CMO Strategy 2021: Leadership means Customer Experience and Brand Strategy

How can modern marketers adopt the latest digital technologies while retaining the benefits of "classical" marketing? The Chief Marketing Officer of Mastercard explains and offers a CMO playbook for 2021.


Feb 05, 2021

How can modern marketers adopt the latest digital technologies while keeping the benefits of "classical" marketing? The Chief Marketing Officer of Mastercard, Raja Rajamannar, explains marketing disruption and offers a CMO playbook for 2021. 

During this conversation, we discuss how to allocate budget priorities, the challenge of becoming a marketing leader, strategic marketing, and the nature of tactical marketing in 2021. We go beyond demand generation strategies into the core of brand strategy that aligns with the organization's business goals.

Here are some of the topics we discuss in this conversation:

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.


Disruptive marketing tactics and strategy for 2021

Michael Krigsman: We're talking about disruptive marketing strategy in 2021 with Raja Rajamannar. He's the chief marketing and communications officer of Mastercard. He wrote the excellent book Quantum Marketing.

Raja Rajamannar: This is a forward-looking book into the future about how marketing is going to be completely, totally disrupted, and how we need to reinvent, reimagine marketing.

Michael Krigsman: Break that down for us, first the distinctions, and what are the implications of making those distinctions?

Raja Rajamannar: If you look at classical marketing, this is the traditional marketing which packaged goods companies use to practice the four Ps of marketing. How do you create the product? How do you do the positioning? Positioning has not been one of those pieces, but how do you really do your pricing and place, which is distribution, promotions, and so on? 

Classical marketers have a good grasp about the foundational elements of marketing. How do consumers think? What is the psychology? What is the design? What are the esthetics? What is the purchase funnel? Like I said, what is the positioning, and so on and so forth?

Now, this has done very well in terms of from a classical marketer's toolbox point of view, until almost the early 1990s. But come 1990s, we have entered the third paradigm of marketing with the advent of Internet on the one hand and the advent of data analytics on the other hand. Until that time, data analytics was in the purview of the nerds, the geeks, the economists, and the scientists. 

Marketers suddenly discovered the power of data analytics and they brought it to marketing, so the combination of Internet and data analytics changed and ushered marketing into its third paradigm. That's where a new breed of marketers started coming in, people who understood technology, people who understood data, but couldn't care less about the classical and the foundational elements of marketing.

What happened is, since then, there has been a dichotomy. You have classical marketers, like I described before; the current paradigm markets who are all about data, data analytics, technology, A/B testing, programmatic, et cetera; and these two are literally two different breeds of marketers. Today, we, unfortunately, have those who are currently data classical or contemporary, and very few straddle both worlds. 

Michael Krigsman: Which of course then begs the question, how can marketers blend the best of these two approaches?

Raja Rajamannar: It's easier said than done because, classically, if you look at marketers (or traditionally if you look at marketers) they came from the qualitative side of the house. They have the creative sensibilities, esthetic sensibilities, cultural sensibilities, and they had intuition. They had innovation. They had judgment. That was a kind of mindset and a series of skills and competencies that they had. 

But when you look at the contemporary side of the equation, you're operating with your left brain and not with the right brain, so you're talking of analytics. You're talking about logic. You're talking about technology. You're talking about the algorithms, which is like Greek and Latin to the traditional marketing folks, so our qualitative and right brain. 

When you say we have to mix both of these, it's not an easy thing. That's what makes the breed of or the hybrid of marketers who can straddle both is so unique and so valuable. 

Today, really, we need marketers who are like Leonardo da Vinci, who is a classic example of right-brain plus left-brain, both taken to a phenomenal level of competencies and execution. We need folks of that sort. 

In fact, if I look at one more aspect, I will say, in addition to the classical aspects of marketing and contemporary aspects of marketing, you also have to understand (today, and more so tomorrow) the other areas that surround marketing. For example, you need to understand how your business makes money, which means you need to understand finance. You need to understand the aspects of how do you credibly and precisely measure ROI (the return on investment), which means you need to understand the finances. 

Connect the dots between the marketing actions and investments you make to the business outcomes and the business results that you get. That requires a different set of skills. You need to understand technology.

Many of the marketing organizations (CMOs, for example) have bigger technology budgets than CTOs in those organizations. Unless you understand technology, how are you going to manage those budgets? As I said, you need to understand data. You need to understand public relations because there is a continuum between marketing and communications or public relations. 

Unless you understand how the world operates in the world of public relations and the media relations, you're not going to be successful. The key thing is, now, you are looking to have marketers of tomorrow being true general managers who also have a deep understanding of marketing as opposed to, in the past, you had marketing specialists who keep growing up in marketing. 

How can marketers develop the skills to create brand equity and brand value in 2021?

