Mastercard: Businesses that undermine marketing are setting themselves up to fail

With a “tsunami” of new technologies incoming, marketing is about to become more important than ever, argues Raja Rajamannar. So how do marketers regain their place at the table?

Mastercard’s chief marketing and communications officer, Raja Rajamannar, is urging businesses not to make the “short-sighted” decision of side-lining the marketing function, lest they find themselves unable to compete in a new era of technology.

Rajamannar, a seasoned marketer with over three decades of experience, believes the marketing industry is about to enter its “fifth paradigm”.

Shifts between eras of marketing have been characterised by the introduction of new technologies, he explains – the first transitioned into the second with the invention of radio and television, the second became the third with the internet and data analytics, and the fourth came in with the rise of social media platforms and mobile devices.

However, the shift to the fifth paradigm is being driven by a “tsunami” of technologies, Rajamannar says, from artificial intelligence and augmented reality, to 5G to drone deliveries, blockchain and the internet of things.

These new technologies will further “democratise” marketing, providing tools and techniques that will enable small brands to compete with larger brands more effectively, he warns. Therefore, companies will increasingly need to focus on differentiation in order to grow.

If you replace [marketers] and have some finance or sales person come in and become the chief growth officer, you’re fragmenting the focus in many ways.

Raja Rajamannar, Mastercard

Speaking to Marketing Week, he explains: “When there is a complete democratisation of the competitive fields, companies require differentiation to stand out and win. That differentiation can be brought in only by marketing.”

As such, companies need marketing “like crazy” right now, as they lay foundations for this impending new era of business. Those which fail to do so are setting themselves up to fail, he argues.

“Companies need to have top notch marketing departments that are driving results, that are differentiating, that start with deep insights and convert those insights into total value propositions and experiences for the consumers,” Rajamannar says.

“If [businesses] are undermining marketing today, it’s a little short-sighted on the part of companies, and that’s going to hurt them in future.”

Chief marketing officer vs chief growth officer

However, at present, Rajamannar is concerned that marketers are being pushed aside and left behind.

Recent years have seen the 4Ps fundamental to a traditional marketer’s role become fragmented and reallocated to different areas of the business, he explains. Price has shifted to the finance department, product has become the remit of dedicated product teams, and place has become a matter of distribution. Marketers are just about holding on to promotion by their fingertips.

With that shift in the fundamentals of the role, marketers have lost the ability to communicate effectively with the CEO and the rest of the C-suite, and as such, have lost their trust, Rajamannar suggests. In 2012, a global survey by the Fournaise Marketing Group found that 80% of CEOs don’t trust or are unimpressed with their CMOs (though more recent data from Deloitte in 2020 saw the CMO rank highest in trust among the C-suite).

With trust in marketers temperamental, many businesses have introduced new roles like chief growth officer or chief revenue officer to the C-suite, covering areas that would typically come under a marketer’s remit. Others have done away with the CMO role entirely – Johnson & Johnson, Three and easyJet are just three recent examples.

Mastercard CMO: Long-term and short-term are not mutually exclusive

But this is a mistake, Rajamannar warns, as he argues these new roles cannot deliver what a CMO can.

“You’re getting a non-marketing person and asking him or her to do what traditionally marketers should have been doing all along,” he explains.

“Marketing and managing marketing is not a role of general leadership and common sense. Marketing is a beautiful blend of science, technology and art. Marketers are uniquely qualified to do that.”

“If you replace [marketers] and have some finance or sales person come in and become the chief growth officer, you’re fragmenting the focus in many ways.”

Rajamannar argues that businesses should instead vest that same accountability and responsibility back into competent and capable marketers, and reunite the 4Ps under their remit. A marketer would approach the business end to end “in an absolutely unified and forceful fashion” in order to move it forward, he says.

“Pricing, for example, is not just a mathematical equation, it’s a behavioural economics led science at this point in time,” he notes.

“Marketers are actually qualified to do that – that’s what they’re supposed to be doing. The entire end to end is what marketers can do very effectively and they should be doing it effectively. That’s what companies need. So, if they don’t invest today, tomorrow it’s going to be a problem.”

How do marketers regain their place at the table?

While acknowledging that bringing marketers back onto the frontline is “easier said than done” in most businesses, Rajamannar believes there are a number of steps marketers can take to rebuild faith in the function and safeguard their roles for the future.

First up, marketers – particularly senior marketers – have to educate themselves on emerging technologies, he advises, as there is a “knowledge gap” at this moment in time.

“Marketers have to educate themselves like there is no tomorrow, because [the industry] is changing and evolving so rapidly,” he suggests. Rajamannar claims he spends five hours every weekend trying to learn something new, on top of seeking out reverse mentorships with junior team members on new innovations like Clubhouse, and reading a lot of books.3 questions I wish I’d asked as a junior marketer: Mastercard’s Raja Rajamannar

At the same time, with the ability to think both creatively and analytically somewhat rare, marketers should surround themselves with a team that can collectively cover right brain and left brain thinking.

“If you don’t have the capability to operate with the right brain and left brain, you may not become a technology expert or you may not become a data expert, [so] surround yourself with a team. Collectively the team should think like Leonardo da Vinci, even if individuals themselves cannot,” he explains.

Marketers must also undertake a “journey” to understand exactly how their business makes money and what factors are driving revenue and profitability, in order to best communicate the role marketing plays with the CEO and CFO.

Rajamannar explains: “If you have not already, you have to embark on this journey of understanding how your business makes money, what are the drivers of revenues, profitability and retention, and be ready with robust models that are able to establish a clear and credible linkage between marketing actions and business outcomes. Because that is what will give you credibility in your company or organisation.”

If [businesses] are undermining marketing today, it’s a little short sighted on the part of companies, and that’s going to hurt them in future.

Raja Rajamannar, Mastercard

Finally, once marketers are educated and backed up with measurable results and business insight, they have to start “evangelising” the marketing function, Rajamannar says – starting with establishing those solid relationships with the C-suite.

“The credibility of the CMO impacts the credibility of the whole marketing function in the company and so they have to really lead from the front,” he says.

They should also make use of external organisations such as the World Federation of Advertisers, of which Rajamannar is currently president, he suggests.

But most importantly, marketers need to go out to schools and universities to help inspire the new breed of talent, while those who come in for internships need to be given “meaty, substantial projects”, he says.

“You need to have a multi-layered strategy. Build internal credibility, learn yourself, equip your team, interface with the industry bodies, and then evangelise marketing, internally and externally,” he says. “It’s a 360-degree shift that has to be done.”