing connected and worked together. Everything is disconnected. This is not surprising to me that some of this goes in different directions, which I don’t think is effective sometimes. I’m thinking of the marketing classes and things that I’ve written with Forbes, the content calendars, and the services that all these companies offer. The confusion that CMOs had because seven million companies are offering all this, you’ve got Oracle, you’ve got different things. You’ve got different ways to communicate and they don’t all connect together. Some of them aren’t getting advertising companies to do some of it. Some of them are giving it to different divisions. What’s the solution to that? Do you think that it’ll go all back into a CMO–based control? Do you think that there’s some other future for it?There's always something for you to learn from other people and adapt to your own environment. Click To Tweet
Partly, it is my prognosis that’s what is going to happen. Partly, it’s also my wishful thinking. As we are standing on the verge of the fifth paradigm of marketing, we are going to be bombarded by a significant number of new and incredibly powerful technologies that will disrupt marketing even more than ever before. If you look at the previous paradigms, the shift from Paradigm 1 to 2 was by two giant technologies, radio and television. Paradigm 2 to 3 was by internet and data analytics and 3 to 4 was mobile and social platforms. Instead of two technologies, we are going to be bombarded by as many as two dozen technologies, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, virtual reality, holographic projections, 5G communications, 3D printing, drone deliveries, internet of things, smart speakers, wearables, autonomous cars. It’s crazy if you see the number of technologies that are coming. They’re not happening at some time, 5, 10 years down the line. They have already begun to happen.
In my book, Quantum Marketing, I mentioned that we are on the cusp of the 4th and the 5th paradigms. The problem here is these technologies when they’re coming in, firstly, everything that works now in marketing or barely working now in marketing will simply not work tomorrow. You have to reimagine and reinvent. On the other side, the flip side of the coin is when technology comes in a big way, it levels the playing field for all the players. What happens is, if we say that small companies are fighting effectively against large companies, we haven’t even seen the beginning.
Because technology services do not require investment by anyone, there’ll be specialized technology companies that will invest and they will start renting their services to various companies. Even small companies can pay based on how much they utilize. It’s pay as you go as opposed to making a capital investment. They can fight hard in their areas of specialization and give a tough time to the large companies. When there is a second–level playing field, you need a differentiator for companies. That differentiator is going to be marketing. When technology and data are prolific, what sets you apart is your creativity, innovation and your out–of–the–box thinking of how you leverage these technologies to win for your company.
I would predict that this is probably the most exciting time to be in marketing. As daunting as the challenges are, it is things the most exciting moment. There’s no better moment because things that you could only dream of in the past generations, you could make them happen. You could connect with consumers in extraordinary ways in a highly relevant fashion and give them experiences to surprise and delight them every single time. It’s going to be amazing. When I start thinking about it, it’s like Alice in Wonderland. What you could do is going to be fascinating. I would say that CEOs and companies need marketers more tomorrow than now.
I love the optimism of that. One of the things that I thought was fascinating in marketing is sonic marketing. You have done amazing things at Mastercard in this respect. I don’t think it’s covered at all in any of the courses they teach in marketing because it’s pretty new. A lot of courses are several years old and a lot of them are starting. You’ve been with sonic marketing for Mastercard. Can you talk about sonic marketing? I was listening to it and I heard your sound. It’s interesting because everything is now on echoes and the different devices that what you call smart speakers or whatever you want to call those. Now we have to have sound recognition. We can’t just look at Nike’s swoosh. Nike has got to have a sound. What’s that all about? I’d love to hear about that.
Devices like smart speakers have penetrated more than 40% of the households here in the United States as well as in countries like the UK, Germany, Japan, etc. The thing is, these smart speakers are not some novelties that people are laying down the tables or wherever they’re for. They are interacting with the smart speakers at least once a day. Seventy percent of all the smart speaker owners say that they interact with their smart speakers at least once a day. It could be as simple as, “Alexa, set my alarm at 6:00 AM.” That’s an interaction. It’s giving instructions to the smart speaker on the one hand.
Seventy percent of the people have mentioned that they have done at least one purchase using the smart speaker. What does this mean? If I’m going to my smart speaker and say, “Alexa, what diapers are available? What are the deals on diapers?” Alexa tells me, “There’s Pampers. Do you want to buy it?” I say, “Yup.” It will immediately be debited to my credit card, which is there with an Amazon account and the purchase happens. What happened here is my experience has become absolutely seamless and easy on the one hand. From a marketer‘s point of view, it’s a nightmare.
