101 Great Minds on
Music, Brands and Behavior
Vice President Brand Management at Deutsche Telekom
“What fires together, wires together. Like other brand elements, a unique audio sequence can conjure up a wealth of associations and trigger the entire brand equity.”
Alexander Engelhardt, Vice President Brand Management at Deutsche Telekom
With more than 20 years of marketing experience and a successful track record in driving brand value, Alexander contributes a wealth of practical knowledge in running multiple international brands. His passion for branding and behavioral economics spans several sectors from telecommunications, to logistics, to pharmaceuticals and health care.
He currently heads up Brand Management at Deutsche Telekom, which was recently awarded the Red Dot “Brand of the Year” award. In this position, Alexander is responsible for the global definition and execution of all brand strategy and design matters for Europe’s most valuable telco brand.
Uli Reese: What is your role at Deutsche Telekom?
Alexander Engelhardt: My team and I are in charge of global brand management. This comprises brand strategy, design and implementation tasks like positioning, portfolio strategy, design guardrails and brand trainings. Put simply, it is our job to provide orientation and create a coherent brand experience at every stage of the customer journey.
Reese: If someone was new to the planet, how would you explain to them what a sonic identity is?
Alexander: I would simply say: close your eyes and listen. Now, every sound you hear that you recognize and associate with a certain meaning has a sonic identity. When it comes to branding, we usually think of visual stimuli – like a logo, a color or a typeface – rather than audio stimuli. The reason is simple – branding has always been geared to the dominant visual media channels like print or TV. But digitalization significantly changed the way of interaction. Functional sounds, bots and skills are challenging the dominance of visual communication and having an increasing impact on buying decisions. As marketing managers, we need to realize that hearing – as one of the core senses we use to experience, understand and interpret our surroundings – has to be a key element of branding. In our digital world, sonic branding is becoming a means of intuitive interaction between humans and machines. Eyes closed, brand on!
Reese: You’ve given your sonic identity a face-lift. Can you give me a little insight into the journey?
Alexander: With the advent of new technologies like smart speakers, mixed realities and social media, we realized that voice and sound assets were becoming increasingly important. As a result, we were looking for the right approach – a starting point. For years, we used music to position Deutsche Telekom as an experience brand. Our sound logo has shaped our brand, however, like no other tune, so it only made sense to keep it as the signature sound of our future audio identity. The next challenge was to carefully develop the 20-year old sound logo for the various digital channels and applications of our time without changing the actual melody. We were able to pull out functional sounds and other sound assets from the updated version with its new tones and timbres and now have over 50 for a variety of applications and purposes, gradually creating a consistent sound experience for our customers at all points of contact.
Reese: You say you did not dare to touch the melody – why?
Alexander: Even if it was a bit outdated – we have actually established a unique brand asset with our sound logo over the past 20 years. Over 70% of the population recognizes the melody immediately and can easily identify our communication as a result. We would be silly to give up that trump card.
Reese: Many brands realize they can’t service all required audio consumer touchpoints with a mnemonic-only strategy. What is your advice to them?
Alexander: As with all brand elements, recall and recognition are important criteria in the case of sound and voice as well. But what ultimately adds value to a brand is the ability to identify a specific and relevant meaning. A tone or a voice should – like the logo, imagery or typography – also represent the content of a brand. Only this way can sonic branding, in conjunction with other elements, make a valuable contribution.
Neuroscientists say: “What fires together, wires together.”
Like other brand elements, a unique audio sequence can conjure up a wealth of associations and trigger the entire brandequity.
And this is the potential we need to harness – similarly to modern brand design, sonic branding is less about rigid consistency and more about adapting flexibly to the particular context, touchpoint or application without sacrificing its core recognizability. This results in a coherent audio experience – with the focus on best possible communication at all times
Reese: How do you improve the customer experience?
Alexander: A good customer experience is created when users get to where they want to be reliably and easily. The better it succeeds in providing orientation and creating a familiar environment whatever the medium, the more positively the quality of the product or service will be perceived. This is what we are working on. In particular with service brands, where it is often harder to judge the quality, the use of sounds, voices and music can enhance the customer experience considerably and have a positive impact on buying decisions. This is truer still for applications where interaction is limited to sounds or voice like chatbots or smart speakers.
Developing our voice identity and functional sounds went hand-in-hand with the initial definition of fundamental brand experience principles. By this we mean a shared mindset for the creation of processes and communication. The principles define overarching requirements that describe the desired impact for all our touchpoints.
Research showed us that our usual advertising speakers simply didn’t suit the task. So, we had to start from scratch and find a voice that represents our identity and meets all the functional requirements of a smart speaker voice.
Reese: Can you tell me about that process?
Alexander: Well, take our voice identity as an example. Research showed us that our usual advertising speakers simply didn’t suit the task. So, we had to start from scratch and find a voice that represents our identity and meets all the functional requirements of a smart speaker voice. It might sound like a no-brainer, but we tested a lot, tried various voices, challenged our assumptions, redefined and finally found a perfect fit. It was an iterative process of trial and error – a living process and we are still learning a lot. Looking back, combining the underlying strategic considerations about voice identity directly with the development of a central touchpoint, in this case the smart speaker, was extremely useful. The benefit is tangible straight away, which in turn achieves broad acceptance.
Reese: CMOs have said to me their brand dies when it enters Alexa. What’s your advice for those CMOs?
Alexander: If the brand has been established purely on the basis of visual stimuli, that is probably true. Digitalization is currently making it brutally clear that successful branding has to appeal to all the senses. A look at the interaction in social media, mixed realities and smart speakers shows that it is the combination of music, voice and functional sounds that makes the brand experience of the future whole. In addition, brands have lost or will lose control over how they are presented and consumed to some extent. In a digital world, technical platforms and consumers will continuously set new standards which brands must adapt to. As far as Alexa & co. are concerned, pure brand awareness, for example, will become even more significant as brands that are actively searched for are at an advantage here.
Even if audio assets are not yet critical to business in many areas, my advice would be to start exploring this development and see the opportunities it holds. Sonic branding offers a whole new range of possibilities to anchor customers to your brand with innovative sales and service models. Anyone who hasn’t thought about it so far should definitely start doing so right away.
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