Michael Krigsman: What can marketers do themselves to take steps to bridge this gap and to acquire the depth of understanding and the range, the breadth of understanding that's really needed in what you're describing, to do marketing at that level? 

Raja Rajamannar: First and foremost, it all begins with an honest self-assessment. Do you have the aptitude, the attitude, and the learning agility to be able to straddle all these areas or not? 

If you have, then you have to start working towards making those a reality, which means you have to join courses to learn. You have to probably take mentoring sessions, you have to take job rotations, or you have to probably read a ton of stuff. 

It is an investment. Marketing, the way it is changing so dramatically, unless you constantly upgrade your understanding and your skills, you will become obsolete pretty quickly. That's very scary, and you have to invest.

Self-assessment first, followed by a thoughtful learning and experience path that you have to chart out for yourself. This is not some theoretical, fluffy, wishy-washy kind of an answer. I'm saying this is absolutely necessary and real.

Take for example artificial intelligence. Every Tom, Dick, and Harry who comes to make a pitch to you, says, "Oh, my solution is powered by artificial intelligence." 

Okay. Firstly—and I do this, really, regularly—I say, "Okay, fine. I love the fact that your solution (you say) is powered by AI. Just show me how. Let's peel the onion. Let's take the hype out and get to the bottom," because I have actually taken a full course to educate myself on artificial intelligence enough to be able to understand what the other person is saying, to ask the right questions, and to separate the wheat from the chaff. 

It's very important. You need to know the signal from the noise. There is a lot of noise. There is a lot of hype and there's a lot of empty shell packaging, so-to-speak.

You need to do that. You need to invest in yourself. When I do that, what I find is, most of the time, they are just name dropping artificial intelligence. 

I have the privilege of serving as the president of the World Federation of Advertisers, so I interact with a number of my peers. When I talk to some of them, I say, "Honestly, between friends, tell me. Do you understand, programmatic, how it works?" 

They say, "Yeah, I just have a broad idea of the concept, but I have no clue." 

Now, the key thing is, we (the marketing community) are funding the entire social media or the MarTech companies, or social media platforms when I said social media, right? Now, if we don't understand, it's no wonder that somebody else is hijacking the agenda of our industry. 

We need to at least educate ourselves. We cannot be intellectually lazy or complaisant. The consequences are going to be serious. 

If I can just take one minute, Michael, the reason why I say this is so critical and I'm so passionate about it is even as we are in the fourth paradigm. Each paradigm has been moving because of a couple of technologies. 

Paradigm one was all about product marketing. But when television and radio came in (two technologies), it changed how you could do storytelling and how you could incite emotions. That led to paradigm two, which is emotional marketing. 

When you looked at data and the Internet, which happened in the 1990s, that ushered marketing into the third paradigm. Social media and mobile technologies (2007 with the launch of iPhone and the scaling of Facebook) have launched us into mobile and social marketing. 

Now, each one of these paradigms has been ushered by two technologies, and we, as marketers, are still struggling to get our heads and hands around it. We are at the verge of seeing a deluge of technologies coming at us. We've got artificial intelligence, augmented reality, virtual reality, autonomous driving cars, Internet of Things, wearables, 3D printing, 5G, drones, blockchains. It's like two dozen technologies are coming at us in a rapid succession. 

We will become obsolete in no time and somebody else will steal the agenda. Already, marketing is at an existential crisis as of now. Tomorrow, it will become even more of a widespread reality, which we don't want.

What I say is that, as marketers, we have to understand technology. We have to understand data. These are the two things that'll power marketing into the future, and we better go and get ourselves educated and get on top of it.

The changing role of the CMO and the modern CIO role

Michael Krigsman: It's quite interesting to hear you speak. I talk with a lot of chief information officers, and it seems that the CIO role is going through a similar kind of evolution where the CIO must have that same or similar kind of breadth of understanding not only of the technology (in their case) but of the business context, the financials, everything that you were just describing.

Raja Rajamannar: Absolutely right. I think gone are the days, for companies in general—particularly like in the areas of IT or in the areas of marketing—where you can afford to just be a functional specialist and keep growing. You need the broad base. You need to understand because there are so many interdependencies between each one of these functions. Unless you collaborate, it's not going to happen.

Like I keep telling it, and pretty seriously, that my best buddies are my CFO, my CHRO (which is the HR head). We call him "Chief People Officer." We have got our chief information officer, information technology officer, CIO. These folks, we have such a tremendous amount of interaction.

For example, if you look at HR, my talent needs are different today than they were even one year back. If I have to build an organization that is future proof, I need to really chart out what are the skillsets required, what are the competencies required, what are the aptitudes required, and actually start sourcing those kind of people. 

I need to redesign my organization to accommodate this kind of folks. I need to have training and learning development programs for our people who don't have these skills but have the right aptitude and the learning curiosity. How do I equip them? How do you make sure that the career pathing that we are looking at really is helpful?

