101 Great Minds on
Music, Brands and Behavior
Managing Director, Digital & Marketing Services at Altria
"Text and images can tell a story, but music can bring truth to the experience that a consumer needs and wants to feel."
Nicole Baumstark, Managing Director, Digital & Marketing Services, Altria.
Nicole is the Managing Director of Digital & Marketing Services at Altria, leading channel and go-to-market activations by combining creativity with technological innovation. She is responsible for marketing, e-commerce, and consumer experience digital strategies for a 10+ brand portfolio. Prior to working at Altria, Nicole spent over a decade at the Leo Burnett Group advertising agency, rising from her starting position as an analyst to become Senior Vice President of Digital and Project Management. Her Fortune 500 client roster spanned CPG, insurance, pharmaceuticals, electronics, and the food service industry. Besides her zeal for consumer experience design, Nicole has a passion for leading inclusion, diversity, and equity efforts to empower her colleagues to succeed. She believes sonic branding can enhance our collective experience and better connect the world.
Uli Reese: Tell me about your role at Altria.
Nicole Baumstark: I'm a managing director at Altria, accountable for digital strategy and marketing services for a ten-brand CPG portfolio. Every day my team and I wake up and we try to think about how we can deliver superior experiences to our adult consumers. Our main goals are: awareness, engagement, and loyalty grounded in responsibility practices.
"I feel like brands that have some type of sonic identity or focus woven into their consumer journey are going to win because there will be a point of differentiation."
Reese: How important do you think audio is in building a brand?
Nicole: It's essential. There's a reason why when something resonates, we say it ‘strikes a chord’ or it ‘rings true’. Our bodies are built to feel rhythm and music. I feel like text and images can tell a story, but music can bring truth to the experience that a consumer needs and wants to feel. Expression of a brand should include sound, but it's underappreciated. For many brands, a transformation including sound into a brand strategy is going to be mission-critical to be successful. I feel like brands that have some type of sonic identity or focus woven into their consumer journey are going to win because there will be a point of differentiation.
Reese: Why is music then so arbitrary for many brands?
Nicole: During my agency days at Leo Burnett, we would get client briefs, there would be mandatories: here's what you need to deliver. Often, sound and music would be a consideration, but not something that was designated an imperative and there were multiple reasons why. It's not always easy to quantify the ROI. A lot of work is focused on demonstrating how a specific strategy or activation can lead to immediate growth or efficiency. There is often conflict between immediate brand goals and long-term experience testing and investment. Brands need to think of audio to be more than just music. Voice and commerce are starting to become part of everyday life and it's going to boom exponentially in the next few years. Brands that are forward thinking will capitalise on that and others are going to be left behind.
Reese: What advice would you give to other brands regarding the future of sonic?
Nicole: Take a step back and look at your overall consumer journey. Think of the worst thing that could happen and best thing that could happen. Then think about where you can insert music and sound to help within those two scenarios. Think about the future. What are the new technologies? What are the emerging channels and how do you think sound and music can complement your strategies and touchpoints. It’s also about getting back to and creating a real emotional connection. In the 1970s, Carl Sagan, the great astronomer, included not only images, but sounds and music from many different cultures on the Voyager Golden Record that was sent to space. We sent sounds to represent portraits of humanity; sounds of laughter, music, greetings in different languages. When you think about it, those are the sounds that define human life.
If it were so important for us to send those sounds to space to represent who we are, why wouldn't we want to utilize sound to be part of our everyday strategies?
Reese: So for brands it’s about moving forward, lead don’t follow…
Nicole: What brand leader or marketer doesn't want to be in a position of literally setting the standard? Just in general, I think Domino's is a super innovative brand. When I think about it from an ordering perspective, they have mapped different channels and touchpoints for the purchase journey and I’ve adopted voice through Amazon Echo. I order my pizza through the Echo. They’ve captured my desire for convenience and ease of ordering. Voice tech won me over and it fits into my daily life. I’ve told all my friends and because I had such a great experience, they’re starting to do it. I’ve become a brand advocate for Domino's because of the experience they have created for me.
Reese: Many brands still think a sonic identity is a sonic logo. How do brands break away from that?
Nicole: Education and seeking to understand are key. Talk about identity as part of the journey. Invest in research. A lot of people think it's just a jingle for the big TV commercial. That's a legacy way of thinking. When you think about sound and music and having an audio identity, you have to be able to think more broadly. It is important to try to understand the true science of sound and how it can be applied to the audible touchpoints of a consumer journey.
"Sonic identity is going to help drive long-term sustainability, recognition recall, and trust. When you hear it, you will trust it, and it will evoke a feeling. That’s where I feel like purchase influence lies in the future."
Reese: Many times CMOs arbitrarily pick the music, but how can we make sonic more central to decision making?
Nicole: Interesting question. Honestly, not an easy one to answer. Just like brands have content playbooks, there needs to be a sonic playbook. Or better yet, how do leaders meld both together to create one playbook? It comes down to having an advocate in the room to push the expanded conversation, someone who believes and understands in the potential of creating a sonic identity.
Reese: What would your personal statement be about sonic identity?
Nicole: Personally, I think that brands that don't adopt and champion sonic identity have a chance of being obsolete or lose relevancy in the next three to five years. The world, technology, and the consumer are evolving. Connection and trust is evolving. Sonic identity is going to help drive long-term sustainability, recognition recall, and trust. When you hear it, you will trust it, and it will evoke a feeling. That’s where I feel like purchase influence lies in the future.
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