101 Great Minds on
Music, Brands and Behavior


Anne Michels

Head of Marketing at Microsoft Teams Free


“Sonic plays an undeniably emotional role in the life of every single human being. It can break down language and also cultural barriers.”


 Anne Michels, Head of Marketing, Microsoft Teams Free



Anne Michels, head of marketing for Microsoft Teams Free, has been working in the tech industry for over 13 years – driving the marketing strategy for a variety of programs and products. She has more than 15 years’ experience developing and executing effective marketing strategies at-scale for Fortune 500 brands. Anne is an award-winning speaker who regularly speaks at tech and diversity conferences. She is fluent in German, English and Spanish, and lives with her family – her husband Michael and their daughter Tori – in Seattle.

Uli Reese: Talk to me about your role at Microsoft.

Anne Michels:
I lead Product Marketing for the free version of Microsoft Teams and my role is twofold; my team works very closely with engineering to give them feedback on what we’re hearing from customers. In this way we can influence product strategy and improve the product. Then there are the traditional marketing aspects that we think about such as messaging, positioning and the right kind of thinking across all marketing and digital channels to create a holistic marketing strategy.

Reese: How important do you think sonic is in branding?

It is very important. Sonic plays an undeniably emotional role in the life of every single human being. It can break down language and also cultural barriers. But for many marketers, it is an afterthought. Many don’t think about the important role that music plays in our lives or about the impact it has on cognitive skills like memory, attention and comprehension. For example, in many cases, it’s easier for people to remember sound than an image. This creates an opportunity for marketers. I strongly believe that if you use sound in an effective way you can create stronger connections between your brand and the consumer, and create more memorable experiences.

“Many companies overlook the fact that sound can help you to not just drive brand awareness but also deepen the relationship your brand has with your customers long-term.”

Reese: Why are brands so late to the party in their understanding of a sense that goes straight into the subconscious?

Anne: It’s an interesting question because just imagine an opening video at a conference that has no sound or a software that doesn’t play a notification sound. Looking at such examples it becomes clear that sound is a key marketing ingredient. Why is it then an afterthought for many marketers? I think one of the reasons is that that people take it for granted. They simply expect music to work for their brand. At the same time, they also see it as a risk. They are concerned that if they choose the wrong song people might not like it. And they are concerned that it will take too long for them to see impact – building a sonic identity takes time.

Reese: Traditional marketing was focused on finding a song from a famous musician that would give you immediate attention. But today that is not considered authentic anymore, so is it right to say that for the new generation of CMOs it’s a different ballgame?

Yes. What I’ve seen become more important in marketing over the last couple of years is the notion of creating fans. When I started at Microsoft it was never something we talked about, marketing always focused on building trust. But now marketers don’t just want people to use a product, they want their users to be fans. They want people to recommend the product to somebody else. So, the question becomes how do you create fans? You need to offer an experience that’s memorable. And how can we create more memorable experiences? Through sound. Younger CMOs are aware of that, but not every company is.

Reese: Has Covid had an impact on the use of sound in marketing?

Anne: Because of Covid, many people are now sitting alone in front of their laptops all day – and while we all enjoyed it at the beginning, many are now missing the human connection from being in the office. I think what we’re experiencing is that humans are not made for a one-sensory experience, but we need multi-sensory experiences. This creates an opportunity for marketers. Because with all the devices that we use at home – laptop, cell phone, iPad, Alexa, smart watch – sound is the consistent experience. So as a marketer, you can use sound to connect the experience across all those devices and help people feel more connected.

Reese: Do you think brands should have long-term sonic strategies?

It would be valuable. The technology we’re using is changing and there’s just so much opportunity for us to think about how we can continue to build these relationships, even with devices that don’t have a visual screen. Many companies overlook the fact that sound can help you to not just drive brand awareness but also deepen the relationship your brand has with your customers long-term.

Reese: Sales are going through the roof in terms of screenless eco-systems but are smart speakers the customers of tomorrow?

I don’t think anybody – even three years ago – would have predicted the rise of Alexa. It’ll be interesting to see if this trend accelerates. While a lot of people use Alexa to listen to music, only few use it for other purposes, like making a call or placing an order. The next generation will show us how much they really want these smart speakers.

Reese: How does the ROI of sonic compare to other components of branding?

I think it’s a better long term investment. When you compare the ROI of sound and video, what you realize is that video has a short lifespan – you can only use it so many times – but sonic can be reused. Because of Covid, many companies are taking a closer look at how they spend their money and where they invest – that’s why Covid could have a big impact on the importance of sonic branding.
This is especially true when you look at technology and software companies. Here, you can see that sound plays an even more important role because you have two kinds of sonic identities. You have the overall sonic identity – like McDonald’s or Mastercard has one – but you also have the product itself that has a sonic identity, for example the Windows start up sound. So investing in your sonic identity will help with ROI in two ways.

Reese: Microsoft is strong visually but moving forward would you look for more coherence in sonic?

As technology company, naturally there has been a strong focus on the product experience. There is a big group of passionate people at Microsoft who really care about our sonic identity and work to ensure it’s deeply integrated and consistent across the various products we have. Their focus is to make sure that sound isn’t annoying for the user but functional and beautiful. From a marketing perspective, I definitely see sound becoming more important.

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