My CMO 2.0 Conversation with Larry Flanagan, the CMO at MasterCard was a good one.
As is usually the case with these interviews, Larry started off by giving us some context to the career that led him to become CMO at MasterCard – in his case a background that includes a stint in the advertising business, as well as client side experiences with Proctor & Gamble and L’Oreal, where he was involved with major acquisitions. He joined MasterCard 13 years ago when the brand was in dire straits, and became CMO 5 years later. Not surprisingly, one of his main yardsticks in managing global marketing campaigns for MasterCard is Marketing ROI.
MasterCard has an interesting and fairly complex business model. On the one hand, they deal with partners, for the most part banks, but also merchant partners and non-financial institutions, who are basically franchisees. On the other hand they deal with consumers, who are the carriers of the cards. That makes for a business that is not just into B2B or B2C, but also into B2C2B and B2B2C – resulting in interesting and unique challenges as it relates to balancing the marketing mix and branding.
We then talked about the challenges associated with delivering a consistent brand experience when you have as many customer touch-points as MasterCard has – most of which are not in the company’s control. Brand is especially important for MasterCard as it is fully intertwined with the value propositions to their partners. At MasterCard, just as is the case with many other companies, branding has undergone dramatic shifts over the last decades. Larry described how branding went from being a process that consisted of a one way dialog in which companies told the consumers how they should think about the brand, how it’s differentiated from competitors, what the key benefits and value proposition are, to a many-to-many process in which the brand exists in the consumer’s daily experience, and is influenced not only by what the company says, but also by what is being said in consumers’ social networks, and what friends are telling them. Larry calls this a consumer inside-out view of the brand – one in which the brand truth lies with the consumer.
What that means for marketers is that they have to think differently about the channels through which they try to influence consumers. Sometimes the best way to have a dialogue with the consumer is through third party influencers and stake-holders who enjoy a high level of trust within their communities and networks.
In Larry’s view, social media and digital technologies have ignited a revolution that has leveled the playing field between individuals and corporations. In a way, it has enabled word of mouth, which has always been one of the most successful means of influence and decision-making, to become word of mouth on steroids, with everything being amplified and traveling much faster than before. That is true in all aspects of business, not just in marketing, but also in the way we recruit and manage talent, and how job applicants select the companies they want to work for. And while we may not fully understand the long term impact of social media on our business – one thing we know for sure is that as companies we have to be part of those conversations.
One of the challenges facing marketers who are investing in these new channels and leveraging these new-found opportunities to engage with consumers, partners, and competitors, is how to measure the impact of those programs, and how to attribute value to all those new behaviors so that we can influence the ones we want. Clearly there are no good models out there to do that and Larry believes that many companies will develop proprietary models.
We then talked about an issue that is very specific to the financial sector, yet applicable to all industries – that of trust. It’s no secret that the last economic downturn have severely damaged the trust that consumers have in their financial institutions. When you are hit with a trust confidence crisis like this – how do you overcome it and how do you regain that trust? According to Larry, the key to overcome this is by first listening to the marketplace and truly understand what is going on. Next is to engage with the marketplace in a manner that is transparent and value driven. Specifically for financial services companies that means convincing consumers that they want to make their lives easier while not hiding the fact that they are for-profit commercial institutions and not charitable organizations.
Other things that we discussed include:
- The changing role of reputation management in a social media world
- The importance of listening to what is being said about your company and how to select the conversations in which you want to engage
- The skill set of people needed to successfully lead you through the current changes
- The importance of mobile applications in the marketing mix
- The role and valuation of impressions and engagement in paid media, earned media, and owned media
- The balance between global/local needs in the marketing mix
As usual, you can listen to the full podcast on the CMO 2.0 Conversation.