• Transform magazine
  • September 27, 2021

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Five minutes with Bob Young

Bob Young B&W

Bob Young, co-founder and creative partner at London brand design agency Alphabetical, talked to Transform about appealing to all the senses – sight, sound, smell, taste and touch – when developing brands, to achieve cut-through in an overloaded world and make them truly memorable.

What are the core elements of your multi-sensory design approach?

The core element of what we do is audience experience. The reason for developing our multi-sensory approach came from a desire to give audiences texturally rich and immersive brand experiences. We aim to make the audience central to the outcome of what the client wants to achieve. I know that may sound slightly intangible but making this the platform for all our creative thinking has transformed the way we work as a studio and changed what we produce.

Much of this has originated from us having a wide range of interests across design and creativity. This has not only shifted our approach, it has changed what we offer our clients -which is to go beyond conventional perceptions of a brand-led design studio to include immersive environments, sound design, animation and film development, as well as digital experiences.

Why are brands having to become increasingly multi-sensory to have an impact?

People have access to more branded media than ever before, and although this can be seen as giving you increased potential to reach more of your audience, there’s also the chance you’ll get lost in the noise. If you want to stand out, you need to understand exactly who you want to talk to, what will engage them, and how to present that in the most distinctive way possible. 

For example, in a recent project for a London-based property client, we were asked to share what the experience of living right on the edge of Hyde Park is like with potential clients from around the world. This created the perfect platform to use our sensory approach, as being surrounded by a beautiful and sensory-rich park is an indescribable experience. The result is a brand identity that not only feels authentic, but is supported by a wide range of different, often quite radical, applications to promote the development. These include a range of films where Rafael Viñoly,  a ‘natural symphony’ for the brand, and a unique tea blend made from botanicals that grow in the park’s gardens, which were packaged and sent to potential buyers across the globe. 

This is just one example of how a sensory mentality to brand identity can enrich customer experience and help articulate the unique aspects of your brand.

What role does sonic branding and sound design play in the multi-sensorial experience?

It’s such a key asset in developing a robust brand. Our clients are creating an increasing amount of digital communication across a range of platforms. Sound design allows us to consistently tie all of these elements together in the same way a strong visual system in a brand identity would. It makes you instantly recognisable in a more cerebral way.

Sonic branding has moved on a long way since the Intel Inside audio hook. It’s no longer simply about some form of Pavlovian reaction during an ad break. It’s about using music to set a consistent tone across every brand expression, and remembering that audio is an experience as emotive as the visual and the narrative. 

One area we’ve concentrated on developing is creating music as part of a range of brand expressions. It needs to have as much tonal stretch as the other elements of the identity. A brand will typically have to speak to a range of audiences in slightly different ways, and any sound design should do the same. You may have created an exciting and high-paced sound piece for a client, but when they need a tone of calm or seriousness that simply won’t work. 

What does having a multi-sensory design approach add to branding? How do the brands you work with benefit from this?

Brands have to keep evolving to stay relevant, and thinking in a sensory way can accelerate impact and visibility by adding exciting new media that connects with different audiences. 

Keep in mind that a sensory design approach can mean more than just touch, sound or environments, it can also mean human interaction. I know it's something that feels almost alien in the aftershock of the pandemic, but we put a lot of emphasis on clients allowing us to research and engage their audiences. Recently this has been via online workshops or digital surveys, but working with people and having conversations puts a face at the front of the process and allows you to break down barriers that can be key to building meaningful relationships. For us and many of our clients, this is the ultimate benefit for any brand.