For example, in the past, if you are in marketing, you can keep happily growing in marketing until the time you become a CMO. But today, you have to really get rotations outside of marketing and then come back after a few years. You'll be a much better marketer.

I need the help of an HR person, and so we actually are tied at the hip to make these kind of things happen. The same thing with the information technology. 

I think operating as islands of excellence is not going to work. It's going to be actually teams of excellence that are going to work in the future. 

Michael Krigsman: We have a question on Twitter (directly related to this topic) from Arsalan Khan, who is a regular listener and asks great questions. Thank you, Arsalan. We always appreciate your questions. Arsalan asks, "What can IT folks do to adopt marketing approaches to elevate the role of IT inside an organization?" It's really a communications question.

Raja Rajamannar: I would say two things. First and foremost, always I've found that people outside of marketing have some perceptions about marketing, depending on the company. 

In a packaged goods company where the agenda is set by marketing, the rest of the organization takes marketing very seriously and makes that agenda come to life. So, the marketing person is setting the agenda. 

But if you go outside of those companies, the majority of the companies, marketing is really an enabling function, not the lead function. The agenda is set by a P&L owner, a business owner, or a division owner (division head) – call it whatever they are. Marketing is a support function. In many of these kind of companies, the power and the potential of marketing is not understood. 

In many of the cases, they think that marketing is a fluffy organization and they think that these marketers are wasting lots and lots of money. When they are asked a question, saying, "Hey, buddy, you are spending so many millions of dollars. What is it giving?" now they are business people who are asking a business question. 

Typically, the marketer is caught like a deer caught in the headlights, and giving some waffling marketing answers, "My brand awareness is going up. My likeability is always going up. My predisposition is going up." 

You get decimated. Your credibility gets decimated with those kind of answers. You need to give a bushiness answer in that language, right?

Now, what I've found most beneficial is—to change the perceptions, to really collaborate with these people—invite them and draw them into the activities of your marketing. I call it the business of marketing. Get these people involved. Let them see what it means to create a campaign. Let them see what your challenges are. 

Show them your vulnerability. They have nothing to hide. When you show your vulnerability, they are much more empathetic. When you show the kind of things that they are doing, they say, "My God, I didn't realize that these are the kind of things that marketing does."

In the same way, I think the CIO should do the same thing, too, or the IT department should do the same thing, because as people outside of IT, they might think these guys are just doing some programming and some coding and, you know, "What's the big deal about it. Now all of them can be replaced by AI." Those are the kind of notions that people outside of IT might have. 

The key thing is, it is all about opening doors, welcoming your peers, sharing with them openly what you are striving to do, what you're accomplishing, what you're struggling with, what your aspirations are, what your challenges are, and ask for help. That's what I think is true whether it is IT or for marketing. That's how probably it should be taken.

Empathy and customer experience

Michael Krigsman: As we shift to this focus on data and analytics, you used the term "empathy" several times. How do we bring forth that empathy for the customer when we're looking at spreadsheets of numbers?

Raja Rajamannar: One of the key things that technology does is to democratize the entire playing field. Data does exactly that. It gives you insights. 

Now, in the olden days, technology was the province of large companies, which could put in boatloads of money. The same thing is true (or was true) of data. If you're a gigantic company with direct customer contact, you're accumulating data, or you can go and collaborate with other companies and get massive amounts of data. You can analyze and come to a significant advantage. Gone are those days.

Now, technology can be actually procured on a pay-as-you-go basis. Everything is in the cloud and there are so many services that are available that you can just pay on as you go, which means your outlay is less and, because of the intense competition, the solutions are affordable even for small companies. Data, which is permitted by consumers—I'm underlining the permission by consumers—is also available on a pay-as-you-go basis. 

When the entire field gets leveled from a playing field point of view, competition massively increases. When competition increases dramatically, what separates your company from other companies in your marketing, is your creativity, the classical skills that you have got, which include empathy. 

You need to understand the undercurrents of people's thinking and feeling and why they're acting, what drives them to act in a particular way and not in another way, what drives their choices. The classical marketing foundational elements will come in. Areas like behavioral economics will come to the fore.

The point I'm trying to make is that marketing is going to be mighty critical as technology and data advance more and more and level the playing field. Therefore, marketers have to be ready for the imminent future where they are going to be the single biggest drivers of success for their company to make sure that they're equipped to deliver the agenda of the company and also advance their own careers. 

Michael Krigsman: You're not suggesting that we discard that which came before but, rather, that we incorporate it into a more sophisticated understanding, using the tools and the data that's available to us now. Is that correct?

Raja Rajamannar: You're absolutely right. It is not this or that. It is this and that.

Now, the creative elements, as I said, all those marketers are typically pretty good at. What they are not good at, by and large, are the left-brain functions, which are all about, as I said, data, technology, finance. You need to get your head around it.