It’s like Google search. You want to be at the top.
Alexa is the new decision–maker or new influencer in the purchase funnel. I said decision–maker because the first recommendation by Alexa is accepted by more than 80% of the people who are looking to make a purchase. Alexa will now be a powerful influence on the decision–making process for any purchase, number one. Number two, what happens is in the case of traditional search, you process information visually. The way the mind processes information is through vision. You can see multiple items at the same time. It’s like, “Number one, number two, number three, let me do a little bit more research.” I put them next to each other and compare, go forward, backward, and then finish it off.
In the case of audio–based querying and interaction, we are able to process only one thing and one message at a time. It’s all sequential and unidirectional. What happens is there is a natural tendency for us not to go back and play that again, “Let me go back see that second item versus the fourth item.” It doesn’t happen. The process of purchasing goes off on a different tangent altogether on the one hand. The first company that figures their first plan in the recommendations is the one most of the people will go with.
If I am a brand, let’s say I’m Brand B, whereas Brand A is being recommended, the question is, how am I going to get into that space? Number one. Number two, though I have a beautiful logo, for example, which I can showcase in a visual environment, how do I showcase that logo in an audio environment? Audio is not going to be the medium of interaction. It’s only for smart speakers. It’s going to happen with the internet of things. It’s going to happen with wearables. There’s a whole slew of devices that are all going to come at us and each one of them will not have any visual to illustrate. It’s all going to be audio. It is imperative for brands to have a sound–based identity. If they have a logo for their visual world, they need to have a sound or a sonic brand for the sound world.
We embarked on this, started this effort and we launched it a few years back. We went ahead and did a ton of research in the space because a lot of companies have some form of sound representation like jingles. Intel had a mnemonic at the end of their ads, etc. None of them was comprehensive and had the same level of technical rigor and scientific research like we do in the visual logo designs for example. We had to write our playbook. I worked personally with a number of musicians, musicologists, neuroscientists, all kinds of folks around the world. It took us two years, nearly, to come up with a sound.
There’s the 30–second melody. The 30-second melody pervades all through our advertisements, music on hold if somebody calls Mastercard office or a downloadable ringtone. It’s played at our events. The beauty of this melody that we have and the way we had to go about it was it had to be, firstly, pleasant. Otherwise, people will be annoyed. It has to be memorable because unless there is memorability of the tune, you cannot make the connection between the brand and the tune. It had to be neutral yet interesting. Neutral and interesting, meaning it should not dominate any situation, but it should support any situation.
It had to be hummable. That, which you can hum, will get lodged in your brain much more powerfully. It had to be versatile. Whether you’re in the United States, India, China, Brazil or wherever, it has to feel native to those cultures. It also had to be highly adaptable. Whether you are in a football match, which is energetic and noisy, it should be relevant and appropriate there. If you are playing it for an advertisement where you’re showing a couple in a romantic evening setting where things are much softer, it has to be adapting itself to be there appropriately too. We have to find something which was universal in every which way and that was the toughest.
It’s not easy. I listened to your jingle and I was thinking, “This could be an earworm, the thing that keeps me up at night.” You’ll never forget it. You guys did a great job. I’m wondering if it’s like Pavlov’s dog. If you hear that ring, “Do I need to go buy Jimmy Choo shoes?” You think, “I got to buy something when I hear it.”
No. It’s nothing like that. It’s more of a brand recognition. One is the melody. The second thing we have got is a short form of the melody, which is only three seconds long. Like the Intel mnemonic, we call it our sonic signature, which ends all our ads. The most important thing for us is a 1.3 seconds subset of the 30-second melody, which is called a sonic acceptance. Acceptance sound is where when you are at a shop buying a product and paying with your Mastercard or you’re in front of a digital device at your home and making an online purchase. When the transaction goes through successfully, you hear a sound for 1.3 seconds. That 1.3 second is what our acceptance sound is and it evokes a memory of the 30-second melody. We already have more than 58 million points of interaction around the world. It has scaled phenomenally.
