Mastercard CMO: great rapport with top management is the ultimate skill for marketers at any level

Mastercard CMO: great rapport with top management is the ultimate skill for marketers at any level

Being able to speak to language of business, and explain the value of marketing in terms of the company's bottom line, is the only way to protect marketing budgets in harder times, writes Mastercard's chief marketing and communications officer

Understanding marketing is no longer the key to being a successful marketer.

I often get asked to describe what it takes to be a successful marketer today; and yes, you need to be creative and classically trained, and yes, you need to understand digital marketing, be a mad data scientist, and all the rest.

But if you’re not able to effectively communicate to management the value of marketing, you may be putting the entire department’s reputation at risk.  

As our world continues to get more exciting and challenging at every social advancement and technological turn, having a strong business rapport with your CEO and CFO is the ultimate skill that every good marketer needs. And with growing accountability on many fronts, it is one of the most overlooked and fundamental challenges facing our industry today.

Marketing is an intricate field that requires synergies between many areas of the company to achieve long-term success.

Because of my background in finance, business and technology, I have crafted a skill that allows me to accomplish one of the most important things a CMO can do – ensure marketing budgets are not cut in any given quarter or year.

Before joining Mastercard, I worked in sales, technology and managed P&Ls. My experience allows me to validate marketing spend in a simple, persuasive and accountable way.

And I believe these skills can be used by marketers anywhere at every level. How? Present yourself as a general manager and speak the language of the business.  Here are a few key tips.

Be a businessperson

Being able to clearly explain the value of marketing in relation to the business’s bottom line begins with thinking like a businessperson.

Every company will undoubtedly endure a shortfall in results at some point or another. When that happens, a chief executive officer typically looks to cut from three expense lines – technology, staff and marketing.

Cutting technology or employee budgets rarely works as a short-term solution. And as a result, that leaves only one fungible asset: marketing.

Understand the CEO’s expectations. He or she will want to speak to analysts about how marketing connects to the company’s bottom line, not marketing metrics.

I keep that in mind when speaking to the CEO. Translating my marketing speak, which includes metrics, into a language that analysts can relate to is paramount.

Form credibility

Not everyone has the luxury of acquiring an MBA degree or certification in finance. Not to worry, there are many ways for marketers to quickly become well-versed on these subjects.

First by fortifying relationships with other areas of the company. And second by taking the personal initiative to increase one’s own education.

At Mastercard, there is a collaborative environment between all areas of the business and marketing. In fact, there is a marketer in every executive committee group, which allows for open dialogue between parties.

What also helps is having a financial officer within the marketing department who not only reports to me, but the CFO as well. This position ensures a direct line of communication between departments.

As leaders, we need to cultivate our curiosities and encourage others to do so.

While receiving a degree is by no means imperative, educating yourself and your employees should be.

Whether it’s a crash course in cryptocurrencies or reading a book on the fundamentals of finance, simple steps to elevating your knowledge will deliver a fundamental frame of reference for marketers that can be directly applied to their work.  

At Mastercard we provide on-site and online courses that not only cover finance basics but also delve into many aspects of the global payments ecosystem.   

A last word of advice

When taking a meeting with executive management or the C-Suite, follow three simple rules: Be brief, be bright and be gone. What do I mean by that?

Speak in simple everyday language and avoid industry jargon. Not only is there potential for misinterpretation, but using industry jargon adds an unnecessary layer of confusion. Be brief.

Never stop learning. The more someone understands a topic, the more simply he or she can explain it. Be bright.

Make brevity your friend. Too often we ramble and get caught up in jargon-fueled corporate-speak. Make your point quickly and efficiently. Be gone.

As CMO, I am expected to think, speak and act more like a general manager than a marketing expert. If marketers at every level are able to speak the language of the business, it will establish long-term success and understanding between departments. The best way to validate the field of marketing, which is so close to me, is by doing it in a simple, persuasive and accountable way.

Raja Rajamannar is chief marketing and communications officer at Mastercard and named among Campaign’s Power 100 list of marketers.

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