Now, when you combine the power of creativity (or power of marketing in the classical sense) with the power of data and technology, you create magic. You absolutely create magic for your company.

Strategic brand management and brand building in 2021

Michael Krigsman: We have another very interesting question from Twitter. This is from Shelly Lucas. Shelly says, "How will quantum marketing impact the concept and function of brands?"

Raja Rajamannar: One of the most important assets that any company can have is the brand (or the brands). Right? Brands continue to be the embodiment of the values and the value proposition of what you're delivering, the kind of service that you deliver, the kind of experiences that you deliver. Your brand actually is the manifestation of all those. It's going to be very, very critical. 

Look back at the previous point I made. All of this, I have covered extensively in my book. On the one hand, I try to demystify all these fancy technologies, that are coming at us. In simple layperson's terms, I try to elaborate on what this technology is. For example, what is machine learning? What is blockchain? What is provenance?

These are all words around what is artificial intelligence. I tried to simplify it, put it in layperson's language, and then say these are the implications of this particular technology and how you, as a marketer, should leverage this, and here is a broad set of next steps for you. It's like a high-level playbook, right?

In this, I keep talking about the brand being absolutely mighty mission-critical. It's really critical.

The key thing is, when there is so much democratization that is happening, you need differentiation. Features can be replicated. They can be replicated or they can even be bettered. 

Emotions are more difficult to replicate and better. Once you occupy the slot in people's hearts, you are sort of there – unless you do something stupid to move that (what we call) trust, that feeling, that imagery, and that equity that you have created. Brand is going to be extremely, exceptionally critical. 

What I would also say is, it is not just the concept of brand in abstraction. It is also the tangible manifestation of the brand. What does it mean?

For example, a logo is a visual representation of your brand. They have been having logos all the time. But many logos are not optimized. They have been either historical accidents or they have been creative expressions. They are not necessarily purpose-driven, value-embodying, visual representation of what your brand is. 

I'm making a very profound and very provocative statement. Just mull over that. It's not just a design thing that you are doing. It actually needs to serve a purpose.

In fact, I will just mention another aspect of it and come back to this point. Even if you have a fantastic visual brand today, when you go to an environment like smart speakers where the entire interaction is purely based on voice (the medium is voice), your brand is visual. The interaction with the smart speaker is totally audio. 

Now, how do you show up as a brand in that audio environment? Do you have your sonic brand? Many brands do not have a sonic brand.

Where they have some jingles, where they have some mnemonics, where they have some melodies, it is not a scientifically constructed brand architecture for the medium of sound. You need to really invent those. It's extremely critical, and I'm saying it so emphatically because I have just come out of an exercise doing this for Mastercard, refreshing my visual brand to optimize it for the digital media, for the kind of areas that we want to play, and embody the kind of values and imagery that we want to communicate. 

It really worked brilliantly for us. We dropped the name "Mastercard," as a result of it, from our logo. Now, we just have two circles, red and yellow, and that's it – on the one hand – and we created an audio brand, a sonic brand comprising of ten different layers. 

We have released so far three layers and the kind of change it is already bringing is astounding. Today, we have already become the number one audio brand in the world in just 18 to 24 months, which is amazing. We are there as a top 10 brand across all the brands in the world, coming from something like 87th just a short few years back.

The key point I'm trying to make is that when you do something scientifically and understand the substance behind it, and do it in a very thoughtful, methodical fashion, you can get a quantum jump. That's exactly what happened.

Loyalty and trust in the fifth paradigm of marketing

Michael Krigsman: We have a question from Twitter. This is from Lisbeth Shaw, who runs the @CXOTalk account. Thank you for asking this because I was just about to head there. Raja, you've spoken about the terms "loyalty," and you've alluded to "trust" as being very fundamental. Tell us about loyalty, trust, and the fifth paradigm, what you call the fifth paradigm in your book.

Raja Rajamannar: As we are entering the fifth paradigm, a lot of classical concepts and theories that we have been relying on, they will all break apart. They will all break down. They will not just work. I'm challenging every single big assumption that we make in the world of marketing and put it on its head through new theories. 

This almost reminds me of what happened in the world of physics. Now, physics is the science with which you try to understand things around you in the physical world how they work. You understand what is gravity, what is electricity, what is magnetism. Once you understand them, you are able to leverage the power of those either to build buildings or send people in automobiles or do whatever it is, right? 

However, physics as a science started failing in certain environments. When mankind discovered outer space, physics was just not able to explain the phenomena in outer space. When you go inside of atoms, the same thing, the classical physics could not explain anything. When objects are flying very fast, classical physics breaks down. 

A new branch of physics was born called quantum physics. To me, that was the inspiration for my book saying that it's quantum marketing. Many things that we practice in marketing today are not going to work tomorrow because of this onslaught of technologies and the kind of data revolution and the kind of tectonic changes that are happening in the culture.

