amp sound branding
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TALKIN' LOUD
(AND SAYIN' SOMETHING...)

Sandra Cameron, Head of Digital Marketing, Opel GmbH

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Sandra Cameron

Sandra Cameron became the Head of Digital Marketing for Opel in 2014. She has managed websites in that role for over 50 international markets, the car configurator and mobile marketing for the automotive industry. With experience of many years in the industry, Sandra has become an expert in thinking out of the box and creating unique customer experience. Sandra is now Chief Digital Marketing Officer at ISRA VISION, international provider for Machine Vision solutions.

Uli Reese: If you think about sound in all your processes, what role does it play?

Sandra Cameron: Opel really uses it on a campaign basis. It comes down to TV spots and the sound overlaying that.

Reese: So it’s a storytelling tool, campaign-driven and tactical. It’s not a strategic weapon for brand-building.

Cameron: Of course, it has a brand building effect as well, but at Opel it predominately supports campaigns. It’s very much linked to the tonality and the idea that’s supposed to be communicated to consumers. You do the TV spot and then you overlay the sound. It’s still an art, and there’s a great deal of investment devoted into perfecting this and getting it right, but it’s very much campaign-driven. Ten years ago, it was standard practice to design music loops that you would underlie when creating a microsite where consumers could experience the new car line, the new features, the latest campaign. We used to do spin-offs of the audio behind a TV commercial, and we placed special attention to it. We took the tonality of the song and it became the bottom layer of the microsite, so whenever a customer came to the site there would already be an audio element.

Reese: Did you do that in a studio, or by yourselves…?

Cameron: We had a producer who basically received the TV spot and then designed this background music around it. It kind of served as an emotional trigger for the campaign. Because bearing in mind this wasn’t just any music, it had been carefully chosen – sometimes we were working with up-and-coming artists their times. I remember at one point we even designed sound logos that you could download. Not strategic per se for the brand, but very specific experiences from a musical perspective.  

Reese: To stay with this for a second, how did you choose the music?

Cameron: We always looked for an “ease-of-mind” mood. Look, consumers typically come to your website with a pain point – a question or a problem – and they need a specific information. But when they come to the campaign microsite it’s because they’ve been intrigued by a campaign asset, e.g. a banner or a TV spot. They’re in “experience mode”. The music was supposed to support this emotional state of mind. Relax, lay back, experience. But I wouldn’t put a music loop under the main website. If somebody suggested it, I would say no. It’s not the moment.

Reese: It doesn’t reflect the mood. 

Cameron: Right. You have to understand the customer journey. The shopping funnel in the automotive world is between two and seven months. Within that, there are emotional moments. I’ll give you an example of a joyful moment: that’s when you’ve finally purchased the car. You’ve configured it, you’ve designed it, and now you go to the dealer to pick it up. It’s your car. There’s a moment of celebration. And in that moment, if you have an audio branding strategy – hell, yeah, put that emotion out there. Music is a direct way to access emotion.

Reese: It’s a direct route to your subconscious.

Cameron: Right – so you can orchestrate emotion. You can help the customer celebrate that moment with a holistic experience. I totally buy that.

Reese: But not every time.

Cameron: No, you have to choose your moments. Imagine you design a sound logo for emails. So when I send you a mail, you hear my sound? But what if that mail is negative? The point I´m making is, whenever you design an experience, you need to make sure you understand at what point in the customer journey it’s supporting you, and at what point it’s counter-productive. You need a clear strategy, otherwise it’s probably best to refrain.

Reese: It cannot be tactical. You need a master plan.

Cameron: Clients tend to think in disciplines and formats. “Oh, I have a campaign, I need a TV commercial, I need print…” But when you design an experience you have to picture the entire customer journey…For example, when you enter a car, there are many touchpoints. While your HMI is loading, typically a logo appears…

Reese: HMI? You mean the infotainment system?

Cameron: Human Machine Interface. That’s what the engineers call it. So, we have engineers and designers working on that, but they come with an engineering and design solution, and now you have to take it and build a customer experience around it. But you don’t want it to be too complex…you don’t want them hunting for the “off” button.

Reese: What would the perfect customer experience sound like? Putting it another way, why are most of the sounds we associate with cars still stressful? Aren’t we tad smarter than that now?

Cameron: I think it’s very important to iterate these things with customers. Sometimes a brand can say, “we need a sound”, but you’re approaching it from the wrong direction. You’re doing it for yourself. But you need to ask customers. If you ask them, “What sound would feel great to you when you enter the car?” they will tell you.

