MasterCard CMO Talks Brand Transition From Credit Cards to Wearables

Financial Services Giant Aims for Millennial Crowd Through Electronic Dance Music and Tech

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Raja Rajamannar, MasterCard Worldwide CMO
Raja Rajamannar, MasterCard Worldwide CMO

The way people pay for stuff is changing, and as consumers branch out beyond cash and credit, financial-services firms like MasterCard want to make sure they're providing the options. To do that, a key focus for the company is to attract younger consumers to join its Priceless program, and use the loyalty offering to develop new ways to pay -- and disseminate data along the way.

MasterCard has invested in entertainment and live-music events for a while now, sponsoring the 55th Annual Grammy Awards in 2013, teaming with Justin Timberlake through its Priceless Cities program, and offering special access at Beyonce concerts to cardholders. In its latest effort to appeal to the younger set, MasterCard has latched onto the electronic dance music phenomenon with an extensive sponsorship and partnership with electronic dance event company SFX, which hosts festivals across the globe labeled with names like Tomorrowland and Stereosonic.

MasterCard becomes the exclusive financial services sponsor for all of SFX's platforms, while operating the single sign-on technology used by EDM partygoers for buying tickets and merchandise and finding their ways around venues. The deal gives MasterCard a way to spread its MasterPass digital payment technology among a key audience of young 25-34 year-old adopters who could become bigger spenders as the years roll on.

Ad Age asked MasterCard Worldwide's CMO Raja Rajamannar about the company's attempts to woo younger consumers, its musical connections, and how his role has changed since MasterCard has put more resources into tech development.

Ad Age: MasterCard has focused a lot of its loyalty marketing efforts on tie-ins with musical artists and events such as Justin Timberlake and electronic dance music. Why is live music a good fit for the Priceless program and the types of consumers you'd like to attract to Priceless?

Mr. Rajamannar: We are continuously looking for ways to increase our brand salience and loyalty. Seventeen years ago, we created a powerful platform called Priceless where we celebrated the priceless moments in people's lives. Today we are evolving Priceless to create priceless experiences by connecting people to their passions. Music is a major passion of our consumer and therefore is a natural fit for our brand. EDM is the fastest growing music segment and gives us the opportunity to connect with a very important consumer segment: Millennials in particular and the 18-34 years audience more broadly.

Ad Age: You just signed a multi-year deal with SFX, the firm that MasterCard will work with as a tech development partner. Can you elaborate on the plans for your work with SFX?

Mr. Rajamannar: SFX produces over 1,600 events in over 20 countries, giving us the opportunity to connect with hundreds of millions of consumers and fans globally, and what we want to do is tap into their passion and create a complete experience for them, before, during and after the concert. For MasterCard this means integrating our product technology and marketing platforms into how fans download music and purchase tickets, how they buy and receive concessions or memorabilia at the event, and we are even looking at how we create unique VIP experiences -- say on-site at an exclusive restaurant. We will also look to integrate "Priceless Surprises" which has already proven to be popular with fans across other genres of music and in other passion categories. It's taking a look at the complete consumer journey and providing them with seamless and memorable experiences.

Ad Age: This type of technology-development initiative represents a major departure from what most people think of when they think of MasterCard. How has your role as CMO changed in light of MasterCard's tech-development efforts?

Mr. Rajamannar: Two things come to mind. First, when our CEO, Ajay Banga, joined MasterCard in 2009, he began an effort to transform our image from a payments company to a technology company, and part of that is changing consumers' perception. You can see this commitment in the new products and solutions we now bring to the marketplace, such as MasterPass, our digital payment solution or our Qkr payment app used at Yankee Stadium.

Second, the proliferation of mobile devices presents us with a unique opportunity to connect with our consumers, and to engage them in interesting and unprecedented ways. However, unlike for most other companies trying to leverage mobility as a marketing platform, for us at MasterCard, the product itself -- mobile payments, is core to our business. So both product and marketing are more intricately tied and focused on delivering seamless and unique experiences before, during and after the payment transaction.

As marketers we seek to differentiate and drive preference for our brand, and we do that through incorporating unique Priceless experiences around our products, including Priceless Cities, Priceless Surprises, and Priceless Causes.

Ad Age: How does culture affect the way consumers adopt things like wearables for event information and transactions? Are there distinctions among various regions globally?

Mr. Rajamannar: While the physical and digital worlds continue to converge, not all markets are the same; not all standards are the same. If we look at some emerging economies, they do not have significant legacy investments in technology platforms and that can leap frog them to newer technologies like wearables. The appetite for these things in markets such as the U.S. is also significant, and across multiple areas of application -- from finance to health to daily living. There are some markets which tend to be early adopters for such technology categories. And within a given market, there are segments that tend to adopt these much earlier than the others. Point is, each market has a unique ecosystem, and what we are focused on is creating that unique and seamless experience for consumers no matter where they are. One way we do this is by pulling out those common passion themes like music and sports, and then delivering experiences around them in a meaningful way. That could be via wearables, mobile, gaming, tablet, PC -- without losing sight of the uniqueness of the market, and of course, making sure that the economics of the business case work, too.

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