Q & A

How does Visa leverage the Olympics?

Antonio Lucio — March 2012

The 2012 Summer Olympic Games start in four months. As athletes around the world train for the biggest moment of their lives, marketers are also preparing for a huge opportunity—a chance to get the whole world's attention. Antonio Lucio, CMO of Visa, describes how his company leverages major global events like the Olympics.

Q: How does Visa's marketing team prepare for the Olympics?

We start with establishing our business objectives. For us, transactions translate into revenue, so it is about driving transactions to our business partners, which are banks around the world. It is also about building brand equity for Visa. And finally, it is about providing the right level of return on investment for the initiative. Those are our three fundamental objectives.

From there, we bring together our key market representatives in a task force 18 months before the Games begin. We refine the deliverables that we are going to need to create in order to deliver against each objective.

We start with our "Audience First" approach, which means understanding the consumer-decision journey within the context of the Olympics experience, and then approaching consumers where they are most likely to be interacting with the Olympics experience, and, through a relevant angle, with the Visa brand.

After that assessment is done, local materials will be created for five key markets—U.S., Canada, Brazil, China, and Russia—aligned with the tone, look, feel, and selling line of our integrated global campaign.

Q: How do you choose those key countries?

It's a combination of two things: the relative importance of that market within our portfolio of countries, and whether those particular markets are going to leverage the Olympic platform. The Olympics are more relevant in those five countries than in other Latin American or African markets because of the nature of the event and the possibility of those countries winning medals, which is, at the end of the day, what actually drives the ratings.

Q: So when Visa sponsors the FIFA World Cup, is it a different set of key countries?

Totally different. We invest significantly in the Olympics in the United States and Canada. When the FIFA World Cup comes along, we don't invest a lot in the U.S. or Canada, but Brazil, Mexico, Russia, Japan, and Korea are football-passionate countries, and we spend more money in some of those geographies than we spend behind the Olympics.

Once the key countries are chosen and the strategies to deliver on each objective established, the agency brings us a proof of concept that will convey the global idea as it manifests in the U.S., China, Russia, and so on.

For example, in this particular case, we will drive transactions by a combination of global participation programs, like Win Tickets to the Olympic Games for Life, coupled with very specific local bank initiatives. We will measure effectiveness on a global basis. But, more importantly, we measure it country by country by country.

When the concepts are approved, the local team takes the lead in implementation—developing content and defining the relevant media alternatives for that particular market. That will include utilization of some global materials, but more importantly, the development of truly locally relevant communication pieces.

Q: Visa is involved with the Super Bowl, the FIFA World Cup, and the Olympic Games. They're obviously big venues, but why are they effective for Visa?

When we are working on our multi-year plans, these events are an integral part of our brand communication architecture. We know when they're going to be held. We have a lot of data on what they deliver.

Visa was built on the universal acceptance platform. When our founder, Dee Hock, created the company, his dream was to create a universal currency of life—a currency that would be accepted around the world and in any possible channel. When you have that as a vision, and when you stand for the best way to pay and be paid for everyone, everywhere, these events embody the spirit of that promise.

Q: Are there examples of major events that you've looked at and decided weren't right?

Since we became a publicly traded company four years ago, we have had a very well-defined return on investment model. We had to say no to the World Rugby Cup and the Kentucky Derby. Once you put them through the model looking at anticipated revenues, impact on equity, coverage, and relevance, they didn't pay out.

Q: From an organizational perspective, what are the management challenges you face?

The biggest challenge that someone in my role, a global CMO, faces is getting the combination between global and local right. Through technology, consumers around the world are able to live both global and local lives with a click or a tap or a wave. Our big bank partners request both global scale and the ability to tailor to specific, local needs.

The only way that we get the balance right is through a lot of participation from our key markets in the development of everything we do. So, in any of our big initiative task forces, the key representative of Brazil, for example, is asked to wear two hats. The local hat, but also the hat for global equity, understanding that global equity is only achieved one market at a time.

Q: How does this global/local balance manifest in Visa's different business lines?

There are aspects of our business that are inherently local, like our debit business. The challenge for debit is to fundamentally change the rituals of cash in each market. That means that the communication and education required in each and every one of our markets is going to be 100% local. The only global element of that communication is the look, tone, and feel of the brand.

There are other sides of our business, like affluent consumers who travel around the world and the borderless transactions of e-commerce, which require a more global approach.

And then, there are platforms like the Olympic Games and FIFA World Cup that give you the opportunity to actually address the needs of the local fans and at the same time elevate the brand to global stature.

Q: How do you approach your customers—the banks—versus the people using your cards?

We are a B2B2C company, which means our first customers are the banks around the world, because they are the ones that issue our cards. With them, our marketing involves a very rational approach. We establish clear differentiation in terms of product platforms and services—the utilization of our data, for example, for them to be able to leverage their different objectives in the card business, whether it's acquisition, retention, or increasing the frequency of use of that particular card.

With consumers, our approach is more balanced between head and heart. Since our revenues are based on transactions, our communication objectives are aimed at teaching, motivating, and inspiring consumers to use our products ahead of cash. So we open the category to the consumers and we fight for share of the banks in the B2B arena.

Q: From your leadership position, is there a particularly critical time for your duties? Is it setting tone and direction early on in any given initiative? Or do you need to be directly involved constantly?

It has evolved over time. Before we became a publicly traded company, this was an association model run through regional hubs. The moment that we became a publicly traded company with one structure, one board of directors, and one CEO, we aligned behind one overall brand proposition. During those early days, my level of direct involvement in each and every aspect of the brand was significantly higher.

Why? Because we had a unified positioning statement for the first time. Because we had a consolidated agency network for the first time. Because we had the regions reporting in to global for the first time. And because at the end of the day, the global integration was only going to be embraced and accepted if we were successful in each and every one of our operating markets to at least the same level as in the past.

As the system has gotten in its groove, when we began to really articulate the roles of the global team, the regional team, and the local team across the multiple dimensions of our business, my role has turned to setting direction and ensuring that we deliver the results.

But I've been doing this for a long time and I've had the privilege of building global brands for PepsiCo, Kraft, and Visa. The focus of our efforts requires constant evaluation. There will be times, like when we launch new technological products, which are global propositions, when our attention is global. There are other times when, because of political, socioeconomic, or competitive reasons, we need to become much more local. The system has to be fluid in order to react to external and internal conditions.