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The Amazing Magic Of Audio Branding

Audio branding is like the icing on the cake. It provides an amazing, rich and memorable tone to your brand identity. Sound can stop you in your tracks and quickly engage you like no other sense can. Music and sounds can trigger memories and emotions. To test your audio branding knowledge, we have created a quiz. Listen to 7 different unique sounds and see if you can identify the brands.

Most retailers already leverage music as a selling tool in stores. In building a brand, the use of sound is underestimated. Few brands are strategically using music, sound and voice to create a magical brand connection.

 

The Beginning of Audio Branding

Before television, radio was the darling for reaching consumers. I have been told by those who still remember that radio was the entertainment center in households. Entire families would huddle around the radio to listen to broadcasts sponsored by a brand. Well before the trend of radio advertising. Generals Mills aired the first singing commercial back in 1926 entitled “Have you tried Wheaties?” It was an instant success and made Wheaties a national brand.

The art of building brands through jingles reached a peak during the economic boom of the 1950s. Many product categories jumped onto the trend such as breakfast cereals, candy, snacks, pop, tobacco, beer, automobiles, personal hygiene products, household products and especially detergent, advertising jingles were often used. Like the epic musical films, branding jingles lost their appeal by the 1960s. Any Boomer can recite several advertising jingles as they sit dormant in their brains like “Oh, I wish I were an Oscar Mayer Wiener,” “Ai, Yi, Yi, Yi, I am the Frito Bandito,” and “I’d like to buy the world a Coke.”

To be a memorable and enduring jingle Linda Kaplan Thaler, Chairman of Publicis Kaplan Thaler advertising agency, say, “[a jingle] have huge sticking power. A jingle is not successful if you listen to it once and liked it. You have to listen to it and want to sing it. Essentially, you become the advertiser for the brand.” She also thinks today is a perfect time to build a brand through a jingle due to the many social channels to share it on. While Martin Puris, past Chairman and CEO of Ammirati & Puris, thinks jingles are passé. “In a marketing wary world, a jingle seems oddly out of place. Too slick, too contrived.”

Singing a brand message is a beautiful thing.

Big Bold Sounds

“Master of suspense” filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock understood the importance of sound in telling a story. He said, “When we tell a story in cinema, we should resort to dialogue only when it’s impossible to do otherwise.” He was brilliant at manipulating his audience’s emotions by using sound design to enhance the situation. Remember his movie, The Birds (1963). He used a combination of real bird sounds and electronically synthesized noises, creating an auditory assault that brought the vicious bird attacks to life.

Great sound design is fully appreciated through good quality sound systems and speakers. Since the 1960s, we saw significant innovations concerning sound systems, from the bulky multiunit stereo systems and the iconic boombox to putting our entire music library into our pocket with the iPod. Add a set of good quality headphones, and you are in another world.

 

Audio Branding – Music 

Eric Sheinkop, co-author of Hit Brands: How Music Builds Value for the World’s Smartest Brands, says, “Music brings value to a brand in three ways: identity, engagement, currency. Specifically, using music to establish an emotional connection with a brand increases brand recognition, creates excitement and buzz beyond the brand’s core products or services and can empower consumers, giving them valuable content to discover and share. Music creates the value that brands need to win the war for attention and develop a genuine connection with their consumers. When used correctly, music not only creates loyalty but true advocacy.”

Music has played an essential role in brand building for automotive and aviation brands, where it is all about the emotional state. Music is a universal language that crosses all borders of culture, nationality and languages. It is a personal connection to the brand. Yet, most brands tend to use sound and music to be campaign-oriented, not brand-oriented. Here is an example of a campaign-oriented advertisement by Honda featuring a 60-person choir who were the sole audio track. There isn’t any car sound that they can’t sing.

United Airlines took the brand-oriented approach using music as a key brand element. Since 1976, United has used the familiar George Gershwin’s tune Rhapsody in Blue as a foundation for their brand. The music is played in its television advertisements, airport terminals, and pre-flight announcements. United Airlines uses this piece of music to strategically create a distinct audio identity that expresses its vales at all necessary customer touchpoints. Have you ever watched someone bring on a musical instrument onto a plane? How about the entire London Symphony Orchestra.