We have to be particularly careful about it. Imagine, if you are a checkout clerk at Walmart, people are going by the queue and then you are hearing this sound all day long. We don’t want you to freak out. We don’t want you to get fatigued. In this case, you will simply shut down the speaker or you will turn it off. We had to make sure that this was well researched to make sure that people like it. It adds to the experience, both for the shop person as well as for the consumer. For the consumer, it’s a sound of reassurance that my transaction has gone through successfully. There is a sense of completion. For the store clerk as well, it is something which is a little bit of playfulness and there is a little bit of fun element in it. It also signals to them that they have successfully completed serving one customer and they are now ready for the next one. We did a tremendous amount of research into all this and then we came up with the system. What was most gratifying to us is we have been rated in 2020 as the world’s number one audio brand? That was fantastic.Trust is going to be one of the most significant currency that any brand could aspire to have. Click To Tweet
I’m curious if you’ve got any information from all the sounds and things that go on with the casinos. How they play all the little jingles when things win and call you over here and there, did you learn anything from that to incorporate?
Not really. There was no pattern or science into the whole thing as best as we could tell. We did not rely on that at all. We were doing our own research. We have been working with some of the finest musicians in the world, music composers in the world. For example, Mike Shinoda, who is one of the cofounders of Linkin Park. He was one of our folks who was involved. He created the electronic dance version of our sonic melody. We have worked with people of that stature. We even created a music album with eleven songs. We worked with the same individual. He composes and produces songs for Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus and Mary J. Blige. We have him working and creating our album of the eleven songs. Each one of them is a regular beautiful song in different genres, all the way from one end of the spectrum to the other. However, there is a subtle hint of our sonic melody to those songs in a non–annoying, non–repetitive fashion.
I love the title of the album.
Who’s in the market for that? Where do you market an album like that? Who would buy that?
The idea is not much about sales of the album, per se. These days, most of the songs are heard on streaming services like Apple Music, Spotify, and so on. That’s where we will be on the one hand. On the other hand, the idea is for us first to popularize or make people familiar with that tune, the Mastercard melody. That’s the first objective. Once people get familiar with it, there is an association that forms between Mastercard, the brand, and the sound. The third stage is attribution. When you listen to it, you immediately notice Mastercard. It’s a multi–year journey. It doesn’t happen overnight. If I had to purely rely on my own advertisements to get to this level of recognition, it will take me decades. Releasing this music album is a way to get people to recognize the Mastercard melody much sooner.
The audio version of everything is interesting. Clubhouse is the new social media platform, it’s all audio–only. It’s interesting to see where audio is going. You’ve also been focusing on video as well, augmented and virtual reality, and things that are going to impact marketing in the future. Where are you in that? I got a quest too, which is like that Oculus thing for Christmas. It’s the coolest thing ever. I’m not associated with them. You’ve got this big heavy headset on your face and it’s going to be challenging to get into that until it gets a little bit lighter. Where’s the future of marketing in augmented and virtual reality?
It’s very big. If you look at the psychology of people, because of COVID, they’re staying at home and then they’re watching live events and everything else over television, etc. What virtual reality does is, it makes it an immersive experience. Your point is right. You don’t want to wear a heavy thing around your head and try to watch it. It gets fatiguing and the experience is not the best. That is going to evolve rapidly. I have already seen some sets which are out there, which are 1/3 the size of, for example, an Oculus Rift. Those platforms will come. Also, the resolution is much better. The visual is not grainy. When you have that thing, for example, if a concert or a sporting event is happening somewhere, people don’t necessarily have to go all the way to the place. They can have a much more immersive experience right where they are and it will be adding a dimension to otherwise watching it on TV.
For marketing, what this means is that they are going to think about how to get their brand into that immersive world. You cannot take a two–dimensional advertisement and plunk it into your three–dimensional world. You need to be innovative and see how you can put your brand in a way that blends appropriately, yet stands out enough for the consumer to take note of and then get the message of whatever you’re trying to communicate to them. This is going to be big virtual reality.
If you look at it from a B2B marketing perspective, which is the other side of the coin, I have already seen on a two–dimensional regular iPad or a computer screen, you’re going to attend conferences. The conference is almost like a conference venue and it says, “Here’s the speaker’s lounge.” There’s a small board, you click on it, and then it takes you to it. This is without that immersive experience they’re trying to create. When you have a true virtual reality getting in, that experience becomes incredible.
As a B2B person, a marketing person, you would have enormous opportunities to be able to reach your business audiences and have these summits, seminars, conferences and trade shows as well on the one hand, and take it globally instantly. It’s going to be game–changing, both for B2B as well as B2C. It’s virtual reality. Similarly, augmented reality adds yet another dimension of information. It could be not just information, it could be anything. You are adding one more layer, one more dimension onto what you’re already seeing, which could be very helpful.
