101 Great Minds on
Music, Brands and Behavior
Former Global Chief Marketing and Communications Officer at Unilever
“We need to be able to create a consistent brand experience and music should play an increasing part in that.”
Keith Weed, Former Global Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, Unilever
Keith Weed was the Global Chief Marketing and Communications Officer of Unilever and a member of the Unilever Executive. He was responsible for the marketing, communications and sustainable business functions of the company. His responsibilities supported Unilever’s vision: growing the business while reducing its environmental footprint and increasing positive social impact. He led the creation of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, pioneering new ways of integrating sustainability into the business. Keith has led a step change in marketing at Unilever, making significant advances in digitizing the business, and has championed the development of brands with purpose through Unilever’s Crafting Brands for Life strategy. Presently, he is President at Advertising Association, President of History of Advertising Trust and a Board Director of WPP Plc and Sainsburys Plc. He was voted Global Marketer of the Year 2017 by the World Federation of Advertisers and named the World’s Most Influential CMO in 2019, 2018 and 2017 by Forbes.
Reese: How important are voice, music and sound in the digital age?
Weed: What we can see right now is that voice is becoming increasingly important. One of the things that I started doing at Unilever was voice strategies for brands. All of them have a book for their visual imageries, but nothing for voice and sound. In a world, where voice is becoming increasingly important, we need to find out and know what our brands sound like. Voice is the most natural form of communication between humans and is a much more natural way to engage with customers than any other way or technology. In that context, brands need to have a voice and sound identity and there needs to go just as much work into that as into the visual identity. This topic is going to rapidly pick up pace. Another topic is that sound is becoming a bigger part of the overall brand experience. Music has always been very important in creating engagement and atmosphere in films particularly.
Reese: Where do you think this sudden interest in the topic comes from?
Weed: Everybody is looking at the same trends and the same things that are going to happen in digital. Voice, for example, is emerging at every single angle. It is about talking and interreacting in an environment where there are no visual cues. The only thing you can work with are audio cues. Back in the day, radio ads were a big part of advertising. The jingle at the end was a way to cue a brand. Every single brand had something like it at the end, as the sign-off or a signal. Radio then moved to TV and the power of the visuals became much greater. That`s why a lot of emphasis was put into the visual aspect. Today, brands need to have an audio strategy that has enough structure to make it recognizable, but also enough freedom and flexibility so it`s not becoming monotonous. Even brands that have established a piece of music that is very famous to the brand and you play it everywhere and every time, it can be too much of a good thing. I think it`s interesting that if brands don`t approach this topic in a smart way, their power in a marketing world of sound is going to be diluted very quickly.
“In a world, where voice is becoming increasingly important, we need to find out and know what our brands sound like.”
Reese: Brands are often using famous musicians for their advertisements and hope for a credibility transfer because they don`t know what they sound like themselves.
Weed: I wouldn`t say that the approach of using authority figures is a bad thing in general. The use of doctors or celebrities has been around in brands forever. Using pieces of music which are famous and evoke emotion is good as well. In a world where brands will have to engage purely in a screen-less way, it will be very difficult for those that don`t make use of an audio identity to build brand equity over time. If I go back around 10 years, when I became Chief Marketing Officer of Unilever, we had brand positioning statements and we also established a brand key. It included everything you could imagine, for example all benefits and differentiators and so on. While I was in the role, I was increasingly interested in the role of purpose for brands. In the beginning, marketing was a noble thing as it was about serving people. If you served people in the society better than the alternative, better than the competition, your market share grew. Later on, brands were just about selling more stuff, no matter how. Coming back to the thought, particularly in a challenged world, of what a brand is and how it serves people, society and the world, we started to implement brand purpose into each of our brands.
This changed the whole brand key. Until then, there were lots of things captured only around visuals. In recent time, we have started to add voice and sound into that as well.
Reese: There is a lot of power in music and sound for brands. Yet, only a small fraction of the budget is shifted to this side.
Weed: I certainly agree on the power of music and you are definitely right that only a very small part of the budget goes in this direction. I would also say that there needs to be some kind of architecture that makes the brand recognizable and relatable. We need to be able to create a consistent brand experience and music should play an increasing part in that.
“If you can innovate your brand, you can stay relevant over time. The reason why many brands are getting nervous is because they do have a visual identity, but they are missing a sound identity.”
Reese: Why did that happen so late?
Weed: We clearly weren`t clever enough. 20 years ago, you probably had the era of jingles. That means there was some kind of audio strategy, but it was just not holistic.
Reese: In those days, communication was one-directional. Our communication with customers is completely different nowadays.
Weed: The difference between then to now is, that we need to think about sound without any visuals. That goes back to the radio era, in which brands also needed to find a way to engage with their customers only through sound. Concerning audio branding, there are a lot of brands that are starting to think about it now, because the whole system is changing, and brands need to be able to keep up with this change.
Reese: The process around music needs innovation, don`t you think?
Weed: There is definitely a problem with the process we are currently following. If you want to get to the future, first you need to have a point of view of the future. You don`t necessarily have to be right, but you have to have enough views of potential trends. What you are trying to do as an innovator, is discover new things and follow them, to make them your own. If you can innovate your brand, you can stay relevant over time. The reason why many brands are getting nervous is because they do have a visual identity, but they are missing a sound identity. I also believe that in an increasingly challenging world, the notion of trust plays a much bigger part. A brand without trust is just a product. And an advertisement without trust is just noise. When a brand is thinking about how it represents itself going forward, they have to think about the things that create trust. One of them is definitely the right audio strategy.
“A brand without trust is just a product.”
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