Natanael Sijanta, Dir. of Global Marketing Communications, Mercedes-Benz Cars
Few people know the brand Mercedes-Benz as well as Natanael Sijanta does, who built his entire career at Daimler AG. His professional journey at the automotive group began in 1995 in marketing communication, followed by several management functions in product placement and product information. In 2013, Sijanta took on the position of Head of Sales at Daimler subsidiary Mercedes-AMG, before assuming his current role as Director of Global Marketing Communications at Mercedes Benz Passenger Cars. With more than twenty years of experience at Daimler AG, Sijanta is one of the most respected marketing communication experts in the automotive industry. In this interview with 101GreatMinds, he talks about human senses in customer experience and the role of sound in future technology.
Reese: How important is music in branding?
Sijanta: I do believe that music plays a very important role within a brand’s overall positioning and communication approach. The sense of hearing is very efficient at triggering recall. Only the sense of smell can more easily bring back memories – be it good memories, or bad ones. But sound has that strength as well. In today’s world, where our culture is changing dramatically, where we’re constantly connected and we’re communicating nonstop… a couple of elements can help keep everything together for a brand. One of them is its look and feel, closely followed by sound and music. Together, these elements can put brands into a certain perspective, make the consumer recognize the brand, and establish an emotional connection with the consumer.
Reese: Do you think music can influence consumer behavior?
Sijanta: I do believe that music can bring back certain memories. The question would be what kind of memories you can trigger with what kind of music. Which connections can you establish, or re-establish, with what kind of sound? If you do it right, you can create a very positive experience. On the other hand: Say if you experienced a car crash, which is obviously a very negative experience… You will always connect that terrible event to all the other sensations you had in that very moment. You will connect it to what you were listening to on the radio in that moment.
Reese: That is true. When you think about where the automotive industry is going right now – especially with e-mobility and autonomous driving – what role are music and sound going play there?
Sijanta: The future of autonomous driving opens up a whole new universe of possibilities. The inside of a car is a closed, very personal space. With new technologies like autonomous driving, we’ll be giving our customers back valuable, personal time. Not everybody will enjoy this new way of driving at first - I’m sure there are people out there who won’t like letting go of their steering wheels that easily. But eventually, the fact that you will be able to lean back, relax and enjoy being chauffeured by your own car will re-shape our way of looking at the time spent inside the car. I strongly believe it’s our task as an OEM in the automotive segment to offer the right layout and setting for that personal space, that “cocoon” you’ll be sitting in, while your car is driving you somewhere. You should be able to have access to information, to the news, if you wanted to, and you should be able to surround yourself with the right soundscape, be it “relaxing” or “energizing” or “motivational.” You might even be able to customize what kind of scent you want in there, or what kind of seat you want to sit in to give you the best possible comfort. In short, the goal should be to turn the driving experience into genuine quality time. To that end, sound and music will play a major role. If you don’t hear any motor sounds anymore, just the wheels and maybe a little bit of the drivetrain of the electric engine, all of a sudden sound becomes much more important in a car.
Reese: Mercedes has one of the most iconic visual brand identities in the world. But it lacks a sonic identity. There is no clearly defined “sound of Mercedes.” Do you think that brands should be as disciplined in the audio space as they are in the visual space?
Sijanta: I believe that audio is a field that hasn’t really been touched by too many brands yet, and that there is still a lot of potential in the use of sound in branding. It would certainly help if we could objectify the process – with the use of A/B testing, for example. Simple likeability, or “gut feeling,” won’t bring you far. I believe that you can only truly establish a sonic identity the moment you can measure it.
Reese: Even if you couldn’t measure it right now, do you think a sonic identity would help Mercedes?
Sijanta: My “gut feeling” tells me so, yes.
Reese: In a recent presentation, you said that Mercedes is a respected brand – but that you wanted it to become a respected and loved brand. What factor will music play in that endeavor? After all, music is the direct way to the soul…Sijanta: Historically, Mercedes has always been an exclusive brand with a luxury feel to it, and we want to keep it that way. But we also believe that we have the opportunity to add a softer side to it. After all, you can be intelligent and emotional at the same time. We believe it is possible to be a luxury, yet approachable brand. We believe we can be a respected and loved at the same time. We want people to feel an emotional connection with Mercedes. Let me give you an example: Until recently, everybody dressed up in suit and tie at our motor shows. Nowadays, it’s completely fine if you show up in jeans and shirt, jacket and sneakers. Things like that can slowly change your image. Music and sound could be a major part of that change. Right after the smell of something, the sonic appearance of a brand will be one of its most recalled characteristics. Using sound and music in a strategic way would be a very simple way to find access to the customer. But you’ll have to use it in the right way.
Reese: You said that you’re open to any new marketing idea, as long as they’re data-driven.
Sijanta: I do believe in insights from data and research. But I’ll tell you this, and I don’t have any concrete data for it: As a device of sonic branding, I absolutely believe in what I would call an “activation sound logo.” The problem nowadays is that our attention spans are so short. If you’re creating a radio or a TV spot, you have to be able to capture someone’s attention within the first few seconds. The buildup of a story cannot be slow any more, or you quickly lose your audience. But if you were able to establish a sonic “activation key” at the very start of your brand message, one that you can hear at every consumer touch point – not just at the start of a TVC, but even when you start the car, or before your brand is broadcasting a live video on Facebook – then I think that the actual brand message following that “activation sound” would reach a recall rate that is a lot higher than is currently the case. You’re basically training your audience’s subconscious to pay attention to what follows after that sound.
Reese: That’s a very interesting thought.
Sijanta: It wouldn’t even have to be a specific sound logo, or a logo at all… it could even just be a specific mood, or a piece of audio.
Reese: Almost like what Skype has accomplished with its call sounds.
Sijanta: Exactly. I’m trained to subconsciously know what happens when I hear that sort of sound. A sonic device like that would make the brand automatically appear in front of your inner eye.
Reese: To sum up this conversation, is there anything we haven’t touched upon that you would like to talk about?
Sijanta: I strongly believe that there is a lot of potential in sound and music, which we haven’t even begun to tap into. Also, it would be so much easier to implement sound compared to other fields. You can easily transmit sound everywhere nowadays. It’s a lot harder to accomplish with smell. Just look at your smartphone – can you play music on it? Yes. Does it omit smells? No. Why, then, do a lot of brands have a CI, a corporate identity, a CD, a corporate design, but no CS, no corporate sound? I think the latter will play a much bigger role in the future, especially seeing that video is increasingly becoming more important.
Photo Source: http://conference.allfacebook.de/