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Sonic Branding Agency Unmute

Sonic Conversations #1 - Piali Dasgupta

Updated: May 4, 2023

In a series of in-depth conversations with marketing, branding and design thought leaders across the globe we will discuss the evolving role of music and sound and get their long-term view on sonic branding. Here Piali Dasgupta opines on its evolution, relevance in brand building and much more.

Sonic Branding Conversations  - Piali Dasgupta

Piali is a multi-award winning marketing and communication leader with over 15 years of experience with brands like Amazon, Myntra, Publicis Group and the Times of India. Currently, she is Senior Vice President - Marketing at Columbia Pacific Communities, a Seattle based group which operates globally and is India’s largest senior living community operator. Outside of work she is a lived experience mental health advocate and also runs a podcast on mental health.

“Sonic Branding is not just about a sonic logo. We need to look at things in totality to build an impactful brand presence.” – Piali Dasgupta


Unmute: What role has music and sound played in your most successful marketing campaigns and is there any specific case where you thought that the sound and music really made a difference?

Piali: There are so many examples, but I'm just going to take one, which is from my previous experience at Publicis, and I can't take credit for it because it was done by another agency, but I did see the tremendous impact the music of that ad had on the brand. So, Allen Solly (an apparel brand), did a campaign on ‘Open Work Culture’ in 2018. They tried to reposition their brand a little bit from Friday dressing to a brand that stood for Open Work Culture.

Allen Solly tried to capture that essence of the changing workplace and how their apparel was well suited to it. The music of the campaign really helped to capture that essence and elevated it to another level. When we went through the social media comments, as we were handling the digital mandate of the brand, everybody wanted to know where the song was from. Everybody tried looking up the song or Shazam it, and it created a lot of positive sentiment around the campaign. Music is a very strong tool of communication. There is data to show that advertising that has great music almost always converts better, and almost always gets you higher engagement than advertising that doesn't.

Unmute: We always talk about adding depth and emotion to a brand, to humanize it and give it personality and character. Is that something you also think about in your current position, how the music you choose reflects the brand attributes and the brand persona? Are you aware of the effect it has directly on the brand and how people perceive the brand?

Piali: Everything that we do as part of brand building and as part of content creation, is thought through. There's a lot of thought that goes into every small aspect of production, including the sound. When you look at sonic branding, I feel the basic principles of branding remain the same. It is about giving your brand an authentic personality and voice and treating your brand as a character. If your brand was a human being, how would your brand react and what would your brand do?

The magic of sonic branding is that it makes your brand very distinct and memorable. In a way even when you don’t have a visual identity in front of you. If you create a really powerful sonic identity for your brand, then that becomes something that stays with the audience. In our case, music has been integral to our storytelling; and to set the mood for our stories. It's one of those things that we wish we could spend a lot of time and resources on in terms of investment. But I have to be honest, we don't. I'm sure that's the case with most brands today because sonic branding is just catching on and it's going to take a few years before more and more brands really understand its significance.

If you look at our campaigns like 'Love Not Labels' or 'Community beats Uncertainty' both of which won multiple awards, we chose music that added the required depth of emotion and took the story forward and suited our brand personality as well. We use music as a very important supporting tool to the narrative and we let the narrative decide what kind of music we would go with.

Unmute: Do you have any concerns about the lack of exclusivity when using licensed or stock music compared to bespoke or custom-made music? If you rent a piece of music, then basically any other brand could use the same and won't be building your brand like you could with a unique asset.

Piali: That's definitely a concern; any brand custodian would tell you that it's a concern. Human beings tend to form an opinion about a person based on how they look, how they sound, and what they're wearing. Brands to human beings are no different. So, it is definitely also about how the brand looks, how the brand sounds, and you do not want your brand to sound like any other brand. Just as, you don't want to look like everybody else in a room. It's the same thing even for brands when you use stock music. From a production point of view, I understand these challenges really well, because I've worked on the creative side. The person that's doing the production for video has a really hard time finding music that fits the story and is also exclusive sounding. It's a real challenge, because unless you find the right tune, it could destroy a piece of work. That’s the power of music. It could either enhance a piece of work or destroy it.

From a content quality point of view, there are these sets of tracks that every brand out there is using and you're like, I better not use this. Because if you end up using that, then you are killing your character and personality as a brand and how you come across because then you're not distinct. There are definite concerns about stock music. There's no doubt about it. But I also understand challenges that marketers face as far as production budgets are concerned.

Unmute: We're often met with the concern about budgets and not having the resources to create original things. But it's a big misunderstanding because when you look at the hours spent searching for the right library track or the fees you pay for licensing a known song and put it all together; the difference is not so big. That brings us to the point about measuring the effectiveness of the content you create. What is your experience with testing and measuring - also in regards to sound and music?

Piali: Every piece of content that we make is measured basis specific KPIs or against different objectives. Now when you think of music and its impact on the overall content in making the content successful or not, music is one of the most important elements. If you look at examples like the McDonald's or Intel’s sonic branding and what it did to the brands purely from a commercial and a stakeholder POV, it just grew the brands manifolds. It helped them become a global phenomenon. Ultimately, human beings don't buy commodities. They buy brands and brands are about feelings and emotions. As brand builders our primary role is to evoke human emotions about nonhuman things. It is about a certain emotion that leads the consumer to consider purchasing it. Sonic branding can do your business a world of good, but it will happen over a period of time and in any case, brand building is a long term game. Whether you measure it or not, it's not something that will show you results tomorrow. It takes some time for people to form that connection even with a sound as they hear it over and over again.

Unmute: On our last note here, how do you see the future of sound and music in branding and marketing? As the digital spaces are evolving sonic branding moves away from just being a marketing tool to something that lives inside our products, devices and homes. Where do you see all this is going?

Piali: For more and more brands to realize how powerful sonic branding is, it would require is probably a couple of solid case studies globally. Locally, we have a lot of case studies, but I mean more modern case studies and there can't be a better example today than Netflix. The sonic logo of Netflix is just so memorable and it's just what makes it Netflix and you sort of compare that to, let's say, Amazon Prime, which also has a sonic logo, but it just does not have that kind of an impact. But imagine Netflix without the Ta-dum, I can't. Therefore, as more and more brand owners realize the importance of the sonic identity and the need for it, this industry will definitely grow.

Also I see it becoming all encompassing. Because we also have to understand what sonic branding really means? Anything which is sound related as far as a touch point of your brand is concerned, is part of your sonic identity. It could be a sonic logo, your IVR music or transactional sounds on your app? That is also part of your sonic identity, isn't it? So we have to look at it more holistically than to just say that, let's go and create a sonic logo, which a lot of brands are doing. And that’s great, but it's not just about creating a sonic logo. When we understand that, then the opportunities are limitless because there is web 3, Metaverse and even podcast is a huge opportunity. Being a podcaster, I can tell you that brands that are advertising on podcasts definitely enjoy higher recall and if you want to be on a podcast, you will need a sonic identity. How else are you going to create recall/impact? The opportunities for sonic branding are endless provided, we understand what it holistically means and how all the pieces come together to create the sonic identity of your brand and what that ultimately means to your customer experience.


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