A CMO’s View: MasterCard shares the 9 passion points that shape its event strategy

CMO Raja Rajamannar says his brand aims to deliver unique consumer experiences through its event marketing and sponsorships.

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When PGA golfer Jason Day won the Arnold Palmer Invitational last month, he wasn’t the only one demonstrating his skills on the course. MasterCard, a long-standing partner of the golf tournament, used the event to introduce a number of its latest technology advancements.

“We are a technology company that happens to be in the payment space,” says Raja Rajamannar, MasterCard’s CMO. He says MasterCard is an experiential brand, and the Arnold Palmer Invitational was an opportunity to show how the company’s latest technology could benefit consumers.

“We enabled the entire place at the golf course with contactless payments,” says Rajamannar, “The queues are shorter because your payments are faster, there’s more convenience for everyone involved.”

In addition to its contactless payment system, MasterCard partnered with Calloway during the event to design a payment-enabled golf glove as part of its “Commerce for Every Device” program.

The brand also integrated the Qkr! ordering app into the tournament for attendees and introduced a virtual reality experience that included a guided tour of the famous 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass golf course led by pro golfer Graeme McDowell. Rajamannar says MasterCard’s addition of a commerce component to its VR experience was an industry first.

“When you wear the virtual reality set, you see Graeme McDowell telling you about the course, and how he is navigating the course, how he is hitting the shot,” says Rajamannar, “Then, when you look at his shirt, or you look at his shoes, or whatever, immediately something pops out, the extra layer of information — visual of what shirt he’s wearing, what’s the color, what’s the brand or what shoe — the second layer that we have put on top of it is an ability to purchase that item.”

Rajamannar says the Arnold Palmer Invitational is one of its big events, but not the biggest. According to the CMO, MasterCard sponsors approximately three to four big events per month on a global level.

To manage its multiple sponsorship events, MasterCard has a global team that guides the overarching strategy and approach for the brand’s event marketing and regional teams that manage and execute event strategy on a local level.

Rajamannar says his sponsorship teams negotiate contracts, sign the deals, manage all aspects of event logistics, explore possible partnerships and determine potential technology to incorporate within an event.

On the heels of MasterCard’s 13th year as an Arnold Palmer Invitational partner, Rajamannar was generous enough to share how his brand chooses sponsorship opportunities — and the steps it takes to ensure unique experiences at every event.

Get To Know:

Raja Rajamannar

CMO @ MasterCard


1. Create consumer affection and engagement through unique experiences.

2. The overall activation must create a competitive advantage for the brand.

3. Events must drive and build the business, as well as the brand.

Rajamannar says MasterCard has defined nine consumer “passion points” that the brand uses to identify event sponsorship opportunities: sports, entertainment, music, travel, art and culture, culinary and dining, philanthropy, shopping and the environment.

“One of the most important categories is sports,” says Rajmannar, “Within the area of sports, again, we segment — which are the major sports that have got a significant scale, that there is a following for that particular sport, and there’s an opportunity for our brand?”

Rajamannar says his team tries to evaluate which sports fit with the brand and the audience MasterCard wants to engage.

“Golf is clearly one of the significant sports that resonates very well with our consumers and prospects, that we would like to target and engage with,” says Rajamannar. “Within golf, there are lots and lots of golf tournaments happening around the world, and we pick and choose the ones where we feel that we get the right scale of engagement and have good economics.”

As an experiential brand, Rajamannar says its not about splashing the brand name across an entire venue, or on the TV. Instead, he wants to bring experiences to consumers which they otherwise may not be getting.

During this year’s Arnold Palmer Invitation, MasterCard activated its “Priceless Surprises” platform — a program that surprises event attendees with an upgrade of some sort, or a unique event experience.

“We create a ton of experiences. Meet and greet, or take a golf lesson with one of our golf brand ambassadors. We have a bunch of extraordinary brand ambassadors like Graeme McDowell, Ian Poulter, Harris English, Mark O’Meara, Curtis Strange,” says Rajamannar. “They were all there in full force with us, for us, and interacting with our consumers and our customers. It was probably one of our very exciting activations that we have had.”

Rajamannar says the Arnold Palmer Invitational has always done very well for his brand because the event hits two of MasterCard’s defined “passion points” — both sports and philanthropy.

“We like the Arnold Palmer Invitational, but what we like even more is the philanthropy cause that Mr. Palmer supports, and where the proceeds from the tournament go,” says Rajamannar, citing Arnie’s Army Charitable Foundation.

To gauge an event’s success, Rajamannar says MasterCard’s marketing campaigns and events are measured against building the brand, business and differentiation.

“We determine a customized set of KPIs based on each program’s objective,” says Rajamannar, “For example, our sponsorship of the 2016 GRAMMYs primary KPIs included driving brand preference and World MasterCard awareness, and we successfully achieved positive lift in both categories in the L.A. market.”

Rajamannar says his team also measures how consumers and customers engage with the brand, both online and offline, before, during and after an event.

“In 2015, MasterCard was a sponsor of The Open Championship, one of the most anticipated golfing events of the year. MasterCard’s objective was to leverage the Open sponsorship to increase awareness of its association with golf, its golf benefits and to build brand affinity,” says Rajamannar.

During the tournament, MasterCard encouraged fans to pay tribute to Tom Watson and honor the professional golfer’s retirement by taking “hats off” pictures and sharing them on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram with the hashtag #HatsOffToTom.

“Through this activation, MasterCard increased on-site card usage share, dominated The Open conversation among sponsors with highest SOV and surpassed engagement benchmarks on Twitter and Facebook,” says Rajamannar.

Rajamannar says integrating digital and social from the beginning is key to helping MasterCard understand the conversations consumers are having and how the brand can effectively engage with consumers at the right time, right place and right channel to build meaningful, lasting impressions among its audience.

“There is a digital component to everything we do — like during major league baseball season, when fans tweeted from Yankee Stadium using specially designated hashtags and were surprised with everything from free food to a meet and greet with their favorite player,” says Rajamannar.

The CMO says his brand is not abandoning any of its traditional mix but is evolving to ensure MasterCard is where consumers are in the moment, where the conversations are happening, “… and that’s on social media, in the digital space.”

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.

About the author

Amy Gesenhues
Amy Gesenhues was a senior editor for Third Door Media, covering the latest news and updates for Marketing Land, Search Engine Land and MarTech Today. From 2009 to 2012, she was an award-winning syndicated columnist for a number of daily newspapers from New York to Texas. With more than ten years of marketing management experience, she has contributed to a variety of traditional and online publications, including MarketingProfs, SoftwareCEO, and Sales and Marketing Management Magazine. Read more of Amy's articles.

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