There are mega cultural shifts that are happening all over the world. A combination of these three is going to totally alter what works in marketing and not.

Talking to your specific question of loyalty. Now, I'm making a very provocative statement, so please bear with me. I read an article in BBC (, which said that a vast majority of people, when they have been surveyed, have admitted that though they are in a committed relationship—either marriage or a committed relationship of some form—they have cheated on their partners, a vast majority, 70%-plus. 

I fell off my chair. I said, "This is fascinating." My thought was, "How many people, even if they have cheated, would admit that they have cheated?" which means this number is probably high. 

So, I started doing research. Fascinating topic. Why was I doing it? Because what I said is, in a relationship where you have formally committed to a legal marriage or a religious marriage, whatever kind of ceremony that you go through, or you are in a relationship where there is an explicit commitment of loyalty, you realize that there is a consequence of not being loyal. The consequence could be reputational damage, financial damage, emotional damage, and so on. 

In spite of making commitments, and in spite of knowing the consequences, if people are still not loyal to their partners, are we as marketers stupid to expect people to be loyal to our brands? Think about it. I said this is something that's going wrong here. 

Then I started saying, "Okay, let me start my own situation. When I look at my own loyalty programs, I have got more than 20 different loyalty programs, and each one of them, they compete against them."

I have a Walmart Sam's Club. I've got Costco. I've got Amazon Prime. I've got Kroger's. In the same category, I have got four loyalty programs right there. So, am I really loyal or am I just looking at a value relationship? 

This particular item is available here. Convenient. They will deliver it in two days' time. I'll take that. Or this particular one is available more fresh, so I will take that. Or somebody is giving a big sale on some item. I'll get it.

I'm seeking value and I'm seeking convenience. I'm not really loyal as far as my shopping carts go. 

The point is, should we reinvent the whole concept of loyalty? That's exactly what I have done in the book. I am saying that we need to rethink how we are sinking hundreds of billions of dollars (as a marketing community) every year behind loyalty programs and change them to what I call "Preference Management Platforms." 

Preference management means, every time a consumer is confronted with a choice, you need to influence that choice in favor of your brand. You need a very different set of platforms to be able to do that, and that's what I call Preference Management Platforms. 

Loyalty platforms, to my mind, are not going to work in the future. They're already demonstrating it in many categories, but it is just a cost. It's just a pricing equation that you have got. How do you evolve it to the preferential management platforms?

At Mastercard, in fact, I have been creating that for a few years now, these preferential management platforms, and they work extremely well. That's the part as far as loyalty is concerned. As far as trust is concerned, I think that this is going to be one of the most valuable differentiators for any brand. 

Today, consumers are surrounded by an environment where they don't know what to trust, and their trust is consistently broken—whether it is news, whether it is politics, or whether it is social issues—or it is deceptive marketing practices that people have seen far too often that they actually will place a huge premium on a brand that they can truly trust. I think winning and keeping that trust is very, very important. 

Now, trust is not equal to loyalty. Let me also make that clear.

Data breaches and consumer trust

Michael Krigsman: Arsalan Khan comes back and says, "What about data breaches?" We're so reliant on data now, as you've been describing. When a data breach happens, that goes right to the foundation of trust. How do we manage that kind of breach of trust given the construction of what you've just been describing? 

Raja Rajamannar: The way we will collect, organize, store, and retrieve data is going to dramatically change. I have already seen a lot of solutions that tokenize data such that, even if there is a breach, it is what you find, or what the hacker finds, is pretty much worthless. 

There are protocols that are coming in terms of cybersecurity where it is the distributed databases, so unless somebody actually hacks into a thousand different databases (a thousand different places) they're not able to cobble the whole thing together. The expense that they have to incur would be so enormous that it might not even be worth their while to break into those kinds of distributed databases.

There are a lot of solutions which are coming out. They have different levels of encryption and so on and so forth. 

The point I would say is, particularly, that as companies, as commercial entities, which are getting data about people, we have to be responsible for their data. Number one, the consumer or the individuals should know what part of his data (or her data) is being actually gathered, how is it being protected, what is it being used for, and do they have the right to get the data purged from the databases. This is very important. It's going to happen. 

It's happening already through, for example, GDPR in Europe. The regulations I'm actually seeing are emerging around the world. Even in the U.S., you have got California Consumer Protection Act, and there are a whole bunch of other states which are contemplating their own regulations. This is one part of consumer privacy. 

The other one, if you're collecting data about consumers, which can compromise them if it is not well protected, it becomes your responsibility to protect the data. Even if it means expenses that you have to incur, you have to find new solutions. It's going to be very, very, very critical.

I think you're also seeing now a trend already with Apple and with Google saying that third-party cookies will not be there. Apple's advertisers' ID will be removed, and so on and so forth.

