101 Great Minds on
Music, Brands and Behavior

BRAND EDITION

Mike Fuhrmann

Chief Marketing, Customer & Communications Officer at Generali



"If a company’s sound strategy ends at a sound logo, a huge potential is being neglected. Brands must send the right signals - and the same signals - everywhere and always. This means paying close attention to a number of parameters such as continuity, consistency, fit and monitoring."


Mike Fuhrmann, Chief Marketing, Customer & Communications Officer, Generali

Mike Fuhrmann is Chief Marketing, Customer & Communications Officer at Generali Switzerland.  He is an international marketing expert who has worked on both sides – at creative agencies as well as within the marketing teams of global corporations. Mike led various global workshops about brand building in a digital age as well as digital transformation projects of companies. He is a strong ambassador for brand activation through powerful and authentic storytelling that emotionalizes the brand with its customers and its employees. Besides this, Mike is an award-winning filmmaker and screenwriter who lives with his family in Zurich, Switzerland.

Reese: How important is music and sound in branding?

Fuhrmann: Very important. Unfortunately, most companies are spending a fortune on creating identifiable and ownable visual brand assets, but when it comes to music and sound, they mostly rely on stock material or license expensive hit-music. Especially for transactional brands like Financial Service Companies, sound branding is a huge chance to connect with their customers on an emotional level.

All brands are using music everywhere – for TV-ads, youtube, point of sale, call center, events, etc. The problem is that the used assets don’t belong to them, neither are they thought-trough or controlled in any way. Essential marketing budget is spent for the sole purpose of not being silent. It does not pay into the individual brands value nor does it help to become identifiable via the sense of hearing.

This counts not only for music, but also for sounds. A lot of brands still rely on the taste of software-programmers instead of understanding these sounds as a powerful communication element. When I worked in Neuro-Rehabilitation with state-of-the-art therapy robots that combined high-frequent robotic-assisted movement repetitions with gamification, I was wondering why these therapeutic games had cheap game sounds instead of using neurological sound cues that stimulate the brain’s learning capabilities.

"Music and sound connect people, and for a company that is in a low-interest category like insurance, you need to touch not only the minds but also the hearts of your customers. And music is an effective key."

Reese: Why is there a growing importance of sound in the digital age?

Fuhrmann: The world is becoming digital and the Corona situation has had a further enormous push on the digital transformation of companies. We take part in video-meetings, run webinars, use podcasts and order groceries online. There is also an increase in using voice assistants. Look at how Siri, Alexa, Google Home opened a new market, but most brands are invisible or just don’t exist there.

Brands should leave their auditive footprint in the heads of potential buyers. A study found out that radio-commercials without any memorable sound-elements are much less likely to be remembered by the audience. In addition, digital products lose out on their natural mechanical sounds. The turning-signal once was the sound of a relay turning the light on and off. Nowadays, it’s just a computer-generated sound that imitates the original, to inform the driver that the function is active.

Reese: Does effective Sonic Branding have an impact on business performance?

Fuhrmann: The core ideas of branding, like differentiation, recognition and charging the brand with values does definitely also work with sound and music. You know it’s Intel when you hear it.

With the Intel sound, they found out, that, in view of recognition, the sound works exactly as good as the visual, but when combined, they perform even better. The quality-perception of products and services can be increased by fitting sounds. A study from Oxford University showed that people were willing to pay more money for the same product just by being exposed to another background-music.

A thought-through sound identity can even save marketing budgets, as you manage licenses centrally, use music pieces cross-media and create your own brand music database without any additional cost or license issues.

Reese: Should Brands have a long-term strategy in place when it comes to use of music/sound in branded communication?

Fuhrmann: Absolutely! Unfortunately, it is seldom a priority and, therefore, often neglected. For me, these days are over. It’s crucial that a good brand sound comes out of the brand itself and does not depend on the music preference of the marketing manager. Sound needs to reflect brands key attributes or project the desired image. Like Bacardi beach lifestyle or the prairie of Marlboro. Furthermore, these sounds should also differentiate the brands from their competitors.

If a company’s sound strategy ends at a sound logo, a huge potential is being neglected. Brands must send the right signals - and the same signals - everywhere and always. This means paying close attention to a number of parameters such as continuity, consistency, fit and monitoring. It also means that music choices shouldn’t be made based purely on personal taste.

Reese: Do you believe that music can have an impact on consumer buying behavior?

Fuhrmann: Why is the question about belief and not knowledge? There are a number of studies that measure the impact of sound on consumers buying behavior and the results are very positive across all touchpoints.

Reese: Looking into the future, do you think sound will play a more important role in branding?

Fuhrmann: There is strong indication that sound is going to become even more important in the future. Radio was not the media of choice in recent years, but trends show that sound biased media is getting more attractive. This is where your sound should be. Couple this with the possibility of targeted advertising over voice control systems. The question is not how you look and feel anymore. It’s how you look, feel and sound. Compared with the cost of TV advertising, these new low-cost possibilities give an excellent opportunity for creating brand recognition and connect more powerful to the consumer’s emotions.

Reese: Is there a brand you admire for the way they approach music in their brand communication?

Fuhrmann: Frankly, there are not many good examples of sound being used constantly in all brand communication channels, but there are many examples of good use of sound logos.

In my early years of marketing, I had the opportunity to work on sound branding for telecommunication companies. I was deeply impressed by the results of how music influences people – in a troubled company it gave employees a feeling of belonging and reduced fluctuation rates.

One of my goals at Generali is to emotionalize the brand. In the mid of last year, we started our partnership with the Swiss rapper, Bligg. We increased not only brand preference but also company pride. After Bligg performed on our employee event, the team was full of pride. It was called “the best Generali party ever”. Music and sound connect people and for a company that is in a low-interest category like insurance, you need to touch not only the minds but also the hearts of your customers. And music is an effective key.

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