Marketers must be ready for a future that is shaped by everything from smart speakers and autonomous cars to artificial intelligence, according to Raja Rajamannar, Mastercard’s chief marketing and communications officer. Geoffrey Precourt, WARC’s US Editor, outlines how this might be achieved.

On the digital stage of Advertising Week 2020, Raja Rajamannar, Mastercard’s chief marketing and communications officer, all but announced the death of marketing as we have known it.

The culprits? Technology and data. These dual forces, he announced, “are the two engines on which marketing is going to take off into the future”.

And Rajamannar drilled down into a recitation of how tomorrow’s powers are pushing yesterday’s models into oblivion.

Voice tech, automated cars and the need for new marketing skillsets

The most powerful technological disruptor, Rajamannar averred, is the turbulence that smart speakers have brought to marketing. “Research has shown that more than 25% of all US households already have a smart speaker,” he said.

“And more than 70% of these people have said that they have made at least one purchase using these smart speakers in the last 12 months.

“That’s huge.”

And it’s an oversized change not just because of the platform itself, but also because of the way it has hijacked consumers and pulled them off the traditional path to purchase. According to Rajamannar, when a consumer asks for a generic product, both Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home respond with a specific brand.

And, the Mastercard marketer explained, when a consumer hears that specific name, 70% of the time they buy without further consideration.

“What’s happening is we now have a new influencer – a new decision-maker – who is driving the purchase funnel. If Alexa says, ‘You should buy Pampers,’ the consumer says, ‘Okay, let’s go ahead.’”

That voice-activated dynamic, Rajamannar proposed, “is going to change how a brand will relevantly cater to the purchase funnel”. The new devices, and their new algorithms, are taking “search-engine optimization of the past to a completely different level.

“This is a new ecosystem altogether.”

Moreover, he added, it’s introducing households all over the world to the practicality and convenience promised by the Internet of Things.

Mastercard has thus been “working with Samsung” on a smart refrigerator with a simple premise: a camera keeps track of what’s on the shelves, and when the supply drops below a certain level, the smart system orders replenishments from a third-party food supplier and arranges delivery to the home.

“That’s a fascinating way to simplify a consumer’s life and make it very seamless and frictionless,” Rajamannar said. “But it completely changes the purchase funnel.”

And, in doing so, the technology all but eliminates the traditional role of the marketer, for whom the funnel was an integral part of the everyday (and long-term) toolkit.

The same kind of tech magic drives the disintermediated path to purchase for products central to connected dishwashers, connected washing machines, connected coffee machines, or connected ovens.

The question for marketers, according to Rajamannar: How does a brand get into that stream of consciousness and influence the consumer’s decision in favor of their brand in a cost-effective way – particularly when the shopper is delegating their thinking and decisions to an algorithm?

“The Internet of Things is going to change consumers’ purchase funnels; it’s going to change how they are interacting; how they are making their purchase; how they're making the discoveries; how they become brand aware; and how they get influenced in terms of their perceptions about brands,” he said.

A case in point: “Look at connected cars,” Rajamannar suggested to the Advertising Week online assembly. When this technology reaches maturity, “The attention of the consumer onto the road is just no longer required. As a marketer, both the visual attention and the audio attention of the consumer [is in play]. You actually can interact and engage with the consumer in very different ways.

“It almost becomes like the autonomous car is a moving office or a moving living room. We used to think about gaining the attention of the consumer in the family room, in a traditional media situation. Now, we need to think through those kinds of scenarios in the context of autonomous vehicles.

“Do we have the ecosystem for that environment” to serve consumers “in the most appropriate way? It’s all going to be a new dimension that we have not seen the beginning of yet.

“And, it’s a dimension that demands a different kind of marketer with a different set of skills.”

Artificial intelligence is integral to the future

The old marketer is dead? Long live the new marketer – and their new lifeline, artificial intelligence (AI).

As Rajamannar told the Advertising Week 2020 digital delegates, “AI is now the single biggest enabler of how we function, and how we become more effective, and more efficient.

“The power it can bring to the table is amazing.”

So, he proposed, is the “fascinating” list of data sources and sensors that rarely have been perceived as tools of analysis – aside from a wired-appliance network of refrigerators, washing machines, coffee makers, and ovens – “starting from your shoes, to your clothes, to your wearables, to everything that has and gives readings about you.

“With the consumers’ obsession with their quantified selves, they are putting out data that you can read and make sense of it,” even as all that analysis still protects and respects the privacy of the consumer.

“In that kind of a scenario,” the Mastercard marketer said, “the availability of data is going to be exponentially more than what we have today.”

Artificial intelligence, Rajamannar continued, will enable marketers “to look at the data, identify patterns and develop insights” that were never possible – or even imagined – before the new data driver.

“I have seen it in action in multiple areas, including in marketing, and we have been very successfully experimenting with it at Mastercard for a few months,” he revealed.

But, he cautioned, “When you talk about AI, everyone and their brother who comes up with a new solution will preach to you, ‘My solution is AI-powered’.”

As such, “artificial intelligence” may have become buzzwords for the marketing community, “but it’s very important for us to understand concepts like AI, at least to the extent where we can ask the right questions.”

The consequences of failure? “If you don’t educate yourself, if you don’t come up the curve, you will stand the risk of becoming obsolete very soon.

“Areas like artificial intelligence are critical for us to understand.”