Their onboard safety video creatively incorporates the distinctive rhapsody in blue music in various interpretations to emphasize each cultural destinations – brilliant.

 

Audio Branding – Sonic Logo 

The sonic logo is linking your brand logo with a distinct and unique sound that becomes synonymous with the brand identity. The key is using it everywhere the brand is communicated.  It takes years of reach and frequency to link a sound firmly to the brand. But, once it occurs, it becomes timeless like NBC’s three-tone chimes, Intel’s five-note bong, and THX Sound System’s deep note. Kevin Perlmutter’s brand strategist and a blogger explain that because sound bypasses the rational part of the brain and reaches the most intuitive level, sound can be the fastest way to heighten brand engagement. Therefore, a brand identity is incomplete without utilizing a sound or music to help develop an emotional connection even if your brand is an unemotional computer chip. You have a better chance to position a brand into the customer’s mind if you use a multisensory approach.

 

Audio Branding – Product Sound

Some product brands have their very own sounds that can help differentiate themselves from the competition. Kellogg’s Rice Krispies “Snap, Crackle, Pop,” Alka-Seltzer’s “Plop, Plop, Fizz, Fizz,” Snapple’s “Pop” when opened, Dyson’s unique vacuum sound, Infiniti’s engine sound (check out the ten most distinctive sounding cars) and the “scritch-scratch” sound of a Sharpie marker on paper. The sound of your product can be as unique as its look, feel and smell. Rachael Pink, an acoustic engineer at Dyson, says, “People now expect products to sound good—not just sound quiet, but have a nice quality.”

Frit-Lay, part of PespiCo Inc., introduced a compostable chip bag for its SunChips brand to become more environmentally friendly. Therefore, as a result, the bag became noisy changing the customer experience so drastically sales fell, and consumers complained about the sound. Frito-Lay went back to the old bag. Don’t underestimate the customer’s relationship with your brand and product sound.

 

Hearing is Believing 

Today, visual branding remains the focus of many marketers and branding experts. Even with the increased number of touchpoints (like TV, radio, website, mobile apps, voice assistants, social channels, in-store displays, voice messages, events and in-store), you can’t rely solely on visuals. The trend is towards digital channels (social media, bloggers, podcasts, voice assistants, video) for brands to communicate.

Well, digital has many channels to reach the consumer; it can lack personality and emotional attachment. Supporting this conclusion, Kevin Perlmutter says, “The strategic use of music and sound can dramatically improve a digital interaction by placing a brand’s unique identity and personality front and center to provide clear navigation with proprietary sounds that are simultaneously functional and emotional.”

In our chaotic and over-stimulated communications world, brands need to engage all senses to create a powerful emotional impact that transforms brand experiences. Audio branding could be the magic your brand needs to be believed. Start turning up the volume.

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From B to B or Not to B? That is the Question.

Does a human being benefit from your Business-to-Business (B2B) product or brand? To survive the future you need to be a Business-to-People (B2P) brand. While your brand might be only an ingredient or strategic component supporting another brand, eventually it will reach a human being.  But more importantly, every brand affects the world we live in so at the end of the day, you are dealing with humanity. The most dramatic change to cause this shift is the free flow of digital information (and digital misinformation). The number of stakeholders you had to worry about in building and maintaining your brand was easily managed years ago but today this isn’t no longer true.  If you start now you can build goodwill along the value chain and maybe you can be immunized against negative attacks in the future. But the biggest reward is more profits.

 

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Moving Brands from B to C

 

In a B2B study done by Siegel+Gale, they state that “Most business-to-business companies still debate the ultimate business benefit of building a strong brand…” The first problem is many business-to-business (B2B) companies don’t think they need a brand as they don’t deal directly with everyday consumers. If this was true there wouldn’t be so many memorable and powerful B2B brands existing today such as Boeing, SAP, Intel, Cisco, IBM, Siemens and General Electric, to name a few.

