101 Great Minds on
Music, Brands and Behavior
Chief Marketing Officer at Klarna Bank AB
“Text usually builds very weak consumer connections, whilst imagery builds a stronger emotional bond to consumers. Sonic might be the next step in that.”
David Sandström, Chief Marketing Officer, Klarna Bank AB.
David currently serves as Chief Marketing Officer at Klarna and is a member of the executive management team. David joined Klarna in 2017 where he leads the fintech company to an extensive brand transformation, from one of many financial institutions to a rethinking lifestyle brand. He is responsible for everything related to consumer growth, including marketing, design, brand, PR and communications. In January 2019, the company launched the campaign,”Get Smoooth”, with Snoop Dogg as the front figure. The campaign has become one of the most mentioned ever in Sweden and has also attracted great attention internationally. Prior to joining Klarna David was acting as the CEO of one of Sweden’s foremost advertising agencies.
Uli Reese: Tell me about your role at Klarna.
David Sandström: I oversee all the consumer growth at Klarna, so that’s marketing, communications and design. There are about 400 people who report to me. I started my career as a consumer behaviour researcher and was seven years at DDB in the Nordics. DDB had ten creative hubs globally and Stockholm was one of those, developing brands with marquee clients such as Volkswagen, McDonald’s, and Samsung. I was the CEO there for five years. And while I’ve been in the marketing space for a long time, I still have a passionate interest in consumer behaviour and consumer psychology.
Reese: How important is sonic in building a brand?
Sandström: Extremely important. I think it’s probably one of the most underutilised ways of building your brand. I was working with McDonald’s when they launched their campaign with Justin Timberlake and ‘I’m Loving It’. That was almost sonic branding and what we see is that it builds a new kind of memory and connection with the consumer. Text usually builds very weak consumer connections, whilst imagery builds a stronger emotional bond to consumers. Sonic might be the next step in that. We know that the traces you set in people’s minds with sound are extremely strong. And looking at pure behavioural research we know scent is even stronger than sonic. I’m not saying you should do scent branding like Abercrombie & Fitch but from pure consumer behaviour and an evolutionary perspective, scent is extremely strong. And to that point, we know from marketing research there are two big ways of growing a brand; one is that you need physical availability. Coca Cola is stronger than Pepsi because they have a fridge in every single corner of the world. Second, you need the mental availability. Put simply, you need to be able to find a brand quickly in your brain, and sonic has an extremely strong power and potential to make it easy to find a brand in the brain.
Reese: Many brands that were led visually now have a huge problem going into the screenless ecosystem. That’s at odds with why audio is becoming so dominant. How do you explain that?
Sandström: The media landscape is getting more and more scattered so you need brand equity that can cut through all of the different media channels. In the past, there was a colour; Coca Cola has a distinctive red colour and that is brand equity. The problem is that these channels aren’t receptive to visual cues. The more scattered it gets, especially with the podcast explosion and with more screenless systems to navigate during the day, we cannot rely on visual cues to uphold the brand equity across these channels. But interestingly audio cuts through most of these channels. And the second thing is that what I see with a lot of brands, especially consumer brands, is that they want to resonate with pop culture. We have seen in our times the biggest influencers being musicians or artists. This goes way back to Absolute and their journey into the music industry. Nowadays, most big brands are tapping into the music industry somehow and music as a whole has become one of the key drivers for big brands. That means you need to have a strategy around your own sonic identity. I don’t think you can only collaborate with the music industry and have no thinking whatsoever around sonic.
Reese: As sonic identities change, brands like McDonald’s no longer want to be perceived by a sonic logo. But it’s obvious that a lot of brands have been wrongfooted by this explosion. Why are so many brands so late to the party?
Sandström: I think you can explain some of this by realising that the old stuff has been working very well for a very long time. However nowadays, and especially during the time of Covid, the world has been completely shaken up. The rules are being rewritten. Now we see completely new consumer behaviours, especially towards screenless, and people in the industry are waking up to the reality of this. The other explanation is that things go in phases. Sonic identity has become something that can give you an edge. But at the same time it can work the other way. During lockdown I think people felt they over-binged on Netflix. The Netflix sound logo, the ‘ta-dum’ is so profound and so distinct – and this is just my take – but I think subconsciously people have started to connect that sound with shameful behaviour. It has primed people to think that this is me wasting my time. But again, all that really shows is the strength of sonic.
“Sonic branding holds such power. It’s been proven so many times from priming people’s expectations to connecting it to a behaviour. “
Reese: In that case, can you see the use of sonic increasing over time?
Sandström: We don’t want to attribute a direct business performance to sonic branding at Klarna because it would be strange if we used a sound, like Pringles or Nespresso for example. From what I’ve seen it’s almost like a slow cooking process and that to build a sonic brand is almost like planting something in people’s minds that you can bring up quite easily. If done correctly, you can bring it up with a note, a song or an entire album. The takeaway here is that you can plant a seed in someone’s brain with a sound and that is what marketeers are starting to learn.
Reese: In that case, is resistance to sonic futile?
Sandström: Sonic branding holds such power. It’s been proven so many times from priming people’s expectations to connecting it to a behaviour. It has many positive and interesting effects so yes, more CMO’s should definitely be working in the sonic space.
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