Manuela Liebertz, Strategic Brand Manager, MAN Truck & Bus SE
Manuela Liebertz brings comprehensive experience in brand and marketing strategy. Prior to joining MAN she worked on positions on consulting-, company-and agency-side always focusing on strategic brand and marketing topics. Due to these career stages Manuela has a holistic view on brand and marketing issues and brings a combination of brand strategy expertise, international business experience and customer empathy to her work at MAN.
Reese: Potential clients often ask me: “Which music do I have to pick for my brand to ensure that my sales numbers go up?” That’s when I have to tell them it’s not as simple as that. Audio branding is much more complex.
Liebertz: Music has such a power over our subconscious… the psychology of how it affects consumers is very fascinating. It’s an extremely multi-faceted field. I also believe that it’s a topic that has generally been underestimated in the B2B-business, in which we at MAN Truck & Bus operate. In B2C, you have a lot more consumer touch points – in-store, in TVC and so on – but there seems to be a common belief that it’s not that important in B2B business. You do need it, though. At the end of the day, you can’t underestimate your customers – whether they make conscious or subconscious decisions. They do notice what you’re doing and how much thought you put into your brand communication.
Reese: I agree. So does your marketing team at MAN Truck & Bus follow any audio guidelines?
Liebertz: Of course. There are two different areas in our business where audio applies: On the one hand, we use sound in our product communication, and on the other hand, there’s the product sound – e.g. the engine sound of our vehicles. The audio of both should be uniquely MAN, and we do follow audio guidelines in both fields. You do have to consider, however, that we don’t run any radio or TVC ads. If we’re talking film, we mostly release product videos and image films via our YouTube and Social Media channels. And for those, we tend to use scored music. Music-wise, our composer briefing follows two guidelines: The piece needs to be dynamic and represent authenticity and reliability - it has to fit our brand identity, and, at the same time, it has to get across the message of the specific film. So there’s a strategic component to it, the brand fit: MAN is a powerful and authentic brand, and the music has to underline that. But there’s also a tactical component to it: The product fit, the specific message of each film, which also has to resonate in the music. In addition to the sound component, the voice of the speaker plays an important role in our product films. In order to achieve a high recognition value, we always use the same speaker. As for music, for the speaker there is a male, powerful voice in low pitch with a striking timbre. The voice conveys sympathy and trustworthiness. The interplay of sound and voice gives the film expressiveness and creates an emotional connection between sender and receiver.
Reese: So you are making use of music, but you’re not using any brand themes, or a certain motif that reappears in the scored music you use for your films?
Liebertz: That´s right – we don´t. The music needs to meet special requirements that are defined in audio guidelines, but we actually make a point with that. We need to ensure a certain degree of flexibility. Our business at MAN Truck & Bus is multi-faceted: From trucks for long-distance transportation, over construction site vehicles to the distribution industry. And that’s just the product range of trucks – the range of busses and vans are completely different fields. Depending on which product I want to market, I need to have the flexibility to individually tailor the music to the product message. That’s why we don’t have one piece of music that reappears every single time when our products are advertised.
Reese: For most brands, music is first and foremost a tactical tool for emotional storytelling. The strategic approach, on the other hand, focuses on consistency.
Liebertz: Well, the tactical approach comprises the piece of music, the score we use, which mainly depends on the individual product message.
Reese: In general, how important is music and audio in strategic branding, in your opinion?
Liebertz: Audio plays a very important role. Strategic audio branding is very effective, no doubt – if you consider the Audi heartbeat, for example. It’s so memorable, and without seeing the logo, you know that it’s Audi. Or the sound of a Porsche engine – it’s unmistakably Porsche. I don’t think consumers pay a lot of mind to audio in particular, however. To them, it’s just a part of the overall brand concept. If the audio is good and on-brand, it supports the brand message, and it can even boost and multiply the effect of the brand message. But if the audio is off, that’s when you notice it. That’s why you really have to pay attention to which music you pick, how well you brief the composers you work with, and so on.
Reese: You mentioned product sound. That really is an interesting field, especially in automotive. I know that Porsche have designed their cars in a way that the engine sound resonates inside the car.
Liebertz: That’s right.
Reese: And it’s also something that will become increasingly important, now that more and more electric car models are released onto the market.
Liebertz: Exactly! It’s a fascinating field – in the future, car manufacturers could offer their consumers a personalized engine sound, for example. As a driver, you want to be able to hear the sporty character and horsepower your car delivers. And there’s the safety issue, too – silent cars could be a hazard in daily traffic. You need product sound designers.
Reese: Audio is an extension of brand meaning. It becomes the voice of a brand, and it has to be in line with the brand identity. It’s like my own voice – I doubt you’d take me seriously if I were to talk to you in a very high-pitched voice, compared to how tall I am. It just wouldn’t be congruent with my physical appearance. And that applies to brands as well. What you mentioned earlier is correct, too: The most part of how brands are perceived happens on a subconscious level. If a brand’s audio doesn’t match its appearance, consumers notice that something is off. It affects the brand’s credibility and the consumers’ trust in the brand, and ultimately, the consumers’ buying decisions. And that’s why the right choice of audio is so critical for brands.
Liebertz: Absolutely - it’s something we pay attention to. Of course, you need a certain degree of flexibility, but in the end, the music that is picked has to be on-brand. No doubt about it. The brand has to be represented adequately and authentically. In order to achieve that, you need guidelines.
Reese: Throughout my research, I have always been very interested in decision-making processes around music. Let’s say you’re planning a new product film. At what point during that creative process do you start discussing the audio for the film?
Liebertz: We usually use scored music for our film productions – it’s not a must, sometimes we go into licensing – but for the majority of films, we approach composers with the film edit, after production. In the briefing, we tell them which message we want to convey with the film, and we also tell them which brand values we stand for and how the music needs to communicate those. Once we get first results back from them, we talk them through within our team and, if needed, we go back to the composer and give further input or suggestions on how we think the score should change. In the end, our marketing executives give their final OK. That’s pretty much what the process looks like. The audio is not treated as a separate entity, it’s part of the film concept as a whole.
Reese: Where do you see the future of audio in brand communications?
Liebertz: Audio is incredibly important, and I believe that in an ideal world, marketers would be as committed to it as they are to the visuals. Right now, the reality is somewhat detached from that ideal. Still, at MAN Truck & Bus, we know how important audio is, and we do pay attention to it. We try to make sure our brand is represented consistently through its audio – after all, it is key to becoming and staying memorable as a brand.