 

The line between B2B and B2C has blurred and the boundaries are quickly disappearing. The internet has created a new consumer that wants and needs to be informed. Joel York marketing software expert describes the consumer as “more connected, more impatient, more elusive, more impulsive, and more informed than its pre-millennium ancestors.”

 

But what hasn’t changed is the risk level between a B2B and a B2C. Most business buyers follow a rigorous procurement process that is steeped in analytics, data and facts. The buying process is based on a rational decision making process based on quality, features, functionality and price. Buyers review all of the product specifications and technical details, past history and performance measurements, etc. The purchasing process is longer and may require contracts and large quantities based on a specific time period. Where does branding fit into this process?

 

In a study done by Zahra Seyed Ghorban and Dr Margaret Jekanyika Matanda at Monash University they found that most procurement managers go through a hierarchical ‘Think-feel-Do’ sequence where brand perception is the starting point. One manger explains it as “Knowing the brand and having good perceptions, good attitudes, and associating to that brand all are prior to establishing relationship. The relationship comes after.” They also discovered that emotions played an important role in the purchase decision even in highly formalized B2B procurement processes. This would explain why Boeing launched its new 787 the Dreamliner to the general public with a record order of 50 aircrafts from All Nippon Airways. Since then, 59 airlines have ordered over 1,000 Boeing 787s, making it the most successful aircraft in Boeing’s history.

 

 

Cisco System’s Advertising Director Julia Mee says “the lines have blurred so much between B2B and B2C.” To survive B2B marketers must “Think about who the customer is and what do they want to hear from us.” At the end of the day she says “Our customers are thinking about us as just a brand—they are not differentiating it as B2B or B2C.”

 

No surprise it’s all about connecting and engaging with people on many levels not just a highly emotional video with pretty pictures and a great sound track. There still needs to be substance to support the brand image. Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner is a great example. If you visit their website they have everything there to satisfy the left-brain and the right-brain, from the engineer, to the purchasers, to the pilot, to the passenger in business class, to the poor guy at the back of the plane.

 

It must have been very hard for all of the Boeing aviation engineers to sit back and abstain from adding all of the technical mumbo jumbo into the sound track.

 

Moving Brands from B to P

 

There are several marketers like Bryan Kramer, a social business strategist, and Jonathan Becher, CMO at SAP who believe that B2B marketing is no longer relevant. Kramer says marketers need to move away from the complex business vernacular full of acronyms, scientific and technical terminologies too complicated for the average person. His solution is to speak Human-to-Human (H2H) where the communication is simplistic and more emotional. Becher was instrumental in shifting SAP’s brand positioning from talking to other companies to focusing on people. “It’s not just ‘business runs SAP’; it’s also ‘life runs SAP.’ You can sum up the change as moving from B2B to P2P—people to people,” Becher said.

 

The trick is engaging people to wanting to consume your boring B2B brand messages. Volvo Trucks wanted to communicate their transport truck’s Dynamic Steering system to demonstrate the precision and directional stability. A topic everyone needs to know about – right? Well, check out the B2B video with Jean-Claude Van Damme. Over 83 million people have watched it!

 

 

The Web Video Marketing Council, together with survey partners ReelSEO and Flimp Media conducted a B2B Video Content Marketing Survey in 2015 with over 350 B2B marketers who confirmed that 73% of them believe that video positively impacts results and ROI. No surprise 96% are engaged in video content marketing. But remember human attention span is only eight seconds. You have a better chance to attract a goldfish which has an attention span of nine seconds.

 

attention-span

 

While many B2B companies realize they need to be customer-centric to compete in today’s market, few have figured out how to put this model into use. It’s important for B2B brands to understand it’s not just one video that will make the brand connection unless you’re Gangnam Style (2.5 billion views). You need many touch points to build a brand. The hardest part for most B2B brands is to focus on a promise that people care about. It isn’t easy for most large corporations, as they organically grow from one innovation to the next or acquire one business to another. How does a mega corporation align the many innovations, products and services to a common, meaningful message that people want to listen and relate to? One of the great values for B2B branding is to define the brands ultimate promise to everyone including your employees. The perfect test – if they don’t believe the promise who else will?

