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TALKIN' LOUD
(AND SAYIN' SOMETHING...)

Jim Prior, Global CEO, Superunion

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Jim Prior

A leading advocate for creativity in business thinking, Jim is inspired by the pursuit of original and thought-provoking solutions to big problems. As Global CEO of Superunion, he leads the agency’s 750 people across 18 countries. He also works as an advisor to clients including the BBC, Deloitte, Telefonica, Colgate-Palmolive, and Ford on issues of brand strategy, design and management. He is a recipient of many of the creative industry’s most prestigious awards, including a D&AD Black Pencil and Cannes Gold Lion. He writes and comments regularly in international business media and his book, Preserved Thoughts, a collection of essays on topical brand and business issues, was published in 2013.

Reese: What challenges do you have to face in terms of music?

Prior: Our overarching challenge is to convince our clients and large organizations of the value of investing in a core definition of a brand, which sustains through every point of delivery, every brand experience. Our goal is to drive long-term value and resilience and we have a long-term agenda to achieve that. The advertising world is generally driven by a focus on the target audience and what motivates them. The branding world is generally driven by the organization and what is true, authentic and meaningful about them. The space in between is where a brand is really formed, between the capabilities of an organization and the needs of the audience. There are many elements that make that up and music is one of them.

Reese: Do you think brands should be as disciplined in their sonic behavior as they are visually?

Prior: I think the question is, what it actually means to be sonically disciplined. If you´re visually disciplined, there are defined starting points you are able to work from. It`s easier to define color, shape, form, texture, even movement from these. What I think is interesting about music in this conversation is that we have infinite possibilities in the creative process. I`m a little worried that when you are faced with infinite possibilities, you have to close off some options, and therefore set boundaries. Does that then limit, rather than encourage, the creative process? How tightly can one define direction in music? How able is one to relate the output back to the strategy? That`s easier for visual and verbal assets. A logo is a logo, and it can be the same around the world. The aim for music should be, that incapsulated within it is enough strategy, enough of the aim of a brand so you are able to make that connection. I wonder how possible that is. My challenge is to see the connection between a piece of music and the brand. I like the music, but it doesn`t tell me the story that we have defined around the brand. If you can define that, brands should absolutely be very disciplined.

Reese: Starting with a logo is the biggest misunderstanding that brands have. It`s only a part of the whole process of sound branding. Holistic sound branding is the only approach where you are able to adapt to the time and Zeitgeist over decades.  

Prior: I agree. It`s the same thing as we do in all our work with brands. Our business is not about only creating assets. Fundamentally, it`s about understanding the organization and its relationship with the world. We are translating that into a set of principles that are meaningful enough to drive internal behaviors and external experiences of the brand. Out of that, we are creating a range of different things, some of which are creative assets that are universally deployed and never change, and others which are principles, a DNA, that evolves on a constant basis. But one thing is always the same: we have to start with a strategic basis on which we can build on. The question concerning music branding is how do we make it an integrated element within the whole brand experience. From my perspective, it can`t be seen as an isolated part.  

Reese: Do you think that music will be more important in the future? 

Prior: If you ask business leaders what`s most important for the success of their business in the future, taking into account a whole range of operational, financial and cultural factors, most CEO´s will say that creativity is the most crucial thing. The problem is that few of them are supporting that belief with action in their business: it’s not discussed or invested in at the executive level, no one is measured on it, and few companies have anyone taking senior responsibility for it. So, intellectually, music will be more important in the future, but it will only practically be so if businesses invest in it. There is a great difference between what people think is most important and what they actually do, and music is a part of that.

Reese: Would your clients want to quantify results in terms of music?

Prior: Here`s the thing with many organizations and ROI: they always want to see ROI but they are rarely prepared to invest in what it takes to measure it properly. In order to measure that in a specific case, you need to measure beforehand and afterwards, which means upfront investment. When taken into account as part of a broad brand evolution program, which is inevitably and justifiably high-cost in itself, we meet fewer people that are prepared to go through a comprehensive measurement process in addition. What I think organizations really want is for somebody to come in with some well-structured case studies where we can show an ROI based on tangible proof-points, perhaps related to future cost-savings and efficiencies more so than esoteric factors like brand value. Music does provide that opportunity to demonstrate that so that’s a major advantage it has in the branding mix.

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