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.

Forbes Middle East - - THOUGHT LEADERS - www.master­

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.”

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