101 Great Minds on
Music, Brands and Behavior

BRAND EDITION

Christian Birck

Chief Customer Officer at LafargeHolcim

 

“Because we are so visually driven, we don`t know where to look anymore. Due to that, sound is the next frontier that people will have to understand.”

 

Christian Birck, Chief Customer Officer, LafargeHolcim

Christian Birck is Chief Customer Officer and Group Senior Vice President at LafargeHolcim, one of the largest global building materials manufacturers worldwide. He has held various senior marketing and sales positions throughout his career, including Group CMO and Commercial Director of South East Asia, China and Australia business. Previously, Christian was a partner at Wolff Olins, a leading global brand and innovation consultancy in London and New York, where he managed global projects for General Electric, Visa, PwC, BT, ING, MasterCard and Credit Suisse.

Reese: Can you talk about your role in the company?

Birck: My current role is Chief Customer Officer at LafargeHolzim. I`m currently looking after quite a wide range of global initiatives, including price and marge management, product and offer range management, our sales excellence and our customer experience management. So, sort of how we impact the customer, meaning loyalty, satisfaction, but much more importantly what drives our customer experience over time at every touchpoint.

Reese: You have quite a history on Brand as well as agency side?

Birck: Yes, I was a partner at Wolff Olins, sort of a boutique agency with at that time about 280 people. I joined the agency when it was still privately owned and then I left just after we got sold to OMNICOM. 

Reese: In terms of Music and Branding, how important do you think is music in building a brand?

Birck: Intuitively, I think it`s important. Traditionally, I think it`s neglected. As we are very strongly driven by visual clues as modern consumers, it`s very much visually driven today. We are much about colors, about shapes and about the messages of course. I would say the audio part of the brand has many benefits across culture. Audio is not as dangerous as some of the colors you might use because they can mean very different things in different countries. A color can be offensive in one country and good in another. So, can some of the messages and words or images we use. I believe sounds are much more universal because they are not so convoluted by interpretation. And therefore, they are probably much closer to our original feeling. There`s not so much filter in there. But, as a discipline, as I see it on the corporate side, it`s very much a forgotten field, a forgotten sense. And we have more than one sense, more than the visual sense. 

Reese: What about the future?

Birck: My prediction for the future is, that it`s most likely going to become a part of the standard repertoire of building a brand. Whereas today it`s very much visually focused. In the future it should really become part of the “DNA” of a brand. So, you develop the brand idea, the brand promise, whatever drives the brand. Then, the layers around it, like how a brand expresses itself. The question is, what the digitalization is doing for the audio part and also the other parts of branding. Digitalization is of course a big buzz word. Throughout history, brands needed to embrace all channels and touchpoints that existed. Now, there are many more digital and we have to embrace them, too. That`s an opportunity for the audio side because the visual side of the digital world is, to me, saying less and less. A consumer today expects a distinct way an app or a website should look like. Even if you change colors or imagery, it`s still pretty much all the same. Consumers get irritated if it`s not the same. If you come up with something new and break out of that grid consumers get irritated. Therefore, individualization means standardization to a very large extent. The question is, what distinguishes us from others. Of course, can you do it with certain colors. But in the end, we actually need binding factors that bring our identity together. Audio is the one thing you really use for that.

Reese: In terms of recall, smell is number one and then hearing. Visual is only number three. In terms of importance, it`s upside down. That`s one of the few things, 100 of the biggest Creatives that are alive right now agree on. On agency side, is it an education gap? A lack of understanding?

Birck: Based on my experience, it was an issue from the beginning. We worked with sound and we were trying to implement stronger identities, based on sound as well. We had some people who were very creative on that side, but maybe not as structured as we can do today. But, we had quite a holistic view of our brands, to see the expression to the inside and the outside, and the identity around it should include sound. The big challenge we had, or in those cases when we tried to sort of push that to some big brand launches, it was very often on the customer side. The issue I can comment on, from the customer perspective, is that it`s often only seen as an expensive afterthought. As another expense after the logo, the color. It has been an afterthought up to very recently. It`s a very powerful medium.

Reese: In terms of recall, smell is number one and then hearing. Visual is only number three. In terms of importance, it`s upside down. That`s one of the few things, 100 of the biggest Creatives that are alive right now agree on. On agency side, is it an education gap? A lack of understanding?

Birck: Based on my experience, it was an issue from the beginning. We worked with sound and we were trying to implement stronger identities, based on sound as well. We had some people who were very creative on that side, but maybe not as structured as we can do today. But, we had quite a holistic view of our brands, to see the expression to the inside and the outside, and the identity around it should include sound. The big challenge we had, or in those cases when we tried to sort of push that to some big brand launches, it was very often on the customer side. The issue I can comment on, from the customer perspective, is that it`s often only seen as an expensive afterthought. As another expense after the logo, the color. It has been an afterthought up to very recently. It`s a very powerful medium.

"Because we are so visually driven, we don`t know where to look anymore. Due to that, sound is the next frontier that people will have to understand."

Reese: If brands say they don`t need visual identity, why would they care about their sound identity?

Birck: Especially in advertising agencies, the interest is not in long-term brand building. It`s really in selling campaigns and media. For me, it`s still not a mainstream part if you develop a brand. People are not really asking for it. Therefore, agencies will give clients pretty much what they think they want. More and more, where you have audio identities, audio elements of the identity, you can show successes and people will understand how it works and start believing it. Right now, clients don`t have so many examples on top of their mind. The more we hear, the stronger and more intuitive it will become.

Reese: Why is that so hard to understand nowadays?

Birck: Our society has been very visually driven for many years. Where do most creatives come from today? You have strategists that come from business schools and such, and creatives that are most of the time graphic designers. 25 years ago, people only looked at the logo. They weren`t interested in the images or the brand world behind it. There was no real interest in the customer journey or the customerexperience. Because we are so visually driven, we don`t know where to look anymore. Due to that, sound is the next frontier that people will have to understand.

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