Inside Talent: What Recruiters Can Learn from Marketing at MasterCard
I focus my time largely on advising employers on creating new models for finding and engaging talent more efficiently and effectively. That means looking outside of the narrowly scoped and slightly siloed world of HR and talent and looking at the emerging best practices, breakthrough strategies and the innovators driving the unprecedented disruption being felt across industries, functions and markets.
This is why, if you want to know what the future of HR and talent looks like, all you have to do is know where to find the most salient new ideas, iterations and innovations shaping the bigger world of business today.
Most importantly, though, you’ve got to know who the real influencers and innovators are who are driving that change. After all, you can’t truly be a lifelong learner without having the right teachers, too.
Swipe Right: How MasterCard Mastered Rebranding
I recently had the opportunity to meet Raja Rajamanhar, the Chief Marketing and Communications Officer for MasterCard. Rajamanhar was recently recognized as the 2018 Marketer of the Year by the World Federation of Advertisers, which is a pretty impressive proof of concept, no matter what you might think of corporate awards.
One of the Forbes World’s Most Influential CMOs, Rajamannar has been a key voice in the marketing business, an influential and innovative marketer who’s helped breathe new life, and new profits, into one of the world’s most valuable brands.
His enthusiasm for brand purpose and authenticity aren’t surprising for one of the world’s top marketing minds; however, among his primary business priorities and personal passions is talent development, where his unique approach to acquiring and retaining talent have won him more than accolades.
It’s that focus on talent that has proved so pivotal into ensuring Rajamannar’s success at not only breathing life into a venerable brand, but also ensuring that when it comes to the bigger business and bottom line, MasterCard is not only surviving, but thriving.
This is because, according to Rajammar, “it’s about defining our role and defining it to be beyond the brand to now being a business driver … also, the culture is equally important. I had to make sure my colleagues would buy into and embrace [the brand vision] to have gravitas and a seat at the table.”
That proverbial seat at the table for most of us in talent and HR, is often elusive – just like building a brand around the shared vision, mission and values of the workers which drive company culture, and company success, over the short and long term.
The good news is, it’s possible. That’s why I wanted to share a little bit about what I think talent and HR leaders can learn from Rajammar and his journey at MasterCard.
Giving Credit: The Brand Transformation of MasterCard
To understand just how far MasterCard has come, it’s worth understanding exactly where they’ve come from, reinventing themselves in the last five years alone into one of the world’s most valuable, and buzzworthy, digital brands.
In 2013, for example, Interbrand estimated that MasterCard had a brand value of around 4.2 billion dollars – a fairly impressive figure, but still behind the likes of Smirnoff, Avon and Kleenex. In fact, that $4.2 billion in brand equity meant that MasterCard barely cracked the top 100 most valuable brands in 2013, squeaking in at #97.
Well, fast forward five years, and in the 2018 edition of the Interbrand report, MasterCard was estimated to have a brand value of $7.5 billion, including a 66% spike in brand value in the prior year alone – with MasterCard growing its revenues from $55.1B in 2017 to almost $92B in 2018.
For comparison, the world’s four most valuable brands were, not surprisingly, Microsoft, Apple, Google and Amazon, with these tech giants having brand values that, when combined, are estimated to be north of one trillion (that’s trillion, with a “T”) US dollars.
Of course, Apple, the world’s most valuable brand on both the 2013 and 2018 Interbrand lists, has maintained its brand equity primarily through maintaining a tight grip on licensing and access to its largely closed ecosystem.
The company is famously secretive, and selective, about its technology strategy – which is why when Apple recently unveiled their new branded credit card offering with Goldman Sachs, they selected MasterCard as their exclusive launch partner.
When Apple chooses you as a key strategic partner for a global technology initiative, due largely to your brand cache and reputation in the digital space, it’s a pretty ringing endorsement that you’re doing something right.
For Rajammar, however, the real validation can be traced directly to the business impact and bottom line results driven by MasterCard’s brand reinvention.
