101 Great Minds on
Music, Brands and Behavior
Dr. Sebastian Rudolph
Vice President Communications at Porsche
“I would like to finish by reiterating that audio is key because it’s primal and goes back to when we were born. Porsche is in the trust-building business, and the first sense with which we experience trust is by hearing our mother’s heartbeat. That’s undeniably powerful.”
Dr. Sebastian Rudolph, Vice President Communications, Porsche
Dr Sebastian Rudolph is the Vice President Communications, Sustainability and Politics at Porsche AG. Prior to joining the company, he held various senior positions within distinguished companies, including Bilfinger, the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure and Bavarian Television (ARD Network). An industry mastermind and an alumnus of Georgetown University, Dr Rudolph is working towards significantly transforming Porsche’s communication strategies.
Uli Reese: Tell me about your role at Porsche.
Sebastian Rudolph: I’m responsible for several great areas: starting with communications and all its different forms, externally and internally, followed by sustainability – dealing with stakeholders in this field – and ending with governmental affairs.
Reese: The car world has a wonderful history with all things visual, but how do you see audio evolving in the industry and, with podcasts and autonomous driving in mind, how important is it?
Sebastian: Audio starts before we’re even born. The first thing we hear is our mother’s heartbeat. So, we all begin this life with sound, and it evolves continually through our lives. It’s always there, and audio has been given a strong push over the last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. You mention podcasts, so let me give you an example of the functioning ‘ecosystem’ we have at Porsche. For instance, since the 1950s we have the printed Christophorus magazine for customers and friends of the brand. Over the last couple of years, we’ve been offering a very attractive digital version of the Christophorus as well. Secondly, we have our online Newsroom coverage and a lot of video content – such as the web TV magazine 9:11. In August 2020, we launched the Porsche Podcast. If you want to compare the different milestones within this ecosystem, it started with print 70 years ago, and it’s now being propelled forward with podcasts. In fact, the Next Visions x HoBB podcast also began during the pandemic, in 2020.
“Porsche is in the trust-building business, and the first sense with which we experience trust is by hearing our mother’s heartbeat. That’s undeniably powerful.”
Reese: The relationship between cars and sound is changing, at least with the whisper of electric vehicles. How is Porsche addressing this, in terms of the consumer experience and the potential economic consequences?
Sebastian: There are several reasons why people fulfil the dream of buying a Porsche. Firstly, it’s the brand itself – it is very much rooted in trust, perfection and emotion. One sees the brand and makes the basic assumption that a Porsche will be the best sportscar one can purchase. Secondly, it’s the timeless design that Porsche offers. If you see a 911 from the 1970s, you know that it’s the same timeless design as it is today. So, if you want to own a 911, you know what you’re getting. Although the design has changed over time, there is a thorough line with the brand that is unique. When it comes to audio, there is a typical Porsche sound. We recently had the world premiere of the new 911 GT3, and you just know that if you were to start the engine and listen, you’d fall in love. Ten years ago, it would have been just the same. This is the traditional 911 style.
Reese: What about the sound of the Taycan – the first all-electric sports car from Porsche?
Sebastian: With electric cars, there is a new game to play. Our engineers had to think hard about how the Porsche Taycan should sound. They developed a very futuristic soundtrack, which also had to be authentic: the result is pure Porsche, but in an electronic age. If you were to start and drive a Taycan ten years from now, you would always remember the sound. That’s the power of audio.
“If you test-drive a fully electric Porsche, it still feels like you’re driving a Porsche. You have that 100 per cent Porsche feeling.”
Reese: If you look at best practice cases in branding, the 911 is a great example. But many CEOs ask what’s the best practice case in sonic branding, where the visual is so strong. There are very few good examples, but I would have to go with James Bond. What are your thoughts on this?
Sebastian: Well, I have talked about the Porsche Podcast and about authenticity. We created a key visual for the podcast – with the 911. All eight generations of the 911 are timeless, right? We then created an audio logo inspired by the Taycan, combining the traditional and new. If I were to ask what Apple’s ‘audio logo’ is, the answer would be that they don’t have one because it doesn’t matter – they make what are probably the best products in the world. It’s like the 911: we have this timeless design atop a key visual. But what’s the sound logo? If you were to start the engine, you’d know.
There are some powerful brands delivering powerful and innovative products featuring timeless designs, which absolutely works. Sound is an opportunity for some brands to lift up, and for others, like Apple and Porsche, there is still an unmet need. If they could create a powerful sound logo as well as offering timeless design and a super product, then ‘bam’ they’ve hit the next level.
Reese: The VP of Design at Google, Ivy Ross, said: “If you don’t have confidence in yourself to figure out what that Sonic watermark is, it’s much easier to grab something that will make you popular, like a hit tune or a pop star, but it doesn’t last over time – culture changes.”
Sebastian: On the subject of confidence, I’m with Ivy. In the world of sport, if your confidence, technique, mental and physical fitness aren’t there, you’d better not go out on to the pitch. It’s like that in business too. As for borrowing identity, at Porsche, we try to stick to a sound that genuinely fits our DNA. If I take a chart song, this might be a good step because it’s in the charts, and so many people love it. But does it fit the brand and what I am trying to communicate? I don’t know. So, we look first at the DNA of our product and our culture and then at what audio might fit both. If you can nail that, then you’re there.
Reese: Mark Phillips, who is VP at McKinsey Digital Labs, said: “My analogy is that a sonic logo is like a name badge, while a DNA-driven sonic identity is like meeting somebody in person.”
Sebastian: Nicely put. I think that says it all!
Reese: Thank you so much. Before we sign off, do you have any final thoughts to leave us with?
Sebastian: I would like to finish by reiterating that audio is key because it’s primal and goes back to when we were born. Porsche is in the trust-building business, and the first sense with which we experience trust is by hearing our mother’s heartbeat. That’s undeniably powerful.
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