• Transform magazine
  • November 30, 2020

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Five minutes with Uli Reese

Uli Reese (002)

Uli Reese, one of world’s foremost experts on audio brand management and global CMO at amp sound branding talks to Transform magazine about all the ins and outs of audio branding, from how a company can improve their audio brand to the process that goes on behind creating the perfect sonic brand experience.

Why is sound important for brand communication?

As we move away from screens and linear television viewing and interactive voice technologies become a bigger part of our everyday lives, brand visual identities get less attention from consumers. To establish brand recognition, it is therefore more important than ever for brands to think about how they sound.

But the power of sound in communication goes beyond its critical role as tool in a world with less visual real estate. It also has the potential to enhance experiences and connect with our feelings and ideas in ways that evoke authentic emotion and trust in the brand itself. If a brand can tap into the art of sonic branding, a new world of communication opportunities with its audience opens. In the branding sphere, we’re bound to see that conscious manipulation of sound will be an essential element of modern communication.

What is the number one advice you’d give to a company wanting to improve their audio brand?

Don’t look for the quick fix. 25 years ago, a brand would walk into an ad agency, the agency would offer them 100 audio logos, the brand would pick one and consider the job done. Companies seem to assume that a whole sonic branding strategy can be paired down to an audio logo, but that way of thinking is no longer fit for purpose.

A sonic logo is a short-term tactical approach that will never drive long-term equity. Brands need to create reusable sonic assets that drive recognition at all touchpoints without neglecting the customer experience. This is only possible through a sonic branding strategy based on a unique Sound DNA.

How has the audio brand industry changed since you first began working in it?

Sonic branding was a relatively unheard-of concept yet even in this preliminary stage, audio was being used to give brand’s their identity. Since then, we’ve seen the growth of multiple technologies, particularly in the field of voice such as Alexa and Google Home. The main change is that most of our technological applications are screenless - meaning we use our eyes less and our ears far more. Now, it’s critical that brands have a sonic identity recognisable across multiple touchpoints – with our eyes closed.

How does audio branding work with brand communication and brand design?

Like a person, a brand’s identity can be defined through internal characteristics, or features that describe the sort of ‘person’ a brand is on the inside, and external characteristics, or visual features that describe how the brand looks and presents itself to the world.

For example, our approach at amp is similar to a standard design process. We start off with a brand analysis followed by a sound workshop. We use the workshop results to prepare a creative briefing. Based on that, we develop, evaluate and refine several creative routes for the brand’s sound DNA. The output of these routes is the final sound DNA of the brand – a creative of an entire audio language based on the brand’s essence, values, promise and personality.

Can a purely sonic brand experience work? How do you make up for the lack of visuals?

Take podcasts as an example, if they were to come with visuals, it would be feeding both the eyes and the ears to the max and we no longer need to think or consider – in essence, we are being spoon-fed the information. As podcasts are purely audio based, the ears become the main sense and a whole different level of intimacy has been created. If you can create a realistic audio experience for a brand, it can pose many advantages because you are left open to the imagination.

Our conscious processes the things we hear quicker than the things we see. That’s just the way it works, and it won’t change. As humans, we create our own images to match the things we hear – not the other way around. Think about the art of storytelling, audiobooks or the sound of your mother’s voice when she used to call you as a child.

What is the process behind creating a brand voice? What are the essential things to consider?

Once again, the answer is: DNA. The creation and selection of the voice is subject to the same briefing as all the other elements of a brand's acoustic identity. An extroverted brand needs a voice that has this characteristic. In order to find the right voice, we design a personality. We put together a large number of attributes that are reflected in the sound of a voice. We listen to different personalities and match them with the voice. Sometimes we create hybrids, for instance: voice number one but with the extroversion of voice number two. Then there's modulation, enunciation, and so forth.

What are the pros and cons of emerging new devices with built-in audio delivery (podcasts etc) and their impact on audio branding?

The golden age of audio has opened new ways of communicating. The exciting thing is the level of distribution (3 Billion Voice Assistants by end of 2020), because it’s naturally built in, compatible, flexible and another touchpoint for brands to assert their identity. Brand’s now have the opportunity to use this potential to gain more relevance, stronger presence and increased differentiation. In other words, they can really cut through the noise so to speak – but only with a solid Sonic Identity.

On the flip side, emergent devices are increasingly screenless. For brands this can implicate serious identity issues and several brands aren’t up to speed in having a truly holistic sonic identity. Most are still reliant on using sonic logos such as McDonalds ‘I’m loving it’, but we’re finding that these aren’t fit for purpose over the growing number of mediums and potential audio consumer touch-points.

How can a global brand’s audio resonate with different people/cultures etc?

The history of mankind would prove that there has never been a society or culture discovered that did not use music and sound in some way. Music has been utilised by humans over the millennia, and is still used today, as a form of communication.

This is because music transcends all barriers in language, culture, time and all things visual. A well-designed sonic brand identity helps project a brand’s image in an instant. It immediately tells an audience who you are and what you stand for, making it one of the most powerful ways to attract an audience.

The most magical part of sonic is its ability to build an emotional connection and elicit emotive responses. Different elements within music evoke different feelings. For example, a syncopation, that is when a note anticipates a beat, creates surprise and excitement in the human brain. Any person, from any culture, speaking any language participates in this feeling. Brands can get their message across quickly by being part of a connected human experience.

What role will AI play in sound?  

Essentially, what brands really need to know when it comes to sonic branding is what ROI they will receive from its implementation. AI can help to achieve this by reducing the human bias in the whole audio branding process. Initially, we only had gut feeling or personal preference, but AI gives the cold, hard facts.

At amp, we work with several AI companies which predict the audio pieces relative power instantly. The machine continues to learn by surveying real people on how they feel about audio creative, so it can capture the real-time emotional response, recall and purchase intent of the brand’s interested audience. It’s this pre-market testing that means we can perfect and optimise a brand’s sound before its release. This saves an unbelievable amount of time and resources for brands.

The other side to AI is the creative aspect. The general fear seems to be around the idea that technology could kill creativity and creativity has always been something that humans think is only theirs to do - the last bastion of humanity.

AI will probably never be able to make music good enough to move us in the way human music does. Why? Because making music that moves people – to jump up and dance, to cry, to smile – requires triggering emotions and it takes an understanding of emotions to trigger them.