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MasterCard Uses a Command Center to Track Its Marketing Spend

MasterCard workers monitor marketing campaigns inside the company’s Conversation Suite.MasterCard workers monitor marketing campaigns inside the company’s Conversation Suite.
MasterCard workers monitor marketing campaigns inside the company’s Conversation Suite.Photo: Courtesy of ­MasterCard

For hours each day, members of MasterCard’s (MA) marketing team huddle in an open-plan office and watch money disappear before their very eyes.

Not literally, of course. At the company’s Purchase, N.Y., headquarters, product managers gaze at a 40-foot display that broadcasts feeds, visualizations, and performance metrics for more than 60 markets. When they want to dive deeper into the data, they retreat to Insights Alley, a clutch of casual lounges with 55-inch touch screens. And when they want to watch narratives unfold, they visit the Real-Time Marketing Lab, where eight more displays—nearly an entire wall’s worth—highlight trending stories from services like NewsWhip’s Spike and analysis from sources such as Prime Research.

The official name of this elaborate array of tools, as well as the space in which they’re housed, is the Conversation Suite. MasterCard began the experiment four years ago to create a “single source of truth” for optimizing its multimillion-dollar advertising budget. (The company doesn’t disclose the amount, but estimates put annual global spending at around $250 million.)

MasterCard’s marketing team says the hub gives it better access to data without having to coax reports out of its advertising partners, which enables it to act more quickly. The suite also reveals which messages are most effective, helping the team avoid spending money to create videos, slogans, or images that aren’t working. (Software from fast-rising startups Percolate and Domo powers the system.)

“One of the biggest benefits of these emerging technologies is the opportunity for brands to shift from storytelling to storymaking,” says Raja Rajamannar, MasterCard’s chief marketing officer. “To evolve from passive engagements to more active and meaningful ones.”

The idea of a command center to track marketing spending in real time is still novel, though other Fortune 500 companies (Cisco (CSCO), PepsiCo (PEP), Salesforce (CRM)) have experimented with it. The suite has already paid dividends for MasterCard: During the 2015 Rugby World Cup, it discovered that its Apple Pay (AAPL) promotions were reaching more prospects on social media than on the web and diverted funds accordingly.

With such technology “we don’t need a statistician to help us analyze data,” Rajamannar says. Indeed—just their own two eyes.

A version of this article appears in the February 1, 2016 issue of Fortune with the headline “Show and Tell.”