I’ll give you an example in my book. For example, you’re walking on the street. Google has already brought augmented reality into their maps’ solution that they have demoed some time back. If you have that same approach and as a brand now, think about this, Raja is walking on the street. He is on the street in front of him, he opens his app and then looks ahead into the camera or onto the screen of the phone. He’s able to see the real world in front of him and he is also able to see the augmented reality on the phone. It shows that particular fourth shop on the right side ahead, which I cannot see from here physically, but I can see it on my phone. It says that there is a 30% off here or there are happy hours in that particular pub or there is a priceless experience for Mastercard in that particular jewelry store, whatever it could be. The point is you can draw consumers in and engage them with your brand that offers your communication in phenomenal ways as long as you’re not overcrowding the space, which is a risk that is hard to see and stand out.
It’s fascinating to see what the opportunities are. I work with a lot of companies to develop curiosity, like in medical space. Novartis, for example, does a lot to develop curiosity. I also work with Verizon. These big brands are looking to come up with a lot of these ideas that you’re talking about. You don’t know what you don’t know until you start looking, exploring and asking questions. You are obviously on the cutting edge. How do you develop that sense of curiosity in your workplace? Is it a high priority to have people ask questions and provide solutions? Is that part of your culture?
We do a couple of things. Firstly, I keep telling my team how the world is going to change. They have been listening to the components of Quantum Marketing for some time and it is coming in the form of this book. I have been guarding. I said, “A, you have to educate yourself. B, when you learn something, try to connect the dots back to our business context and see what we could be doing.” C, I have, frequently and with a fair amount of regularity, meetings with startups from around the world.
For example, there were a bunch of startups in Israel I was doing meetings with virtually. I’m asking them to present what the latest concepts are and each one presents in about ten minutes’ time. I said, “This is something interesting or this is not interesting, let’s go on to the next one.” If there is anything interesting, what we do is we try to partner, do a small pilot and then see how things are. What these pilots do, firstly, they educate my team. Secondly, we start stretching our thinking and finding new possibilities. Third, if the pilot is successful, we are having a leg up in the marketplace and that’s something valuable. We have been this doing for a couple of years. This is one.
Second, I also have talked to leaders to come in from different areas and fields and come and talk to my team. For example, we have some top behavioral economists come and doing some lectures for us or we have got neuromarketing specialists coming into lectures to us. What this does is opens possibilities for the team members and they start realizing, “This is what we can also do. This is something possible, which I never knew that was even in the realm of possibilities.” That’s where we are going about it. We also celebrate. Every year, I have an innovation awards function. These days, there are no functions, but we do give awards for the best innovations and it’s internally recognized. We celebrate these innovations.
Those are all great examples. In addition to studying curiosity, I also study perception. We talked about the sound and we’re talking about the sonic information. How do you train people to understand perception and how it varies by culture? It’s got to resonate with different cultures and different areas. What training do you do to have people understand that it’s this process you go through? You’re evaluating, predicting, interpreting and concluding based on correlating information. Is this something that you do in training there? Do you hire people who you think are receptive? I’m curious how you go about that.
It’s a combination of three things. First and foremost, it is a question of having a formalized training program in–house. The second one is interaction at some periodicity with external people. Third, we have got our global meetings happening. Every alternate month, I have a global meeting. We used to call them off–site meetings. Now everything is off–site. These are now virtual meetings where everyone on my team is there on those meetings. There is a tremendous amount of sharing and learning that happens. Many times, people wonder, “How could you even do that?” Culturally, it may not be appropriate in one particular place. In other places, it’s perfectly acceptable. They start getting sensitized to these cultural nuances and how the same thing can manifest differently in different ways. Understanding that nuance is the one that is going to drive success. That’s how we’re going about it.
Also, we have got external people coming in and they’re teaching my team, which I find is one of the most fascinating ways to educate the team. It’s almost like they’re doing a small, mini-MBA course. It’s a true value addition to them. That’s something which we need to do in this day and age where things are changing fast on the cultural, technology, data and business aspects, finance 101, and all kinds of things.
There are many case studies and things you can even look at in marketing of what’s successful and what’s not successful. I’m curious what you think of maybe a case like the Gillette campaign that fell flat or anyone you want to think of that fell flat. Do you guys take those apart and go look at what they did right and what they did wrong? I’m curious what you do to avoid campaigns that maybe don’t resonate.