Doug Webster VP of Service Provider Marketing at Cisco explains “We can’t just say it provides 322 terabits per second of processing. What we need to say is that 322 terabits per second is enough for every man, woman and child in China to be on a video call at the same time.” I’m not sure I want to be on that call.

 

 

A Brands Social License to Operate

 

The need to expand beyond the traditional stakeholders (like customers, employees and shareholders) isn’t about growing the business, it’s more about ensuring the brand doesn’t face any roadblocks along the brand journey. The sphere of a business is getting more complex. Today, you need to concern yourself with a multitude of target groups.

 

As San Jin Park VP of Global Marketing Operations at Samsung Electronics said “the most prominent brands in the future will be those which build networks.” The problem today is the network is everyone. The social license isn’t controlled by the company, it’s the community-at-large that can determines a brand’s fate. A lack of trust in any brand, including a B2B brand, can result in regulatory delays, market access issues and unfavorable legislation, all of which affects the bottom-line. John Morrison author of the book The Social License: How to keep your organization legitimate says a number of factors damaging trust is transparency, accountability, clarity about benefits, and adequate due diligence. He cautions that “Consent is also an essential component. It is a mistake for any company to proceed on any activity without securing adequate social permissions.”

 

It will be the end-user and the general public who will determine your brand’s destiny based on your social license to operate. NGOs understand this. It’s no longer about science and legal requirements but about perceptions and how your brand is perceived.

 

Monsanto’s Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) seed is a great example of not gaining the general public’s social permission before launching a revolutionary technology on an ill-informed public. Had they talked more about the millions of people whose lives could be saved from starvation the brand outcome could have been significantly different. Intel made the brilliant move to tell the general public that you can’t buy a computer without the horsepower of a Pentium processor. Consumer’s bought their story and in turn only bought computers with an Intel Inside. On the other hand, Monsanto, one of the most hated companies, kept the end-user in the dark and subsequently NGOs defined what GMO was. Unfortunately, a great technology that can help feed the world is struggling because the public support just isn’t there.

 

At the End of the Day

 

If your B2B is ultimately focused on the betterment of mankind you should use every opportunity to get your brand message out and tell the world your story. Everyone wants to back a winner. Duracell understood this and tied their brand to life-saving tools that required a battery. Their very successful campaign “Trusted Everywhere” was based on the premise that devices that are important to consumers can be trusted to work when powered by Duracell batteries.

Every ingredient in the value chain has a brand story of why it’s important. If you can ensure your employees live the brand and you have a dialogue with the communities you live in, you have a great foundation. Getting your story out to a broader audience takes time, conviction and commitment. And in some cases its a snowball’s chance in hell!

 

 

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Brand’s Voice… it’s not what is said, it’s how it’s said that matters

Everyone in brand marketing understands the importance of clearly defining and living your brand tone-of-voice but I am not sure many brands stay true to their personality. In some cases, let the creative teams win and run a muck. As blogger Harriet Cummings says “A tone of voice is not what you say, but how you say it. This encompasses not only the words you choose, but their order, rhythm and pace.” Some brands tone-of-voice are just down-right boring or nonexistent, and others change their voice daily depending on who is controlling it or where it’s being used. It’s so easy to fall for fun and humorous creative, but by not matching your brand’s tone and voice, you could be diluting your brand’s hard-earned equity.

 

Rob Marsh, copywriter and author of the blog Brandstory says “very little attention is paid to brand voice—the words, phrases, and characteristics that set a brand apart take a back seat to the more “important” visual aspects of the brand.” The reason why is because defining and living a brand tone-of-voice is damn hard. It is especially hard when many people are involved in producing various communications, each having a different point-of-views of what the brand voice should be. If done right, the brand tone-of-voice can be distinctive, recognisable and unique. In life, sometime it’s more important on how you say something than what you say. As American author Maya Angelou once said, “People don’t always remember what you say or even what you do, but they always remember how you made them feel.”

