101 Great Minds on
Music, Brands and Behavior


Alexander Schlaubitz

fmr. Chief Marketing Officer at Lufthansa


“Well, actually we’ve won awards for the sound design around our work. The “Life Changing Places” campaign was perhaps the first piece where we spent so much time on sound design.”

Alexander Schlaubitz, Chief Marketing Officer, Lufthansa

Alexander Schlaubitz is the Vice President Marketing at Lufthansa. In this position, he is responsible for Lufthansa’s global marketing strategy and implementation. The remit covers all B2B and B2C activities. In this role, Alexander also functions as publisher for Lufthansa’s award winning family of magazines. Alexander is responsible for successfully implementing the first major brand refresh at Lufthansa in almost 30 years. Before joining Lufthansa, Alexander was Director of Customer Marketing for Facebook in Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA), based in London. He was responsible for developing strategic marketing partnerships with the top 25 EMEA based brands.

Uli Reese: Tell us a little bit about your role at Lufthansa.

Alexander Schlaubitz: Sure. There’s an official role, which is Vice President Marketing, and it encompasses all the things you would suspect: I’m in charge of brand development and brand strategy, as well as all the marketing communication aspects, except for Lufthansa.com. That is the formal remit. But I think there’s an informal remit which has a lot to do with me coming from the outside – and coming specifically from Facebook – which is about me being a change agent within the company. They don’t consume the same amount of time, but they probably consume the same amount of energy.

Reese: Most of my interviewees say that music is treated as a panic-driven afterthought, or icing on the cake. Do you agree?

Schlaubitz: I think it certainly comes in really late in the process. A lot of other parameters are agreed on, at least formally, before. I don’t know if creative directors maybe have a soundtrack in mind as they’re conceiving these things; I wouldn’t discount that possibility. But from a formal, procedural perspective, it does come in very, very late.

Reese: Why is that? I mean, even the agencies question it. They admit they’re part of the problem. They agree that 90% of the resources in advertising go towards the visual, and 10% towards sound and music, although music counts for at least 50% of the value found in branded communication. What do you think about that?

I find those numbers plausible. The only hypothesis I can suggest is that there are aspects that feel more cognitively accessible and easily communicated. When an agency comes to us as a client we have a better established vocabulary in terms of visual. This helps us to comprehend what the idea might be. I think it would be a lot harder for us – probably because we’re not as well trained, although perhaps it is by definition harder – if someone were to come and say: “I have an idea for this music that would do the perfect job, and I’ll tell you about the visual later.” I think we would all struggle with that. We’re not trained to do it that way.

Reese: So do you think there should be a shift towards audio? Bearing in mind its emotional impact? And the fact that most of our buying decisions are not rational – they’re emotional. It’s all subconscious, and music is a much more direct way into your subconscious. Why do we spend so few resources on something so effective?

Schlaubitz: You know, I don’t know. It’s fascinating. I don’t know whether the process is fundamentally flawed, or whether it’s because we’re working against a deadline, when we have to get some element of creative finished, so music just gets a sliver of our time. But maybe a good director is already working on the music on a parallel track. He’s just not giving us access to his ideas that early on. 

Reese: For most global premium brands, audio is still used as a tactical tool for storytelling – kind of an add-on to the story. Can you talk about your own decision processes around music? I know Kolle Rebbe is your agency. Can you draw back the curtain a bit?

Schlaubitz: Well, actually we’ve won awards for the sound design around our work. The “Life Changing Places” campaign was perhaps the first piece where we spent so much time on sound design. It’s incredibly evocative, and the sound design is at least on equal footing to the raw imagery and the editing. In my view it played a disproportionate role in the success of the work. So I guess that’s empirical evidence to prove your point!

Reese: But I saw on some of your communication that you dropped the sound logo from your ads. Is that a fact?

Schlaubitz: Yes.

Reese: Was that part of the redesign? I know it’s the first refresh since ’89. Can you talk a bit about why you dropped it?

Schlaubitz: We’ve been on a journey in terms of what we want to say, and we’ve been shedding some historical elements as we went along…We really dug deep into our brand, landing in this space that’s about enriching travel experiences. This had a double meaning in that we hoped people would come back transformed and enriched, in a way that would have lasting impact on their lives. But also we wanted each journey to be frictionless. From a storytelling perspective we started out with a platform called “Inspired by…”, which talked about the transformative power of a journey…In this world, when you travel and you engage and you commit, stuff can happen. We found a way to say this in long film that worked nicely.

Reese: It’s its own format.

Schlaubitz: The most successful iteration was called Heimweh, about a woman who was born in Russia but leaves there at the age of two and grows up in Berlin. We felt we’d really struck a nerve, while at the same time our classic television advertising was still “advertising”. So we kept working on it with Kolle Rebbe because we felt we should be on some sort of higher plane. Eventually we got to “Life Changing Places”, and made that our platform. Within it we found ways of saying, in a multitude of formats, “This is what travel ought to be about.” It gave us an opportunity to keep pushing, to keep digging. So as part of that process we decided to shed [traditional TV campaign] “Nonstop you”, which we felt didn’t fit…

Reese: It felt very static, enclosed.

Schlaubitz: It felt stuck-on…

“We’ve been on a journey in terms of what we want to say, and we’ve been shedding some historical elements as we went along…”

Reese: Very “20 years ago”. Like: “here’s a commercial”. While digital has to be fluid.

Schlaubitz: The claim felt like it was out of time – and the sound logo felt like it was out of time too. So we’ve been shedding these things because the content has moved on so much.

Reese: Experts call this “the golden age of audio”. Audio consumer touchpoints like Amazon’s Alexa or Google Home will increase exponentially. As voice recognition becomes flawless, it’s simpler and easier to turn to audio communication with your phone, your car and so on. That being said, how important do you think it will be for brands to have an audio DNA in the near future? Not just yours…

Schlaubitz: I think it’s going to increase vastly, and if you can create the equivalent of liquid content, the kind of sound that you can adapt to different formats and be contextually relevant – but still recognisable, to the point of the James Bond theme – that is going to be a fascinating way to weave together various touchpoints and experiences.

Reese: Do you think brands should have an audio style guide?

Schlaubitz: I want to say “yes”, but…Well, a case in point, our call centres. That is one of the principal and more immersive experiences our customers can have. And it often happens when something hasn’t been fantastic. It’s also just an awful lot of people in an awful lot of places. So I would like to say “yes”, but I find the task daunting. Still, going back to Kennedy, just because it’s hard it doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be done…

Reese: What’s the most crucial element of marketing for you?

Schlaubitz: If I had to talk to somebody young about how to be successful in modern and future marketing, I’d say it’s about empathy. The value of empathic brands. We’re not always going to get everything right, but we need to demonstrate a really heightened sensibility to comprehending even your micro-contextual needs…Whatever we do has to be focused on a positive value exchange: that I’ve made it worth your while to have given me whatever time you’ve chosen to give me. We need to understand how sitting in a lounge is very different from listening to a podcast of ours in your car, or making a reservation on your device. How do we get better? Not just data-based – although data plays a great role – but intuition-based, empathy-based. We’ve tried to make empathy an organising principle of everything we do.

Reese: As someone who experiences your brand on a weekly basis, I feel that you don’t impose your structure on me…It’s usually, “What can I do to help? How can I add value to your life right now?” Even when what just happened sucks…you’re jet-lagged, your flight is delayed…

Schlaubitz: This is the most humbling category I’ve ever worked in. The number of things that can happen is maddening. So the only antidote we have is to let people know that we really care, we’re really respectful. We want to be at eye level with them. And that we’re super earnest in our efforts.

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