The Recipe For A Priceless Brand
Raja Rajamannar, Chief Marketing Officer of Mastercard, believes storytelling is dead. He’s been leading the global technology company on a discovery of story making, through a memorable, multi-sensory and experiential journey.
In November, the glittering backdrop of the La Perle show in the heart of Dubai’s Al Habtoor City was the unique setting for Mastercard’s latest jaw-dropping launch, as it revealed its latest strategy to elevate consumer experience through taste.
Conceived by Kreëmart and crafted by Ladurée, the flavorful sensation— revealed in two original macaron flavors—was unveiled in the presence of industry leaders, entrepreneurs, influencers and artists, while La Perle’s world-class acrobats performed around them. “Like sound, taste hits straight to the primal brain, which is where consumers’ purchasing decision-making happens,” explains Raja Rajamannar, Mastercard’s global Chief Marketing and Communications Officer at the sidelines of the event.
The two flavors—passion and optimism—were carefully chosen to match Mastercard’s values. Passion represents the company’s energy and commitment to helping people get closer to the things that they love, while optimism signifies its confidence and efforts to making the world a better place.
This is not the brand’s first foray into food. Since 2014, it has set up hundreds of “Priceless Tables” in landmark locations worldwide, including on top of a billboard in Times Square, inside the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, and by Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro. Partnering with world-renowned chefs and mixologists, the collective offers immersive, multi-sensory experiences. With several commercial clients already booking Mastercard for its “Priceless Tables” for this year’s holiday season, it’s clear the campaign’s impact is reaching far and wide.
This year, it also opened its first permanent restaurant, Bistro by Mastercard at Rome International Airport. Unlike the typical food offerings airside, Bistro by Mastercard delivers a gourmet food experience enhanced by the latest technology.
A robot welcomes guests to their table and the digital interactive tabletop keeps customers entertained and informed with regular flight alerts. “Nothing hits you more than experiences—it registers,” says Rajamannar.
Developing a “Priceless Taste” is the latest step in the brand’s ongoing sensory evolution. Earlier this year, Mastercard, focusing on visuals, removed its name from its logo, leaving only the symbol of two overlapping circles. The iconic identifiers have been the hallmark of the Mastercard brand for more than 50 years, with more than 80% of people spontaneously recognizing the symbol. For Rajamannar, Mastercard can’t become dull, so consistent branding innovation remains a priority.
Then, later it debuted a global sonic identity. The CMO explains that from neutrality to pleasantness and cross-cultural differences, getting this signature melody right was critical in building brand association with consumers worldwide. Whether heard at the rugby world cup or at the opera, it had to feel equally at home in varied contexts. While pilot testing the sounds, consumers underwent neurological experiments that revealed which parts of the brain lit up when the melody was played. “I learnt so much about music in the process,” says Rajamannar.
Musicologists helped ensure the sound was original, while top composers like Linkin Park’s guitarist Mike Shinoda guided the development process. After two years and multiple testing phases with consumers from across the world, the sonic brand was ready. Post-delivery research has shown that when the tune plays at point-ofsale, it gives relief to customers that their transaction has been successful.
Since joining the company in 2013, Rajamannar has been on a mission to modernize Mastercard’s image and elevate it to a holistic marketing platform. “I felt very privileged to inherit a brand of that stature”, he recalls of his early beginnings at the company. He was determined to recognize the great heritage of the brand and celebrate it, but seeing how consumer needs were changing, he wanted it to be known for story making, not storytelling. With nearly 650 million people using AdBlocks on their devices, one of the toughest challenges for the CMO was to find the most common factor amongst consumers across cultures, to then strategically design and tell the story of the brand. His strategy has proven successful. At the time he joined, Mastercard ranked 87 among the world’s top 100 brands by BrandZ, the world’s largest brand equity database. Today it sits in 12th place, with almost two billion consumers globally.
In his role as CMO, Rajamannar’s vision is for Mastercard to be recognized globally as an indispensable part of daily life, chasing consistency in user touch points above more spending. When asked what’s next in the multi-sensory journey, the executive laughs and says the game plan is to go slow and steady. “We don’t want to chase a shiny new toy, we want to develop what we’ve got, push it to scale and create the right impact,” he insists.
This year, Mastercard was also named the fasting-growing brand in 2019 across all categories by BrandZ. Now, Rajamannar’s goal is to push Mastercard from number 12 to number five on the BrandZ index. He also wants it to be recognized as a brand by consumers across the board and be relevant to them and their lifestyle. Besides being a global payments platform and technology company, the multinational corporation has active healthcare and cybersecurity verticals—it’s about way more than just financial services. “People don’t compartmentalize brands in their head by financial or non-financial needs,” he says. “You have to occupy their heart to compete in the market and that’s what Mastercard is after.”