This is the trend, folks. This is going to be the reality because more and more people are saying that we need to respect consumers' privacy. We need to be cautious of what we are collecting and how we protect the data. 

I think this is a very pertinent question. There are a lot of kinds of solutions, which are coming in at this point in time, like the elimination of data is one kind of tactic or strategy some companies are taking, like Google of the world or Apple, third-party cookies, or you're having scenarios of distributed databases. 

You are having digital IDs, which are being provided, like in Asia. There is something called My Digital ID Alliance, or something of that sort. I'm not sure I got the name right, but the exact name I have got in the book. 

They are actually having a consortium of companies join and actually have identifiers only relevant to that particular company about the consumer. It is how you can target who you are targeting and regrouping.

Now, Google has come out saying that we will not have individuals, but we'll have small cohorts or small groups who will all behave very similarly. They have got similar characteristics and so on. In other words, segmentation. Right? Of a different type, though. 

I think these are the kinds of solutions, which are coming, and that's a reflection of the need that is very much there in the marketplace.

Challenges in marketing across international boundaries

Michael Krigsman: Margarite Johnson asks, "What advice do you have for businesses operating in the "splinternet" where digital access to customers is controlled at the border of a country and the Internet permission, availability, and privacy varies by country?"

Raja Rajamannar: Each country, within its own borders, would like to really assert itself (the governments) and follow their own set of rules that they formulate. It becomes very difficult to convince every one of them to operate by the same set of conditions and same set of criteria.

There can be some minimum standards, at best, that can be agreed upon. There can be certain kinds of protocols that can be agreed upon. But getting everyone onto the same page is a humongous task, not just for the Internet itself, but for anything. 

How long has it taken, for example, for climate change and to get the Paris accord going? How long did it take to break it up? How long does it take, really, for it to go to the next level – and so on? 

When there are multiple countries involved, I think that's the reality that we are confronted with. Now, having said that, there are industries where there have been transitions made across the borders where common standards have been agreed upon very well, like telecom. 

Telecommunications, for example, has done it fairly well, I would say, so that I can just call from here on whatever would be the VoIP kind of protocol, or I can do it using telecom companies. I can go and I can use, or I can use my phone issued in this country across other countries that I may be traveling to and so on. It has been accomplished.

I guess, given some of the approaches and philosophies of various companies, it's very difficult to get everyone onto the same page on all these issues at the same time. But I think it's inevitable that it will happen.

For example, when WhatsApp has been launched and WhatsApp phone has been launched, it took a while. Even now, there are some countries where you cannot make calls using WhatsApp, or you cannot make calls using FaceTime calling, or Viber. 

There are so many solutions of VoIP or Internet-based calling. Some countries still permit you from using that because they want to protect their own telecom companies or whatever else it is, but many of the companies have started coming around and the league of those countries is expanding. 

I think it's the time. It's a matter of time. It will be difficult for outliers to stay outlying and be isolated. That's why I don't have a simple, straight answer for that question, which is really tough.

The future of customer experience

Michael Krigsman: Let's shift gears and talk about experience. An important part of your book is this shift from advertising to experience. We hear the term "customer experience" being used a lot these days. Customer experience has almost become the substitute for digital transformation. How do those pieces fit into this puzzle?

Raja Rajamannar: First is, I would go a step further to say it's not about a customer or a consumer experience, but it is about an individual's experience or it is about a unit's experience. Unit could be a family unit. It can be a unit of friends. It can be a unit of students, whatever – aggregations of individuals. 

At the end of the day, you are talking about human experience to be delivered to them, or experience delivered to human beings in a fantastic, seamless, and delightful fashion. We keep propounding about experience, but we keep missing experience of people in a big way. 

I'll just give you a simple example: advertising. I like watching videos on YouTube and on the Internet. I'm a major fan of Bollywood songs or animal videos. I watch them. I enjoy them. 

But now, my experience has been made so miserable, it's unbelievable. I watch, for example, YouTube. I'm watching a video. Immediately, my experience is interrupted by some stupid ad that I don't care about. 

It butts in, and then I'm waiting to see when I can skip that ad. I'm not engaged with the ad. I'm suffering that ad. I barely suffer until the thing comes, and I immediately press the skip button. 

Now, YouTube has done one further. They said, now it's one of two and two of two ads, to make my life doubly miserable.

Then what do you do? I say, "To hell with you," and I'm just getting off your platform altogether, or I go to ad-free experiences for which I'm even willing to pay money. I go to Netflix, a delightful experience, no interruptions. It's fantastic.

YouTube themselves, I got YouTube Premium. They used to call it YouTube Red before. They charge $13. It's ad-free. They are making ad-free as a value proposition. 

If advertisements are such a pain in the neck, let's think about it. Do we still want to hang onto that particular paradigm? 