Reese: Right.

Cameron: There’s great strength in audio because the link between music and memory is enormous. It accompanies you for your entire life, and today it’s everywhere…But on the other hand, it’s very personal. What you like, I might not like. So how on earth, with a product like automotive, which goes across all ranges of customers – even kids, who are sitting in the car – how do you design a brand experience, or an audio experience, which resonates with so many different people? Anybody who gets that right, end to end, has really created something special.

Reese: It translates into sales, too.

Cameron: As I already described, engineers design the cars, and they approach it from their mindset. So, when they create the sound that signals “you locked your car, you’re good”, they probably design it loud, because they think the customer needs to hear their car is locked…

Reese: From 20 metres away…

Cameron: Often engineers come from a safety angle, or from limitations in the system – they’re specific and targeted. And that’s where it clashes. Because then a marketer comes along and says, “we need to redesign the sound of locking the car, we need a brand feel to it.” And then the engineer goes off because you’re criticising their work. So, you are required to go through a great deal of change management, because you have to move a lot of people to a different way of thinking.

Reese: That’s the challenge: how can I make that sound relevant?

Cameron: Modularity is always complex for something like automotive. The production of a car is a five-year process, and if you want to change something in the middle of a process, it’s difficult. Making a product like a car is all about efficiencies, commonalities. But if having an individual experience, like an audio experience, is very important to you as a brand, you need to think in a more modular way.

Reese: That’s an interesting point.

Cameron: Five or six years ago we designed an app – it was basically the first step to an owner app - where you can log in and see your profile, use it to lock and unlock your vehicle…and we had a feature in there which we called a “mood player”. You had mood buttons to choose from, and if you decided you needed something, say, mellow, it would search through your music library and create the appropriate playlist. Do you know how often that was used.

Reese: Through the roof.

Cameron: Through the roof! It was a killer feature. There was modularity in it, but it wasn’t overdone. You didn’t have ten moods to choose from. Because we’re already overloaded with information, so why create extra parity of choice?

Reese: Do you think the same level of discipline should be applied sonically to a brand as it is visually?

Cameron: Yes, because brand experiences are emotional experiences. And they’re only good if they’re consistent and they only resonate if they’re consistent over a longer period of time. If you can design a brand experience that remains consistent over the years, you can touch peoples’ lives spinning generations. That’s why you should have a strategy that covers not only visual elements, but everything that touches all of the senses – and ultimately emotions, touching the consumers.

Reese: When I was a kid we had an Opel Kapitän, and then an Opel Admiral. But later we got a Mercedes, and I remember that it felt different, it sounded different. When you’re a kid, these sensations get hard-wired into you forever. In terms of recall, you can best remember smell, but sound comes next…

Cameron: Music has been around since the start of humanity and it will still be around when we become extinct. So, you better be careful what you do with it, because it can have a lifetime effect. And if you’re a brand, it can have a lifetime brand impact.

Reese: If music is so powerful, why is it so neglected in branding? It represents about 5% of the budget, but there’s a suggestion that it can be responsible for up to 50% of the effectiveness of a piece of communication. The trouble is, there are no solid metrics for that, so it’s handled in an arbitrary way. People are shooting from the hip.

Cameron: We always tend to want to measure everything down to the last detail. It’s this question of Return on Investment. I think that’s why nobody has joined the dots between experience and sales. There’s also a question of attribution: as in, which element contributed the most to sales? We tend to examine the project equally, rather than considering individual parts. But some levers are stronger than others, and I think the emotional part is underestimated in that journey. Because emotion is one of the first triggers to make a decision. We always think we’re doing a pros and cons list. But no – we’re not. 90% is coming from gut feeling.

Reese: Even if you could prove that, a CEO would read it and probably not believe it.

Cameron: It’s their prerogative, but this could impact the opportunity for them to realize something which can afford them this competitive advantage. Apart from all - of course necessary - efforts to perfect customer experience from an information standpoint, it’s important to remember, that emotion is one of the first real entry points for a customer when even considering a brand. A brand that can communicate across multiple touchpoints within the customer journey across many countries and markets, has to develop a unique sound DNA that can be tailored to all communication purposes without losing its identity. That’s not easy, but it will differentiate successful brands, and benefit them sticking out from the crowd. We are humans: we don’t want to have to read, we don’t want to have to "learn" a brand value – the direct way to our hearts is through our eyes and... our ears.



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