Mastercard Marketing Transformation Lessons for Small BusinessesMastercard marketing transformation and resulting success with the “Priceless Experiences” campaign has been heralded as a watershed moment and rightfully so. Mastercard marketing transformation is now a Harvard Business School case study.  Mastercard CMO Raja Rajamannar has been hailed as a marketing guru.

While Mastercard’s stupendous marketing success can be deemed to be the result of a multi-million dollar campaign of a multi-billion dollar company, there are lessons for small businesses.  Of course, as a small business owner you will not be able to match the might and reach of a major brand like Mastercard, but in your small way, you can make an impact in your business realm.

What lessons can small businesses can learn from Mastercard Marketing Campaign Success?

Mastercard Marketing Transformation Lessons for Small Businesses

  • Know who you are

If you look at Mastercard, they are an intermediary, and beyond noticing the logo on their credit cards, most consumers are not aware of their business model or the value proposition.  While their primary customers are the banks and affinity groups that issue the Mastercard branded credit and debit cards, Mastercard considers itself as a payments innovator, financial facilitator, and dream fulfiller.  With this mindset, they launched the Priceless experiences campaign aiming to capture the imagination of the end consumers to change their value perception and brand image.

Similarly, as a small business owner, you will need to understand who you, what you do, and what position you occupy at a deeper level.  It is an abstraction of what aspiration and desire you are fulfilling, not necessarily about the physical good or service.

As an example, an ancient fable states the happiness and productivity of a stone mason were much higher when he thinks he is “helping build a cathedral” as opposed to his peer who thought all he was doing was “cutting stones.”

Similarly, what McDonald’s is selling is not a meat patty between a bun, but a “Happy Meal.”

So think beyond what you do from a physical sense and reimagine your purpose in a metaphysical sense. Of course, this does not mean highfalutin claims and unsubstantiated claims but a message and a positioning that resonates with your target stakeholders.

  • Understand the landscape

Mastercard understood the challenges it is facing in this era of information overload and highly distributed attention share. Furthermore, it also recognized the role it plays and the perceptions it engenders. Last but not the least, Mastercard also understood the role tastemakers, opinion influencers, and brand advocates could do to reinforcing or remaking the image of a brand.

In a small to medium business, the influencers may not be across the globe, and the value of the brand may not be in the billions. However, understanding the challenges of what the market, competitive dynamics, product alternatives, cultural trends, and social mores are vis a vis the product or service you are selling is a crucial pre-requisite and a critical success factor.

For example, if you are running a Chinese takeout, and your town has a zillion other alternatives – other Chinese places as well as other options such as Indian, pizza, sandwiches, tacos et al. – how do you establish your brand differentiation?  Perhaps it is about hand-pulled noodles or Schezuan cuisine whereas all your competitors are Cantonese or vice versa.

  • Build on something you have

What one of the biggest mistakes big and small brands make is getting tired of the messaging and the creatives. Remember, only you see the creatives and your ad messaging every day. For all the other customers, given the vast array of competing streams of information and the selective attention and selective retention, you may not be at the top of mind.

For Mastercard, this meant not growing tired with the tried and tested “Priceless” campaign, but building on top of it. It means all the time, money, and effort spent in the prior marketing campaigns will act as a springboard. So, Mastercard took the “Priceless” concept and evolved it into “Priceless Experiences” spanning a range of real-life events where Mastercard made the difference.

  • Rethink the value proposition

A brand’s value proposition is not what you say out loud from a soapbox, but it is the implicit perception of a consumer and the thoughts and imagery it evokes when they think about your product, service, or brand.

For Mastercard, the value proposition is putting the power of doing things at the spur of the moment with the power of purchase provided by Mastercard. Furthermore, it is about the instantaneity and the sense of experiencing something that was the key.

So, dig deep and think about the current value perception and how you might want to change it. For example, if you are a moving service, does competing on price alone work? Or what is the brand imagery you wish to invoke?  Does “We care for your furniture as you care for your child” make the difference and avoid the race to the bottom on competing with the price?  We are not here to declare a particular tagline works or does not work, but instead reinforcing the need to think about the value proposition beyond the periphery of product features and functions.  It is how your product, service, or brand connects to your target audience at a deeper level.

“We’ve been successfully proving the return on investment consistently on our campaigns. For the first time, our CFO has gone in front of the analysts saying he is increasing money in marketing. There’s a clear perception – based on reality – that marketing is driving business,” – Raja Rajamannar

  • Do not be afraid to make changes

In the case of Mastercard, while they kept the foundations of their brand image in the “Priceless” tagline and extended it to experiences, they also made quite a few changes.  According to Mastercard CMO, they merged the marketing and communications divisions into a continuum. Also, many of the key personnel are new to Mastercard bringing fresh thinking and diverse experiences to the table.

In your small to medium business, you may also consider appropriate changes to send a shockwave to the system and allow for a new paradigm to emerge.  For example, what if you stop advertising in your local Yellow Pages and instead leverage the hyperlocal blog or a hyperlocal social network like NextDoor as a part of your social media marketing plan.

Or change the advertising agency you are working with, assuming it is the right thing to do, not because of a whim.

  • Amplify your message through influencers

One of the core audiences Mastercard sought to appeal to are the influencers, opinion leaders, and tastemakers.  Not just Mastercard, but many companies are relying on new social media superstars on YouTube or Instagram.  Indeed, some investment firms are looking for brand salience on social media platforms as a measure of popularity and trends, which in turn may influence a company’s financial fortunes.

For your small company, the influencers may be small, and their sphere of influence may be small, but very valuable.

For example, if you are importing silk scarfs from India and selling them in local stores as well online, having the local fashionistas sport the headscarves and post pictures on their social media accounts may do a world of good.

The only thing in marketing that looks easy is reading about the case study in the aftermath of its success. So, please do not assume replicating the success of the Mastercard marketing campaign success is a walk in the park. However, in your limited scale and within your business landscape you can do better by learning from the top-notch marketers and their success stories.

Good luck in your marketing endeavors.

Note: Mastercard Marketing Transformation Lessons for Small Businesses is an informational article and is not based on any inside knowledge of Mastercard’s marketing campaign.