Why business objectives should take precedence over marketing objectives

A day before her 21st birthday, while waiting at the airport to head home, Deborah Goldingham spots a job ad at American Express. A week later, she starts her first full-time corporate job as product manager at AMEX.

And since then, the current head of marketing for Southeast Asia at MasterCard has not looked back. At AMEX, she was looking after the corporate card marketing, and after few years of doing so, dipped her toes into merchant marketing, working with strategic merchant partners to try and get card usage up.

It was in 1996 when she got a call from Visa to join as an account manager. Three years after that she took on the role of country manager. It was also a year before the Olympics which Visa was sponsoring.

Being the youngest country manager for Visa at the time was a fantastic learning curve for her as she went all the way from being an account manager to driving complete country responsibility of the P&L.

It was a little over three years in the role when Goldingham was offered a role at MasterCard – a company she has now been with for 13 years. She took on the Southeast Asia role six years ago and has since been looking after the entire spectrum of marketing for the region.

Having worked across all the top brands in the payments industry, she has witnessed the transformation first-hand. A prominent leader in this space, she believes the industry has come a long way. Back in the day when she started, it was all about building physical acceptance at scale and issuing plastic cards.

Today it’s about driving commerce with electronic payments leading with digital across emerging and developed economies and merchant segments.

“Payments is one of the exciting industries to be in. Not only does it play out across every consumer category – be it FMCG or travel or retail – it plays a major role in driving commerce across geographies and industries, from large to small-scale businesses and from nascent and emerging market segments to mature markets,” she says.

But what helped lay a foundation for her career in marketing were two things. First, the skills she picked up while helping her dad with his retail store in Auckland. It was her first experience in assessing buyer behaviour and converting visitors into shoppers.

“It was where I first learnt to understand the need of the consumer and turning a visit into a transaction. That has never left me,” she says. The other and the most critical factor was her exposure to managing P&Ls at Visa, one that taught her an important lesson.

You [as a marketer] can either be a cost centre or a revenue centre, and you can choose what you want to be.

Her belief? For marketers to succeed, business objectives have to come first and the marketing/comms objective second. The relevance of business P&L in marketing is way more than what it used to be when she first started.

“You can sell whatever you want, but unless it’s driving the P&L or driving the numbers, and benefiting the business in the long term, it does not matter,” she says.

And in her role, she has to drive two P&Ls, or that’s how she sees it – one for MasterCard, a brand that does not see itself as a card issuer, but a technology company that facilitates secure transactions between merchants, banks and cardholders, and the other for its partners.

While MasterCard doesn’t own direct relationships with customers, it invests heavily in insights into customer behaviour to support two of its most important stakeholders – issuers or the banks, and the merchants. Its approach across the region is to bring deep consumer insights to both issuers and merchant partners to align and add value to their priorities and strategies in the markets.

When working with issuers, it partners with them to deliver new programmes, products and services from both a lifestyle and relationship POV with their customers.

In working with merchant partners, it develops programmes that align its insights to consumers who travel, shop, dine, play and desire unique experiences as well as integrating platforms and products that deliver a superior cardholder experience whenever and wherever they pay.

“And so we need to look and consider both of those at the same time. If our programmes don’t help them with their business objectives, then it’s pretty much of no use,” she says.

Therefore, the starting point for her is to look at the profile of the issuer in the market it is operating in, understand what its focus is and suggest customised solutions. And that, Goldingham and her team does for partners across Southeast Asia.

Within the region, Thailand provides an opportunity for the brand to develop awareness among affl uent consumers who love to experience life and travel to places where experiences matter.

MasterCard launched Priceless Thailand as part of its global Priceless Cities programme and is focused on partnering with the best there is in Thailand to provide exclusive access to experiences and offers for cardholders to enjoy those truly memorable moments.

“We believe that by providing priceless experiences for these consumers in Thailand, we will be their preferred brand every day, everywhere.”

Looking at Malaysia, it provides a great opportunity for MasterCard to engage with mass affl uent consumers to drive everyday spend across core categories and create preference against cash. It does so by delivering engaging content and relevant offers and experiences targeting consumers when and where they need them throughout their daily lives.

Indonesia represents a huge opportunity for the company to move cash transactions to electronic payments both online and at the point of sale. And all of that sits well with MasterCard’s overall vision which is to become a “force for good” in a world beyond cash.

“By being locally relevant and combining a compelling reason to use electronic payments versus cash, we can build a brand through content that engages consumers and delivers fi nancial security and integrity in the system,” she says.

But is it not a challenge to manage issuer marketing, merchant marketing, brand as well as PR for a region as diverse as Southeast Asia? According to Goldingham, it is more a motivation than a challenge.

“You can be having a discussion with a bank in Myanmar or Cambodia or Singapore at the same time. They are fundamentally different and at different stages of growth, but they’re all trying to do one thing – trying to understand how to deliver something new to their consumer. It is fascinating.”

This is the sort of customer-centricity that will help marketing drive value for the business. Her golden rule is to never lose sight of the consumer.

“For marketers, it is important to literally immerse yourself in data and constantly ask questions about the data. Keep measuring what you’re doing and prove that it’s being measured,” she says.

Marketers don’t need to be geeks, but need to know the art of asking the right questions.

“Work with the business and understand how things tick. Open the hood of everything you’re dealing with and don’t just take things at face value. Really question every part of the business and think where you can actually add value, because what you need to know is not always on the surface,” she says.

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