But then, the need is there to communicate with the consumers, to convince them that our products and services are great. That's something that marketers have to do. How do you do it? 

Instead of you tooting your horn, let somebody else toot your horn, which is the old phenomenon of word of mouth but on social steroids, so to speak – if I can use the word steroid – amplified vastly in social. That's where experiential marketing comes where you curate experiences that are uniquely made available by your brand. 

When that experience is delightful to the consumers, they actually talk about it. When they talk about it, people in their network, they'll listen to them, and they believe the communication coming from their friends or people on their network, as opposed to your brand talking about itself.

This is experiential marketing. Give a great experience. Delight the consumer. Allow the consumer to post or talk about it, and you amplify it. It works brilliantly. It has been.

Like I gave you the results of my brand, this has been the pivot in terms of getting a traditional advertising model into an experiential model. This, I would say, is at the very top of it. 

Look at another factor. More than 600 million people have put advertising block, ad-blockers – more than 600 million people. Now, what does it tell you? 

If people hate ads, can you just afford—as people who are sensitive to consumer experience—to hold onto that model of advertising and run the advertisements down consumers' throats when they are revolting and they are actually running away from you or they are chasing you away? Think about that.

Michael Krigsman: Is this different from the notion of customer experience where your goal is to create those delightful experiences (that you were describing) in the hopes that your consumers, your buyers, will like it and, therefore, share it? Is there a distinction there?

Raja Rajamannar: Yeah, absolutely. It's not only about the experience that you deliver during the use of your product or service, or just before or just after, but through the entire journey – on the one hand. The second thing is in terms of how you communicate about your product and service. I touched upon the second part when I answered before. 

Now, when you talk about the customer experience (consumer experience, or whatever you call it), there are two things to be kept in mind. We talk a lot about it, but we deliver not adequately on those. 

I'll tell you. One of the companies known phenomenally for its consumer experience are the manufacturer of phones, also. Now, I'm amazed. How can they miss something as basic as this? 

Suppose somebody called me on my phone. It takes me four clicks before I can get that phone on voice, on speakerphone mode—four clicks—which I can see simply how it can be made in one click. But that absolutely evolved company (who swears by consumer experience) has a solution where, when somebody calls me, it takes me four clicks before I can get onto the speakerphone. There is something wrong with that – on the one hand, right?

What I'm saying is, though we have focus, we have to internalize it. We are to be passionate about it and give that experience which is absolutely brilliant.

For example, at Mastercard, what we try to do is we have got all these sponsorships. We invite guests. We run competitions where consumers win, and then they come to us.

We go to such an absolutely maniacal level of detail – obsessive, literally. Every single one, by the time they come out of that experience, they are blown away. That's what we try to attempt and do it, right? 

The thing is, when you are trying to focus on experience and give a brilliant experience, the negative experience (even if it is tiny) can spoil the entire positive experience which happened before that, and that's what remains as a residue in the consumer's mind, which you don't want. I think, from a point of experience, it can make a huge difference but it is not one and done. An experience has to constantly be refined, constantly be improved upon, constantly serve delight to the consumers.

Michael Krigsman: We have a question from Twitter relating to this. The question is the role of marketing in creating better employee experiences, which is interesting because I'm in the middle right now of creating a model of the CIO role. Employee experience is one dimension of it, so what about the role of marketing and employee experience? 

Raja Rajamannar: It's huge. We said that if we are embarking on creating priceless for our customers, consumers, and prospects, what about our own employees? How do you bring the priceless into the company? How do you bring that priceless to tangible realms within the company to the employees?

We, therefore, collaborate extremely tightly and closely with the CHRO, so they are our internal client, literally, the human resources group or the chief people officer's group. We work with them to see right from the stage of, when you go for recruiting someone, how do you represent the company there? How do you attract and inspire people to come to your company as opposed to go and join one of the Silicon Valley companies, or whatever else it is there?

Once they come in, how do you make sure that their experience is beautiful, whether it is, call it, orientation, induction, call it whatever it is? How do you really make sure that it is delightful?

Once they are there in the company in an ongoing basis, how do you make sure that these people are having a great experience at the company in terms of whether it is they're using their tools or the platforms that the company has got or the assets that the company provides to outsiders to bring them in? What kind of benefits do you give to your employees?

It's a complete microcosm in itself that you need to do it end-to-end. I think it has to be a tight and collaborative partnership between human resources (our people function) and marketing – in a big way. 

For example, one thing I'll tell you is about communication. Communication can really create a lot of good experience for you or the opposite. 

Now, we have got a function called internal communications, which are dual reports into marketing and into human resources. Both of us manage it very closely together. I would say that's how you broadly approach it.

Problems facing digital advertising platforms

Michael Krigsman: Why are advertising platforms, even with AI, having limited success?