 

A brand’s voice, when consistent, can tell consumers a great deal about the brand, especially its attitude and overall personality. To be successful whatever the brands tone-of-voice is, it must be consistently delivered everywhere. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld says that most people aren’t aware of the many different tones they project. But with a brand you can build a brand image from a consistent tone that accentuates its brand values and personality. Nigel Edginton-Vigus, Creative director at Blue Hive advertising agency says many large brands are schizophrenia with their tone-of-voice. You can go from a friendly and chatty physical brand experience a cold and cluttered online experience. “It’s like finishing this amazing love-making session and you lie back content with bliss and your partner turns to you and says ‘affirmative you now have been logged out. Thank you.’”

 

To illustrate the importance of a brand’s voice, I have selected three brands in the men’s shaving industry who demonstrate three different voices.

 

The Designer Shave Brand’s Voice

 

The first one is Harry’s, an online low-cost provider of high quality men’s shaving products. Harry’s was founded by Andy Katz-Mayfield and Jeffrey Raider, two bright millennials who shared a passion “for simple design, appreciation of well-made things, and a belief that companies should try to make the world a better place.” Not surprising, Jeff went on to become co-founder of the trendy online eye-wear retailer Warby Parker. Harry’s website states “Harry’s was built out of respect for quality craftsmanship. Simple design, modern convenience and most importantly for guys who think they shouldn’t have to overpay for a great shave.”

 

Viewing Harry’s website or their lifestyle blog-a-zine Five O’clock gives you an immediate feel of a New Yorker Magazine layout. Their tone is calm with subtle, dry, sophisticated humour, yet very easy going and approachable. It’s confident and smart without the hassle or aggression. You feel clean and positive about the experience.

 

 

The High Performance Shave Brand’s Voice

 

The next example is the mammoth Gillette brand worth $20.4 billion and part of Procter & Gamble that controls 70% of the global blades and razor market. When you think of Gillette, you think of technologically advanced superiority shaving – so how complex can “the Best a Man Can Get.” Their tone-of-voice reeks of masculinity, confidence, precision and calculated. Every time I shave with my Fusion Proglide razor with the new Flexball technology, I think I am driving an Audi RS 7 Quattro with a V-8 engine, adaptive suspension, and all-wheel drive system. Foot to the floor, the best I can get. Plus the maintenance cost to boot.

 

 

Off and on, the Gillette brand shifted into a new gear with a tone-of-voice that didn’t fit the brand. Maybe they are trying to be more human, like their competitors. The problem is, it doesn’t feel like the Gillette brand I grew up with. When did the Gillette brand start becoming funny?

 

The Cheap and Cheery Shave Brand’s Voice

 

I am sure everyone has seen the youtube video of Michael Dubin co-founder of Dollar Shave Club ranting about how F**KING GREAT their one dollar blades are. The Dollar Shave Club, a subscription based razor company’s tone-of-voice is funny, cheeky and makes fun of Gillette. They quickly tap into every man’s feeling of getting ripped-off with the high cost of razor blades. Their underdog brand has no flashy models or famous sports stars. They’re just down-to-earth, humble, witty and supported by an unbelievable price. Today, buying a pack of razors isn’t cheap. A pack of eight blades can set you back $35 to $40 dollars. The Dollar Shave Club taps into consumer frustration. “Dollar Shave Club wants to speak to you in an everyday voice,” Dubin said in an Adweek article by Tim Nudd. “Using a celebrity is not who we are. Tonally, it’s important to remind people, here’s a guy who’s just like you, finding a solution to a real problem.”

 

 

The Final Brand Voice

 

Who would have thought a simple product like a razor blade could be as complex as it concerns their tone-of-voice? But like a human, a brand’s attitude and personality is complex. Many brands leave the tone-of-voice to be driven and cultivated by the creative folks and designers, but in actual fact, it’s everyone’s responsibility working for a brand to emulate the brand’s attitude, personality and with its customers. It even becomes more important when more employees are communicating with customers through social channels. Every brand needs a voice and tone guide to ensure employees are consistently projecting it. The guide forces the brand to clearly define what is its tone-of-voice and gives the brand a benchmark to judge future content. Maybe this would have helped Gillette from making the “first real suit” commercial. I don’t think so.