First and foremost, we have got our agencies who are extremely tight with us. One of the things that they do is bring constant information and examples to us of what is happening in the industry. In addition, we’re reading up ourselves through various articles source, online or whatever. We have a formalized interaction where the agency comes in and say, “These are the big things that you need to be aware of what happened in the last one month. Here is something which worked. Here is something which had mud on its face.” We discuss and say, “Why did this work? Why is this particular thing not working? Are we doing anything like that? What have we got to learn?” This is interactive and something which our agency does a phenomenal job of bringing to the table and facilitating those discussions. That’s how we’re doing it at this point.
In the marketing world, you have the artists and the analyst. Are people usually both? There’s so much data analytics to deal with. I’m curious if marketers are getting a better education? Should they be better educated in analytics? Are you getting different people doing different things?
We have brought a definition of who is a good IMC-er of the future, Integrated Marketing and Communication, that’s what we call our area. If you’re an IMC-er at Mastercard, what should you be looking like or have those qualities for the future? We made an inventory of the skillsets, the capabilities, the competencies, etc. This is one part of it. We then evaluate each individual and say, “This is so and so. These are the gaps.” Some of the gaps, you can fill them. Some of the gaps, you cannot bridge. Not everyone is blessed like Leonardo da Vinci and have an impact. You got to be realistic.
For example, you take the team in Europe. You want to make sure that your team in Europe, collectively, is Leonardo da Vinci. Not every individual has got all the qualities that you’re looking for, at least as a team. That’s the first level. Second, for those people who are extremely right–brained and they only have to understand technology and data, we got basic courses that say that you need to at least be aware of and be knowledgeable to a little extent. You probably will never be an expert in this space. If there is a situation that you are in, which you’re in on a day–to–day basis, you need to know what questions to ask. You need to understand the answer without looking completely lost.
For example, Digital 101 is a program that we have created where people go and take the program and we made it a part of the compulsory certification that you have to go through. It’s not to make your life miserable, but to make sure that you are equipped for the future if the company is investing in you. We started going after these people who are blessed. If they have got that versatility between both sides of the brain, we seek them out and give them even more training. That’s something which will stand them in very good stead even for fast growth within the company.
As you were researching your book, the things you train people to do, you’ve gained perspective from top marketers across industries. How much of what you learn from writing the book have you incorporated into your training programs?
As far as our training programs are concerned, I would say that maybe we are in 20% of the journey. My book is much more forward–looking. It’s not reflecting today’s reality only, but it is talking about what is ahead of, etc. Probably, I’ll give ourselves 20% of the way there. We still have 80% to cover.
Was there any one particular marketer that you interviewed that shed a light on something you had no idea what’s even happening?
Externally, I had spoken to a number of my peers and each one of them is operating in a different industry. They’re operating with a different set of perspectives. There’s always at least a couple of good points I would come away with, absolutely and invariably. Some companies, for example, Unilever, have got probably one of the most disciplined processes of training their people and giving them experiences to make them much better and well rounded.
I’m a product of Unilever myself. I remember when I joined marketing, they first put me for three years in sales though I joined for a marketing role. They said, “Nobody can be in marketing.” This was in India. They said, “You have to first grind your teeth in sales, then you get into marketing. From there, you go into other divisions or other areas.” You go through what they call job rotation. By the time, you’re reaching a particular level, you are a well-rounded general manager.
Those practices, to me, are extremely valuable. Unilever does that effectively. That’s one example. I’ve been talking to some other companies. What kind of technology training will some companies give to their marketing people who are not necessarily tech–savvy? I had collected a wealth of data points from my peers from different companies. There’s always something for me to learn from those people and adapt to my own environment and incorporate some of those perspectives as well into my book.
You bring up a point that comes up a lot on the show and in different courses I teach about how valuable it is to begin in sales to see the reality of what you had to do. That’s one of the hardest jobs a lot of people have. Being in that position gives you a different perspective of how to develop a product. I can see why they would have that for marketers to have that appreciation. When I was an AstraZeneca, once I was in sales, I got to see the marketing aspect. I don’t see enough companies letting crossover of experience. Sometimes we get into these silos.
It’s super important for people to get a little bit of experience in a lot of different areas. I love the book Range because it will let you know that a lot of different things can be helpful. In marketing, you’ve touched on some of the most interesting things to me. I love the sonic ideas because I don’t hear about that much. Was there any final thing you wanted to say that we didn’t cover that you think people need to know about and should expect in the world of marketing?