Raja Rajamannar: I think there is a good intention all around that the platforms need to be good, that the experience of the consumers has to be good, that the brand's objectives are met, that there is transparency, there is brand safety, there are metrics, and all that stuff. Unfortunately, those intentions don't always get translated to reality, either for lack of investment, lack of will to make it happen, or lack of collaboration because the collaboration is not going to happen just by one platform jumping up and down. The whole ecosystem has to join the ranks.

When the time comes to bring everyone together, are they really committing and making things happen, or some self-interests will come into the picture? There is a whole range of things that are happening. 

What I am, however, pleased about is, we started at the World Federation of Advertisers (which is WFA) in which most of the top brands and many small brands. They're all members of that. We formed an initiative called GARM (Global Alliance for Responsible Marketing). 

This GARM, its whole mandate is to make sure that there is a global alliance of everyone: the platforms, the technology companies, the media companies, the brands, et cetera. The medium has to be responsible, on the one hand, for brand safety. We are funding the whole platform, so we want brand safety as a brand. But also, being responsible for consumers and making their experience really delightful. 

We are just making the initial steps. I think this is now less than a year old. But what we are getting is a good amount of initial momentum.

For example, it took us a little while, but we have now nailed it saying what is harmful content, getting everyone to accept as to what is harmful content. Then, how do you prevent a brand not showing up or to get the harmful content, not show up on a platform at all? They are things which takes a while. 

These are huge industry-level issues, and the progress is painfully slow, but now the inertia is getting over, or we're getting over the inertia at the industry level and making some very positive moves. Hopefully, we'll see some good progress in the coming months and years.

Michael Krigsman: As we finish up, can you just give us a brief, simple summary as to why quantum marketing is so important today for marketers to understand and adopt?

Raja Rajamannar: As marketing went through various paradigms, from the third paradigm onwards, marketing started losing its credibility, its gravitas, and its impact. Many CMO roles have been eliminated. Marketing was being fragmented, and the functioning of marketing, which traditionally resided in marketing, are now being sprinkled around different parts of the organization.

There is an existential crisis for marketing. More than 70% of the CEOs have said they have no confidence in their marketing teams. This is a McKinsey survey, which is scary, right? It's sad. 

Now, with the slew of technologies coming at us in the fifth paradigm, and the data proliferation that's going to happen—unless marketers up their game, change their approach, and not get stuck to those old models, systems, and old ways of thinking, unless they get rid of them and reimagine, rethink marketing, and be prepared for tomorrow—they will become obsolete very quickly. Quantum marketing is the new way of approaching marketing with a completely different mindset that challenges everything of the past and comes up with a playbook for the future. That, I think, is critical because the rate at which these technologies are coming at us is so fast, we have to do it now.

How can marketing leaders adopt quantum marketing?

Michael Krigsman: How can marketers adapt and build their quantum marketing skills and capabilities? 

Raja Rajamannar: I think it starts with self-assessment to a digital mind, whether they are right for marketing or not. That means, do they have the capability and the aptitude for understanding the technical aspects, the quantitative aspects on the one hand, and do they have the creative sensibilities and understand the consumers, the psychology, the sociology, the anthropology? Do they have the wherewithal to understand the business finances and the technology aspects? 

Could they be truly general managers or not? If they are capable of being general managers with a deep specialization in marketing, that's what will determine their success. They have to make an objective assessment.

Number two, they have to invest in themselves, to learn, to get themselves educated, to get their teams educated. There is nothing wrong to admit I don't understand something. Recognize that you don't know something. Reach out. Ask for help. 

There are courses, free courses, like Coursera kind of things. Register for programs to understand these emerging technologies. Take mentorships. 

Do job rotations outside of your function. In fact, maybe we should actually have a collaborative arrangement where marketers of one company will maybe spend a week or two weeks with another company to see how they do their marketing. These are very critical.

I think that upping their learning, becoming contemporary with the current technologies, data analytics, finance, so on is going to be very critical. That's what they have to start doing very aggressively as of now. 

Michael Krigsman: Okay. We've been speaking with Raja Rajamannar. He is the president of the Mastercard healthcare business, the chief marketing officer at Mastercard. He wrote this excellent book. Raja, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us today.

Raja Rajamannar: Thank you, Michael. I really appreciate the opportunity and I'm very excited about my book. If anyone wants to engage with me on the content of the book, I'd be very happy to do so. They can get onto Twitter or LinkedIn. Send their questions my way and I'll be very happy to connect with them and have a conversation. Thank you very much for the opportunity. Please stay safe.

Michael Krigsman: Everybody, thank you for watching, especially those folks who asked questions. Subscribe to our YouTube channel. Do that now. Tell a friend. Subscribe to our newsletter. Check out We have amazing shows coming up. Everybody, take care, and we'll see you again next time. Bye-bye.

Published Date: Feb 05, 2021

Author: Michael Krigsman

Episode ID: 690