The toughest question marketing faces: So, what?

If a typical conversation between marketing and business was to be “Facebook-ed”, here’s what it might look like:

Marketing: Our brand awareness post this campaign is significantly higher than last year! *celebrates* #wediditagain #weareawesome

Business: Great. So? #notagain #sowhat #showmethemoney #youjustdon’tgetit

Marketing: So?!!?? … #whycantyouseewhatI’mtryingtodo #youjustdon’tgetmarketing

And so on and so forth. As marketers, surely you would know how the rest of the conversation would go like.

We have heard from many marketers that the future success of marketing and marketers depends on how keen is their understanding of the business and how marketing can turn into a profit centre from being a cost centre.

In a conversation with Raja Rajamannar, chief marketing officer at MasterCard, he reiterated the same.

For marketing to survive in the world of business, it needs to speak the language of the business.

“Marketing is no longer about softer KPIs. Brands have started putting emphasis on financial KPIs,” he said.

In no way are softer KPIs, such as brand awareness, brand perception, overall opinion, NPS and others immaterial, but they need to be funnelled in a way that shows the link between them and business results.

“Marketers get excited about these softer KPIs, but if a marketing guy comes to me and says my awareness has gone up, I’d say that’s great, but what does it do to the company’s bottom line?” he said.

The “so what?” is absolutely critical.

According to Rajamannar, in the past 12 months MasterCard has brought in the discipline and methodologies to connect marketing KPIs to business KPIs.

“We are creating funnels to understand if our brand awareness goes up by a certain measure, what is going to happen to the bottom-line,” he said.

For MasterCard, its Priceless Surprises platform has been the most successful marketing initiative in recent years. He said it had moved the needle for the business.

“The brand scores have gone up. We use the BrandAsset Valuator which measures brand energy and brand differentiation – and both moved up, including NPS, yielding incremental business results.”

MasterCard now looks at Priceless Surprises more as a marketing platform than an advertising campaign. It has identified nine passion points for its customers and offers them experiences in the form of surprises across those passion points which range from music to different sports.

From this has also stemmed its latest initiatives such as Priceless Causes. MasterCard is also in the process of rolling out its newly launched digital and social media engine in markets outside of Asia.

From pure play marketing to business: A mind-shift

While in theory it makes a lot of sense for marketing to be business oriented, what does it take a brand to truly implement this on the ground? Training and hiring the right talent, says Rajamannar.

At MasterCard, from time to time, every regional head sits in a financial 101 directly with the CFO.

“Our CFO educates them on how to look at financials and understand them,” he said.

Other than that, MasterCard also uses third-party companies to carry out objective assessments through methodologies and a framework that eliminates bias.

“If a marketing campaign will be evaluated only by the marketing team, results, of course, will be biased. Instead we get these third-parties to look at how we link marketing results to the company’s bottom line.

“We have made significant investments to get this attribution model right and we are far ahead of the game than most companies in that aspect.”