What Does Your Brand Sound Like?

Branding is one of the top concerns of CEOs and CMOs, and smart firms are investing as much as ever on branding initiatives — even online. For instance, back in August, eMarketer reported that in the digital area alone, U.S. advertisers will spend approximately “$17.46 billion on branding, or 41.6% of total digital spend. By 2017, [the online] branding spend is expected to grow to $29.33 billion, or a 48.5% share.”

But with most B2B and B2C organizations using virtually the same branding tools, they’re arguably seeing less advantage as a result of their efforts — if they’re realizing any advantage at all.

To gain advantage on this leveled playing field, there’s one powerful branding tool that has been generally overlooked — or perhaps undervalued — by most marketers: sound. With of our increasingly audio-enabled media environment, the strategic use of sound can play an important role in positively differentiating a product or service, enhancing recall, creating preference, building trust, and even increasing sales.

Called audio branding, sonic branding, sound branding, or acoustic branding, cognitive studies show that relevant sounds and musical cues can truly influence people in ways marketers want. According to research presented at the 2012 Audio Branding Congress, congruent sound cues can increase the speed of a visual search for products (a key for success in both online and retail settings), as well as improve the perceived taste of food and wine (PDF).

Some marketers have long employed sound and music as part of their brand experience, including the familiar chime of an Apple Computer launching, the pop of the Snapple lid, and the aggressive howl of a Harley in rev mode.

While these are within the realm of audio branding, the true practices are actually more sophisticated than an isolated packaging or product sound, the singular use of a now quaint jingle at the end of a radio spot, or a discrete audio logo such as the one attached to the Intel inside button.

Rather, audio branding entails the creation of an entire audio language for the brand based on its essence, values, promise, and personality — a language that gets expressed across all touch points, from the web and apps to trade shows to TV to the retail environment and even the product itself. Just as the verbal or visual brand expression is optimized at each medium, the audio expressions are also sensitively adapted across the touch points, so they’re psychologically appropriate to the medium.

The French national railway, SNCF, did just that. They launched an audio branding initiative in 2005 for two key reasons. First, already in competition with airlines, they were beginning to compete with German and Italian railroads. Second, consumers, when asked, associated SNCF with “strikes and delays.”

They started their initiative by conducting a study of the all the audio in their competitive set, revealing a lack of distinctiveness. They then created an audio DNA with the goal of communicating their leadership along with the comfort and caring that distinguished the brand.

SNCF Audio DNA, 2005

It was introduced with a film that drew the connection between the company’s heritage and its new position.

To bring the audio DNA to life, the music was interpreted in various ways. Station messages, for example, took into account travelers’ anxiety. For those, the music was calm and reassuring.

SNCF’s In-Station Signal

Though the TV end frame uses the same tune, it has a more authoritative sound with more emphasis on rhythm.

SNCF’s Audio Logo, 2005

The customer service line draws from the same audio DNA but provides surprises and variety to make the wait feel shorter. The now-familiar music was also adapted to the needs of meetings, corporate messages, brand advertising, and communications needs all throughout the company.

While the audio DNA has remained intact, the expression has evolved since its launch, keeping with the developing brand. The first appearance in 2005 had to capture leadership, which led to a dynamic and authoritative musical universe, employing a rhythmic approach and a distinctive sound. Then in 2008, to emphasize its eco-mobility, the instrumentation became more natural and acoustic.

SNCF’s Audio Logo, 2008

And finally, in 2012, the brand needed to impart its new vision of simple, direct and easy mobility, so sounds were simplified and a whoosh of speed was introduced.

SNCF’s Audio Logo, 2012

SNCF made a bold decision to give up the usual codes of the category and create something to which no link to the past existed, but that underscored its then current leadership and brand values. As a result, the audio brand has turned into a significant asset for SNCF. For instance, they found that they are correctly identified in testing by 92% of the listeners — and that 88% of these listeners correctly identified the brand upon hearing just two notes. And perhaps more significantly, 71% of them now see the brand as being “attractive” or “very attractive,” and SNCF has experienced an 18% increase in the perception of leadership.

Just as the earliest visual logos and branding programs are iconic today, audio brands will likely become iconic tomorrow. If you do not have an audio brand, the time is now to get started. Done right, your efforts can provide rewards for years to come.