I would say one point, which is about purpose and ethics. Many people brush this off, particularly purpose, corporate political speech for an annual report and for the CEO to talk and make a speech about. Nothing could be farther from the truth than that. This is something which I have done a lot of thinking about as well as research as well. The key thing is the company should have a purpose. The purpose is not making this quarter’s number, but something bigger and you’re following that Northstar. Marketing is the one that brings purpose to life than any other function.
In marketing, whatever they do, they have to integrate that purpose and see if their actions and activities are moving towards the purpose or detracting. The reason is, in the fifth paradigm, there is going to be such a sea of sameness. Trust is going to be one of the most significant currencies that any brand could aspire to have. That trust gets engendered not only by your good behavior, which is ethical and complete integrity but also your commitment to the betterment of society. When you are doing that and when you are truly perceived as a purpose–driven company, consumers, particularly the new generations, the Millennials, Gen Zs, are voting with their wallets. That’s going to be critical on the one hand.
At Mastercard, we keep talking about something called decency quotient. You might be a fantastic professional with a high IQ and a high EQ, but what is more important is for you to be a good, decent human being. If you’re having a feast on your table and you’re eating and there is a small, emancipated kid who is standing in front of you without even one meal, do you continue to ignore that kid and keep gorging on your food? Will you do something for the kid? Would share a little bit of what you have with the kid? Marketers have to be good, empathetic human beings.
Marketing and movies are the two areas that shape cultures. We have enormous creativity. We have enormous resources. We got networks. We influence the culture. For example, if you consistently show that smoking is fashionable, you can convert people to smoke. If you are showing girls starving themselves and become super thin and you project that as the version of beauty, that’s what happens. Unfortunately, we have these stereotypes that we create.
Marketers have to realize that their power also comes with a responsibility and that responsibility is for social good and they have to strive. They should do it because they can do it. This is something that I have dedicated two full chapters, one on ethics. I call it brand karma, which is how we operate with integrity and ethics. The second one is about being purpose–driven. A lot of people are getting confused between social marketing and purpose–drivenness. I tried to go into the details. These are two areas that are going to be critical for the fifth paradigm and not normally talked about in schools or marketing courses.
That’s critical. In the ethics courses I’ve written and taught, you’ve brought up some important points. I hope that everybody takes the time to look up your information and read this book. It’s going to be an important discovery. If people are trying to follow you and find you, how would you suggest they find the book and find you? Do you want to share a link?
My book is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble. You can go to Amazon.com or BarnesAndNoble.com and then you will find there the book. Secondly, to find me, I have a bi–weekly blog called Quantum Marketing Sense that you can subscribe to on LinkedIn or follow me on Twitter, which is @RajaRajamannar. I’ll do my best to interact with 99% of the people who message me and get back to them quickly. I’ll be happy to engage with anyone. I do hope that some of your readers will go and take a look at the book. I would love to see what they think about it and what their feedback is, which has been personally gratifying to me from the feedback I’m getting from my peers, both on my LinkedIn as well as Twitter.
Raja, thank you so much for being on the show. I enjoyed this.
Thank you so much. I appreciate you having me on your show. Hopefully, we’ll do it again sometime soon.
I’d like to thank Raja for being my guest. We get many great guests on the show. If you’ve missed any past episodes, you can catch them at DrDianeHamilton.com. If you go to the blog, you can read them. We’re on all the places where podcasts are found and in our AM/FM stations. You can find all those listed on the site as well. I hope you enjoyed this episode. I hope you join us for the next episode of Take The Lead Radio.
- Quantum Marketing
- World Federation of Advertisers
- Death by Black Hole
- Barnes & Noble – Quantum Marketing
- LinkedIn – Raja Rajamannar
- @RajaRajamannar – Twitter
About Raja Rajamannar
Raja Rajamannar is Chief Marketing & Communications Officer for Mastercard and president of the company’s healthcare business. He also serves as president of the World Federation of Advertisers. With more than 30 years as a global executive, Raja has held C-level roles at firms ranging from Anthem to Humana and has overseen the successful evolution of Mastercard’s identity for the digital age, from its Priceless experiential platforms to marketing-led business models. His work has been featured by Harvard Business School and Yale School of management case studies and taught at more than 40 top management schools around the world. Raja earned an MBA from the Indian Institute of Management (Bangalore, India) and a Bachelor of Technology degree from Omania University (Hyderabad, India).
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