 

If you can’t describe your brand’s voice and don’t see it in any of your communications, it might be time to start building your brand’s voice and tone guide. Click here to view some examples and tips to help inspire you.

 

Remember it’s not only what you say, it’s how you say it that matters.

 

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What does a red cup have to do with branding?

Full Stop – red cups are part of the Starbucks brand experience. As a matter of fact, over 60 million Starbucks cups are served each and every week. From the beginning of November until the end of December, Starbucks will be serving 480 million red holiday cups to help celebrate the festive season.

 

Eighteen years ago Starbucks launched their first holiday red cup – a duration that has created great expectations beyond a simple disposal coffee cup. Has this red cup replaced the advent calendar? With all the controversy so far this season you need to wonder.

 

 

Over the year’s Starbucks red cups has celebrated the holiday season with snowflakes, doves, reindeer, snowman, vintage ornaments, poinsettias, and Christmas trees, but this year they opted for a minimalist design of a two-tone red cup with no images. This brilliant long-term campaign has taken some of Coca-Cola’s best Christmas ideas and put them on a cup. Check out Time’s magazine for the evolution of the Starbucks red cup over the last seven years. This year’s red cup sans holiday icons has become blasphemy for many Christian’s organizations or an opportunity to create a controversy to garner media attention.

 

 

“In the past, we have told stories with our holiday cups designs,” said Jeffrey Fields, Starbucks’ Vice President of Design and Content. “This year we wanted to usher in the holidays with a purity of design that welcomes all of our stories.”

 

Customers See Red

 

Former Arizona Pastor Joshua Feuerstein wrote in a Facebook post “Starbucks REMOVED CHRISTMAS from their cups because they hate Jesus,” that went viral with over 14 million views in the last five days. This extreme view has stirred up the media and the social channels. Even Donald Trump has entered into the picture with the suggestion of boycotting Starbucks. Obviously he doesn’t have any Starbucks shares in his portfolio.

 

Starbucks issued a statement Sunday explaining that they are trying to create an environment that encourages “customers to tell their Christmas stories in their own way” and “to create a culture of belonging, inclusion and diversity.“

 

Jay Parini, a poet and author of Jesus: The Human Face of God said on CNN.com that Starbucks red cup is an attempt to remove even the most secular side of Christmas by “strip[ping] all texture and mythic potential from contemporary life – seems beyond absurd, perhaps even dangerous, as it points in the direction of total blankness, a life lived without depth, without meaning.”

 

Or from Starbucks point of view it’s about creating your own texture and mythic potential without being spoon feed of what you should think or believe.

 

What 480 Million Red Cups Mean

 

There are a couple learning’s we should all take from this event.

 

First, colour does matter, (check out my article on colour), red is a very strong and vibrant colour that can stimulate high emotions – just ask a raging bull. In 2011, Coca-Cola changed their sacred red Coke can to white to celebrate the holiday season and were punished by retailers and customers who became confused by the change.

 

Second, customers own your brand. Before you change any representation of your brand make sure you understand what your customers’ think. Product packaging is sacred ground for loyal customers. If Apple changed their earphones from white to red what do you think would happen? Maybe nothing or maybe all hell might break loose.

 

Third, by providing ambiguity with a blank red cup and letting the customer fill the void leaves too much room for misinterpretation or anti-brand advocated to take advantage of the situation. The brand must own the space (physically & mentally) and direct the conversation.

 

I am happy that I don’t drink coffee and have to endure this tragedy on a daily bases for the next six weeks. However, I did hear that Starbucks has started using cup sleeves with snowflakes on them. Maybe this will appease the detractors.

 

The great thing is brands continue to have the power to inspire, create conversations and be news worthy without changing anything inside their cup. And as we see here, some brand loyalists will always see the cup as half empty and others as half full. Cheers.