Raja Rajamannar

Chief Marketing & Communications Officer and President Healthcare
“We are creating an overall, immersive experience”
Raja Rajamannar, Chief Marketing and Communication Officer of Mastercard and president of the company’s healthcare business, talks about multi-sensory marketing and his passion for new technologies.
How does it feel to be ranked the fourth most influential CMO in the world by Forbes?
‘I'm happy to take the credit on behalf of my team. I would look at this as recognition of the fantastic work that they are doing.’

Mastercard have developed their multi-sensory marketing over the past few years. Can you explain what that is?
‘Most human beings are blessed with five senses: sound, sight, touch, smell, and taste. As marketers, we typically resort to two of these five senses to communicate with consumers: sound and sight. In a world which is overloaded with information, you're trying to channel everything through two highways: audio and visual advertisements. Why not use all five sensory highways to drive that traffic through, and do it in a highly optimized fashion? This means having a smooth information flow without over-cluttering, whilst making sure that you are connecting with the consumers at the very primal level as a brand. After all, feelings and emotions strike decisions. We need to really rethink how marketing is done. Multi-sensory marketing is a very important component in this, as we’re on the verge of the fifth paradigm of marketing. We cannot live without multi-sensory marketing, which is an integral part of the larger game of quantum marketing.’

How does this apply to promoting a credit card?

‘Firstly, I want to bust the myth that Mastercard is a credit card company. We are a technology company which enables banks and other financial entities to issue cards, and for merchants to accept various payment mechanisms. Plus, we do a whole bunch of other things. Multi-sensory is about connecting your product with the five senses of the consumers. For example, we wanted to get into the fast-growing space of people’s passion for culinary experiences. So, we started curating ‘priceless tables’ in unexpected locations, where top-rated chefs would serve you a meal. Our very first priceless table was on top of a billboard in Times Square, with a Michelin star chef serving a five-course meal. What happens is that people will start subconsciously associating a beautiful experience they had with Mastercard. From there we evolved to the next stage where we started offering special experiences at restaurants, such as the owner handing you a small gift bag with spices. Recently we launched our own two Priceless by Mastercard restaurants, each with a unique ambiance.’ 
Were all of the senses developed simultaneously in this strategy?
‘No. First you must understand what a specific sense can do to the brand and how we can tap into it in the most compelling fashion. Let's take sound; brands have been using it forever. There are jingles I remember clearly from my childhood. Companies like Intel have a very recognizable mnemonic at the end of the rhyme. But there is an art and a science to sound. I tried to understand the science part of it. So, we created sonic brand architecture which has ten different layers of how the sound characteristics will be manifested. We’ve launched three so far. The first is a 30 second melody. It had to be pleasant, memorable and hummable in order to get into your head. It also has to be neutral, which means it should not dominate a situation. The purpose of sound is to support the brand. Then it has to be versatile and cross-situational. Wherever you are, the melody has to transition across all situations. We have two other layers; an excerpt of this melody will sign off at the end of all the ads, as a sonic signature. Finally, every time your Mastercard is used, either on your phone or at a point of sale in a shop, you will hear a 1.3 second six-note subset of the melody. Each one of these keeps building on the other. This is how we started creating music.’

Can any brand apply multi-sensory marketing?
‘With so many brands competing for people’s limited attention, all brands have to explore opportunities in an authentic and credible way. It is not just a matter of associating a sound with your brand and jumping in.’

If all the brands were to implement multi-sensory marketing, wouldn’t consumers be overstimulated very soon?
‘If you are creating a cacophony, then yes, consumers would tune you out or completely switch you off. For example, some 600 million people have installed ad-blockers. Which is good in some sense. People are also running to ad-free heavens like Netflix and Amazon Prime. But if you do things in a scientific manner and regulate the movement of information, it can be beautifully streamlined.’

How do you find that balance between stimulating and annoying?
‘In new alternate realities like the Metaverse people are moving through different realms. It's not like you're doing multi-sensory on television, there are so many other places where you can engage with consumers. The key point is: if you do not regulate yourself, somebody else will come in to protect consumers and regulate you, i.e., the government.’

Would you say that the other senses, besides sight and hearing, are the Holy Grail in capturing the valuable attention of the consumer?
‘I would not call them the Holy Grail, but they form an incredibly powerful set of layers. They can get you to consumer engagement through an unprecedented level of relevance and depth. Both are extremely critical. And yes, it is going to be game-changing.’