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Demographics are dead: the new, technical face of marketing

Over the past five years, marketing has transformed from a primarily creative process into an increasingly data-driven discipline with strong technological underpinnings.

The central purpose of marketing hasn’t changed: brands still aim to tell a story, to emotionally connect with a prospective customer, with the goal of selling a product or service. But while the need to tell an interesting, authentic story has remained constant, customers and channels have fundamentally changed. Old Marketing took a spray-and-pray approach aimed at a broad, passive audience: agencies created demographic or psychographic profiles for theoretical consumers and broadcast ads on mass-consumption channels, such as television, print, and radio. “Targeting” was primarily about identifying high concentrations of a given consumer type in a geographic area.

The era of demographics is over. Advances in data mining have enabled marketers to develop highly specific profiles of customers at the individual level, using data drawn from actual personal behavior and consumption patterns. Now when a brand tells a story, it has the ability to tailor the narrative in such a way that each potential customer finds it relevant, personally. Users have become accustomed to this kind of sophisticated targeting; broad-spectrum advertising on the Internet is now essentially spam. At the same time, there is still a fine line between “well-targeted” and “creepy.”

As data availability has improved the quality of potential opportunities, perpetual connectivity has increased the quantity. The proliferation of mobile devices, decreasing cost of data access, and popularity of social platforms have increased the number of avenues that brands have at their disposal. However, these factors have also made it harder for them to actually connect; today’s audience has an ever-shorter attention span, as focus is split across an increasing number of channels. Consumers are better informed than ever before; a price- or fact-check is simply a Google search away, whether users are in front of their TV screens or walking around stores.

This changing ecosystem has already resulted in a shift from transaction-oriented “product-centric marketing” to a relationship-focused “human-centric” approach. Consumer loyalty to brands is a thing of the past; brands now demonstrate loyalty to their customers. Marketing campaigns must be time-, place-, and context-aware. It’s also important to be technologically on point: cross-device, multi-channel, constantly measuring results and refining campaigns. Today’s technology has largely mitigated the Wanamaker problem, but a Goldilocks problem remains: consumers don’t want to be inundated with marketing that is too obnoxiously broad or too creepily specific. Consumers want relevance.

The Radar team is interested in the progression of “reaching” passive audiences to “engaging” active ones, and in the technology that enables brands to break through the noise and find the people who are most likely to love them. In upcoming months, we’ll be investigating the continuing evolution of marketing, with a focus on fusing the art of storytelling with the promise of data and the objectivity of analytics. If you’re excited about this field, or know of someone doing interesting work in the area, let us know — drop a note in the comments section, or ping me via email or Twitter.

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Taking Your Brand Global Is Easier Than You Think

There’s a prevalent myth that I’ve encountered repeatedly in my years advising companies with intentions of going global — that it’s a massive project, one that takes extensive advance planning, and one that only the largest companies can pull off successfully. This conclusion is understandable. After all, it’s hard enough to build a business within one’s home market.

Recently, I spoke with the head of marketing at a multi-billion-dollar company which had been global for decades, long before it became trendy. In reviewing the countries and languages he appeared to be targeting with his website, I asked him why the company had selected the specific markets they are in today. His answer? “We didn’t. It just kind of happened.”

This process plays out repeatedly, even among some of the world’s largest brands. Take Apple as a prime example. After opening up retail locations throughout the United States, the American stores were flooded by foreign buyers purchasing iPhones in bulk in order to take them back and sell them to the scores of people yearning for these products overseas. At first, Apple didn’t target these international customers in a strategic way, which would have been making their products easily available in those countries from the start. Instead, they noted the demand and, little by little, gradually expanded their global footprint; to the point where today, a great deal of their growth strategy is focused on other countries. At the end of their 2012 fiscal year, 83% of new Apple Stores were found in international locations.

While it’s true that many companies make a concerted decision to enter a given market, it’s actually more common to see the reverse scenario take place — their customers make the decision for them, or at the very least, these customers play a significant role in steering the company toward those decisions. As a result, more and more companies are going global without any sort of grand master plan. Instead, they are easing into an international presence one small step at a time, often learning as they go, creating plans in response to what they learn, and experimenting along the way.

