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Sonic Conversations #2 - Sameer Kaul

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 Sameer elaborates on sonic branding in relation to the ‘why’ of a business, how it affects the buying behaviour and much more.


Sameer is a multi-award-winning marketing and communication leader with over 25 years of experience in the industry. He's worked with brands like Metropolis Healthcare, Dr. Lal PathLabs, Asahi Glass, VJT New York, and Oberoi Group of Hotels and is currently the founder of Ignibiz and also works as a consultant and speaker.





“Those brands that focus a lot on the ‘why’ of the business are the brands that are able to distinguish themselves from the competition” – Sameer Kaul


 

Unmute: According to you, how does sound and music affect brand communication?


Sameer: Music and sound are great marketing tools and have been used for several decades to make marketing communication stronger and more impactful. I can tell you that music and sound create an emotional connection with people; at least 35% of people are better off with sound and music in terms of emotional comfortability.


When you come out with a visual advertisement, one has to really put a lot of focus on the look and feel and the people that you use to define your target customers, because the target audience has to see themselves in that ad. So music has a big advantage of being a universal language, which the visual medium doesn't have. Visual media will segment people, but music has the property of being meaningful across ethnicity. That's why you see pop music, for instance, being so popular around the world. Strategic use of sound and music is a big opportunity for businesses across the globe to augment their brand and define what they stand for.


Also, brands and businesses that focus a lot on their ‘why’ are the ones that can distinguish themselves from the competition. Solving the clutter pie of the business is centered around orienting yourself towards the purpose, cause, or belief of the business, which is a very emotional aspect. That is how you connect with people. Apple did that when they said, “We are empowering the human spirit”. They were not only talking about the computers – what Steve Jobs was doing was building an emotional connection that was changing the status quo..


Unmute: How do you think music and sound impact buying behavior or business in general?


Sameer: The brands that can connect emotionally generally do well and can build a community and get brand advocacy. Sound and music inherently focus on the emotional part of the brain. A very different part of the brain called the Amygdala (present in the prefrontal cortex), is where the decision-making happens.


So I see sound and music as a big connector to the ‘why’ of the business and also more than visual content. Even elections are won on emotions across the world, whether it is in America or Canada or India. Elections are not won on budgets or GDP. So sound and music definitely have a lot to do with the emotional part of the brain, which inherently is responsible for buying.


Unmute: We see there is a lot of clutter in the marketing space even in the digital medium. How do you think music helps brands break out?

Sameer: We were in a mass marketing era until the 90s, when newspapers and other visual media vehicles were ruling. In the last decades we got into the digital era, and people are consuming and spending more time in the digital realm. Now the digital medium itself is the mass market. Disruptive brands have to do something to distinguish themselves in the digital media. On digital media, inherently 70-80% of the consumption is through visuals, but lots of brands are now focusing on sound and music too. That is why these days you see podcasts have become very interesting as a media because you can hear it anywhere while doing anything. They target different crowds and break away from that mass market, so you can really gain attention by stimulating multiple parts of your nervous system by including sound and music.


Sound and music are still new areas. But since it is new it can also be a tool for disruption if used in conjunction with your existing marketing strategy so it can complement and fill the gaps of the visual media that the other media cannot. If the music of a movie is good, it helps the movie to do much better.


But an important point is that the brand music has to be well thought out, keeping the ‘why’ and personality of the business in mind. There has to be synergy between the music and the brand personality, what the brand stands for, the brand vision and the customer profile. Otherwise, it can create confusion and disconnect between the target audience and the media vehicle. So music and sound definitely can become a differentiator for brands.


Unmute: Would you like to share any particular examples where you thought Sonic Branding made a difference?


Sameer: We have seen Intel using it brilliantly. We have seen McDonald's using it with ‘I'm loving it’ and many others. Also Hilton has used it brilliantly. Music plays at all the right touchpoints at Hilton and adds a lot of flavour to the brand. The music really helps you build an emotional connection with the brand. Even celebrities are using it. Influencers like Gary Vaynerchuck uses audio tags for all his videos.


So it is definitely a blue ocean strategy, and brands can strategically use it in customer care, in their IVR, TV ads etc. But it is important to understand the brand, its personality, the ‘why’ of the business and then use the right music consistently. Consistency is very important because brands are built on it. A business that keeps a consistent branding strategy, where music and sound are aligned with the brand values, creates a strong synergy, where sonic branding can play a significant role.


Unmute: We see a lot of brands using stock music and library music, which is understandable because it is super cheap and super accessible but it is also super generic. Building a sonic brand is about creating unique assets, and that might be difficult when you are only using stock music that is available to anyone else too. But still it is what most brands do. What are your thoughts on the matter of exclusivity?


Sameer: Branding and marketing are all about exclusivity and being unique. If a brand were to come to you and say they want a brand track, a sonic logo, or some audio tags one really needs to understand that the science part of marketing is very important. It is not about creating a tune or a sound in an audio room. It is about understanding what that brand stands for, what the purpose of the brand is, what the cause is, and what belief the brand has.


Sound and music really build an emotional connection, and emotions are definitely what marketers have to aim for. But a good marketer needs to understand the science of branding, and he should be able to match the science and art of branding and understand what the brand salience is, what the brand personality is, what is the brand image, and who the customers are. Because every customer is not for you. Brands need to choose their customers, not the other way round. When the marketers understand the psyche of that customer, then find the right kind of audio logo or the right kind of tune for that then it can work magic.


It is a long-term game because you need to keep on repeating it for it to become part of your consideration set. It cannot just be one campaign or two campaigns; it has to be used consistently. Remember: Marketing is an investment, it's not an expense.