Is the future for marketers to have a multi-sensory brand approach in place?
‘Absolutely. Look at Aston Martin, the feel of their leather, the sound of the door-click; you may not be consciously aware of it, but it gives you an experience. At Mastercard, we created two Priceless fragrances: Passion and Optimism. Passion is red, Optimism is yellow; the colours of our logo. This is not just about selling fragrances, even though the products are available in many places. More importantly, we are creating an aura, an ambience and a lifestyle approach to our brand. If you come to any Mastercard experience centre, you will smell the fragrances there. This way, we are creating an overall, immersive experience. The more immersive the consumer experience, the deeper the impact. Multi-sensory enables you to get into that in a significant way.’
How do you avoid a negative brand association if someone doesn't like a particular sound or taste?
‘That is the Holy Grail. One way to tackle it is to have multiple ideas. We have two fragrances to cater to two different tastes. Likewise, our restaurants have multiple menus. In the case of sound, you need unification for identity, not a proliferation. That's why it took me two years to come up with this particular sound. We had to keep checking again and again to see the reactions. We even used a helmet that shows which part of your brain is getting stimulated by which kind of tune or note. I was working with some of the best music artists, record labels and musicologists. We had to be original and couldn’t be caught plagiarizing someone else's work. It was such a big exercise.’
If I'm a CMO of a small local brand, and I don't have your large budget... how would I move into this future of marketing you describe?
‘Creating music with AI is much cheaper now than two years ago. The costs are coming down across every single area. In the past, creating a fragrance or a soap was a very long process. Today it took us under one year to get two fantastic fragrances. The speed of actual development is increasing thanks to all the technologies and it's becoming more accessible. Today, AI is available as a service. You pay as you go, and you pay only for what you use. For just a few thousand dollars, you can actually get AI solutions. And that's brilliant, democratization and accessibility of technologies are at an unprecedented level.’

Where do you stand on crypto?
‘Crypto is already game-changing. The stable coins, the ones that are pegged to a government-backed currency, have a phenomenal role to play. If I have to send money to my cousin in India, it’s there in seconds. The accessibility to people, with or without bank accounts, is going to be amazing. Say you’re a musician, you can do a ton of stuff through the crypto world. Whether it is through NFT’s, or getting your royalties through the blockchain mechanisms; the possibilities are incredible. This is going to be the new world order when you fast-forward.’

You’re very passionate about future and present technologies. Where does that come from?
‘I'm a trained environmental engineer, and I was doing that while I was doing my MBA. But then, during my internship with a cosmetics company, I overheard a conversation between my boss and the agency. They were trying to figure out how to communicate to consumers the benefits of using cosmetics. In those days, in South India, cosmetics had gotten a bad rap. Using them meant you were trying to attract attention and therefore you couldn’t be a very good character. It was not acceptable. So, I took a piece of paper and wrote: 'Is it bad to look good?' They were stunned and that particular campaign was a huge success. So, I thought: ‘Man, maybe marketing is what I should be doing…’ And now, 36 years later, I'm still here.’

You discovered your talent at that very moment?

‘Exactly, it was an aha moment for me and it stayed with me for life. I thoroughly enjoy it. And it's fascinating, marketing is one of the very few functions where you leverage both sides of your brain. You can see your action and concepts manifesting in front of you. You're dealing with people, it's very glamorous, you travel. You also have the amazing opportunity to make a difference because your influence is so big. You can create the right impact on society if you want to. So therefore, it's very exciting to me. And our field is so rapidly changing, it's like being a kid in the candy store. Every which way you look there is an opportunity. It's pretty exciting, I believe this is the most inspiring moment in time.’
Is there a sixth sense in marketing?
‘Absolutely! That is your gut feeling, your judgement, your wisdom. Science can only take you up to a point, art can actually embellish it and take it to a different level. But there is something beyond that, something that comes with experience. Most people are born with left and right brain capabilities but that third dimension, or the sixth sense as you call it… this only arrives after you’ve seen the world at large and you have experienced different circumstances, cultures, countries, products, and industries. I think that is invaluable.’

How often do you see the marketing data being presented to you, but your gut feeling tells you something different?
‘All the time. There were so many times when I've said: ‘No, there is something wrong with this study.’ Perhaps the way we asked the questions was not correct. Or maybe the consumers didn't know what they were answering because their behaviour is subconscious while you're asking them to give you a conscious answer. Because that way, you’ll get forced rationalized responses as opposed to what truly matters. So, I always override and overrule.’

And is your gut feeling mostly right?
‘So far, I have been fortunate.’

Finally, if you were offered a billboard that the whole world could see, what message would you put on it?
‘Please learn, for your own sake. You have to learn, otherwise you become obsolete. I wouldn’t just aim this at marketers, but to everyone across every profession. When there are so many technologies, you really have to upscale yourself and relearn everything. There are so many things today that we take for granted, that will become obsolete. And if you don't keep up the pace, you get left behind.’

About Raja Rajamannar
Ranked by Forbes as the fourth most influential CMO in the world, Raja joined Mastercard in 2013. Before that, he had accumulated 25 years of experience as a global executive across multiple industries and geographies. He served as Chief Transformation Officer of the health insurance firm Anthem (formerly WellPoint) and held various leadership roles with Citigroup. Earlier, he spent seven years with Unilever in sales and product management roles. Last year, Raja published his book, Quantum Marketing: Mastering the New Marketing Mindset for Tomorrow’s Consumers.

About Mastercard
Mastercard is an American multinational financial services corporation, founded in 1966. It is known globally as a processor of payments between the banks of merchants and the card-issuing banks or credit unions of the purchasers, Mastercard is worth 113 billion dollars, placing it in the top ten of most valuable companies in the world.
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