In the past, launching a presence in a new country required an office in that location, several trips to scout out office space, and a significant commitment of both time and money. But in today’s digital age, people in faraway places can find your website, learn about your company, and have an experience with your brand. Marketers and brand managers today cannot always control the traffic streams — and their sources — that arrive at their website. Customers are more empowered than they used to be.

Marketers are empowered by this new world order too, but in a different way — through analytics. While they may not be able to strictly control who is visiting their website and where these visitors are coming from, they can use demographic and behavioral data in order to determine the next best steps the company should take. If they see significant traffic from a given country or in a given language, this data can help inform the decision to launch a website for a specific locale.

Yet, sometimes, even when all of the signs are clear that demand exists outside of a company’s home market, many companies ignore the data — and therefore, the market opportunity — due to a fear of how hard it will be to expand across international borders. They envision massive up-front costs with unclear return on investment. The word “international” seems far bigger and scarier than it really is.

The problem for many of these companies is figuring out what to do next. How do you capitalize on these signs of potential global momentum?

Add a little fuel to the fire with translation. If you’re already seeing international interest among your customer base, consider translating some of your online marketing content in order to make your products and services that much more accessible — and desirable. Don’t make the expensive mistake of translating everything at once. Instead, try a “test launch” or a pilot in a given country.

Support your customers without going overboard. Many companies believe that they have to provide full-fledged customer service and support to customers in every language and country into which they expand. The reality is that if you’re already seeing interest from your customer base without any support at all, even providing minimal support (online help, for example) will often be a step in the right direction — at least until you have more customers, and therefore more revenue, to fund greater levels of client service.

Increase your sales and marketing presence. As you begin to see more traction from your small-scale efforts, consider amping up your sales and marketing presence for the international locations that seem most promising, using research and your own analytics to inform your decisions. As you see return on investment, you can provide more in-language content and spend more on local campaigns. You might even want to hire salespeople who speak the language of your newfound customers — but they don’t necessarily need to live there. You can recruit expats who live in your country but would love to travel back home frequently until you’re confident of the need to hire locally.

Decide whether you need a physical presence. You might never actually need a physical office location in the country where your customers are located. Granted, this decision is made easier for dot coms, digital media companies, SaaS developers, and others who primarily sell on the web. However, even if you are selling physical goods, a wiser strategy may be to take advantage of distributors and resellers in order to obtain the same benefits without investing in actually setting up camp in another geography.

Don’t panic when you spot global demand for your products and services. Instead, start making small, incremental investments in expanding your global presence. Before long, you’ll see that going global is simply a path — not an obstacle course.

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The Innovator’s Straitjacket

Consider the straitjacket. It was invented in the early 18th century in France as a way to stop people with mental disorders from hurting themselves. It does its job well, but a person in a straitjacket also loses the ability to do many other things, particularly creative tasks that require typing, drawing, manipulating objects, and so on. Read more

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Monitoring the Conversation; Managing Your Brand Reputation Online

By Carlo Pandian
Reputation is everything is everything in business, and nowhere is this more true than online.  While online retail is one of the few growing segments in the economy (local, national or global), building trust and maintaining it is a hard task for start-ups and established businesses alike.

Brand is not always enough to convince customers that they can trust you, and if you are only just establishing a brand then creating a trustworthy presence on the web is essential.  In addition to many bright and shiny new internet marketing techniques you should also look at one of the oldest tricks in the book; word of mouth. Read more

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How These Small-Time Brands Made It Big

If you’re an entrepreneur, you know that things rarely go as planned. Many don’t survive the “Valley of Death” stage, when start-ups scramble for funding, resources, and customers, while still trying to get traction for their business idea. And yet some entrepreneurs hit it big and transform a business idea into a big brand. What do they do differently? Read more

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How to Thrive in Social Media’s Gift Economy

So you’ve got your brand on social media. You have a Facebook page and Twitter account. Maybe a Pinterest board. But now what? There has to be more to social media than posting coupons and running sweepstakes. How do you drive real customer engagement?

The answer may come not from Silicon Valley or Madison Avenue, but from places like the Trobriand Islands and the Pacific Northwest. Read more

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