Priceless: Marketing Transformation at MasterCard
In a recent presentation at Harvard Business School, Rajamannar stressed the importance of linking marketing budgets to business outcomes, and that while branding is a means, it must justify the end goal – which, of course, can only really be seen by looking at the bottom line.
“Marketing primarily focused on branding,” Rajamannar said of the early part of his tenure at MasterCard, “But no one quite understood if and how it drove business.”
This is sort of a shocking admission, coming from the head of marketing at such a big brand – but it’s one that we often see in talent and recruitment.
After all, while we sense that brand is important, we often struggle to tie this to business results – and look at it more as an opportunity cost than a revenue opportunity. Of course, many of us still struggle to measure, report and analyze the impact our branding efforts really have on the bigger business picture.
Correlating employer branding initiatives with better hiring results remains an elusive goal for many organizations; similarly, we have a hard time showing how, exactly, our employer brand budget translated into recruiting ROI, or whether they can be attributed directly to any actual hires. If this sounds like you, you’re not alone; the disconnect between marketing and metrics can happen at any business.
Consider that Rajammar, surprisingly, faced a similar situation at MasterCard, a company with a brand worth over billions of dollars, with a product predicated on data, scenario analysis and quantitative qualification.
The first question that Rajammar had to address when reinventing the MasterCard brand was a simple one: how did brand marketing activities drive credit card transactions? Of course, arriving at an answer proved anything but straightforward.
And in figuring out how to overcome this obstacle that’s remained so elusive to so many in marketing for so long, the real brilliance of what Rajammar achieved at MasterCard truly starts to emerge.
Let’s take a step back for a second. It’s important to remember that MasterCard, while it issues credit cards, is a technology company and not a traditional bank. Therefore, the company has no information or PII on the people to whom it issues those credit cards – that’s all captured by the banks.
Mastercard, Visa, AmEx and similar merchant processors are the infrastructure, if you like, upon which e-commerce is built. Their systems and services represent a road that directly connects digital consumers with online banking.
This may seem a trivial part of the tech value chain, but MasterCard and its competitors are what make companies like Amazon, PayPal, eBay or really any e-commerce site’s existence possible. Similarly, having control of the plumbing through which all online transactions flow might be a bit mundane, but it’s big business.
After all, MasterCard currently enjoys a market valuation of $242B, which makes them bigger than Verizon ($241B), Chevron ($239B) and AT&T ($231B).
That value has grown largely to the reemergence and reinvention of their brand, and their understanding that this often ephemeral concept represents, in fact, one of the biggest revenue drivers for their business. Most consumers don’t notice a lot of difference between MasterCard and its competitors.
The services they offer are similar, if not identical. The only real distinction, and real competitive advantage, lies in their ability to build brand differentiation.
This is where MasterCard excels, and where there are a few key takeaways that every HR and talent professional should know when it comes to building an engaging, compelling and impactful brand.
From Story Telling to Story Making: Experience is Everything
There are few ads more memorable than the “Priceless” campaign that’s been the brand calling card at MasterCard since 1997. This longevity is rare for most marketing initiatives, yet MasterCard has managed to effectively adopt the “Priceless” campaign to often dramatic changes in consumer preferences, market conditions and customer demographics.
The key to the continued success of this campaign lies primarily on the ability of MasterCard to focus not on their product, which merely facilitates a financial transaction, but instead, on the larger experiences that those transactions create.
The concept of a truly “priceless experience” is timeless, and the real brilliance of this campaign was to link MasterCard with the purchase instead of the payment.
For recruiting and HR, it’s important to remember just how deeply this concept of “experience” truly resonates, and how everyone has a different conception of what, exactly, constitutes a “priceless experience.” But it’s imperative for every employer to identify, and magnify, the “priceless experience” behind their company and their culture. We must show the hiring process not just as a transactional intermediary, but instead, as the facilitator of all the amazing employee experiences that happen as a result of the recruiting process.
It’s easy in talent acquisition to forget that our job is nothing short of improving people’s lives – and livelihoods – by helping them find more meaningful, more fulfilling job opportunities.
Talk about priceless.
This article was originally published on Inside Talent.