101 Great Minds on
Music, Brands and Behavior
Director, Global Brand Visual Identity & Design at Citi
“It’s important to be data-driven, but data can’t create a hit song. We must understand what our brand stands for, and how it looks, sounds and acts. Only then can we leverage data to turn information into knowledge.”
Glenn Pajarito, Director, Global Brand Visual Identity & Design, Citi
Glenn Pajarito is the current Director of Global Brand Visual Identity & Design at Citi. With nearly two decades of agency and brand experience as a creative director, Glenn has led new business pitches and integrated campaigns for hundreds of brands such as Google, LEGO, American Airlines, Samsung, NBA, P&G, and Anheuser-Busch. In his spare time, Glenn judges award and portfolio shows, and he also lectures about the history of advertising and its impact on culture.
Uli Reese: Describe your role at Citi.
Glenn Pajarito: I’m fairly new to the 209-year-old brand in a newly created role in the global marketing team. I’m primarily in charge of brand identity and what that means across all channels, and how that shapes the rest of what our marketing organization does.
Reese: Is sonic important to you in building a brand?
Glenn: It’s more important now than ever because of our growing digital and media landscape. There are more areas where a brand can express itself and more coming to light. We’ve seen the beginning of social media, streaming TV, podcasts, esports, smartphones, smart speakers, smart homes, wearables, AR/VR and experiential. All of that is fairly new in the grand scheme of what it is we do, and sound plays a role in all of it. Up to now, though, sound hasn’t been addressed to the full extent possible.
Reese: Where did this sonic dominance come from?
Glenn: It has a lot to do with our personal tech ecosystems. Our devices have connected the dots between traditional and new media, where we’re now able to tailor our own lives and decide how we consume content and receive information. With this proliferation, our attention span has changed. There’s a study that says 89% of brands communications aren’t remembered because of that, and I think it has a lot to do with the fact that we can curate how we experience the world. We can endlessly scroll our social feeds, binge watch hours of entertainment, but at the same time, we have less patience for ads. So we have to ask how brands recontextualize and still connect with the right people at the right times in the right way.
Reese: Sonic logos don’t work now, and so many CMO’s are confused as to how to move forward. Is there still a resistance to change?
Glenn: One of the things marketers get caught up in is that they think ‘marketing first’ rather than ‘brand first’. Essentially marketing is storytelling, and the brand is the protagonist. So, if we think of the protagonist as something with this unique history, purpose and a set of characteristics, then sound is one part contributing to the whole. Audio is typically thought of as more of a production element and not a brand element. When you look at it that way, it becomes an afterthought. The audio touchpoints come from media planning, and the work is reactive to that, rather than thinking of audio first and how it comes to life in those media touchpoints. While 100% of us listen to music, and we all believe we have a robust understanding of music, many of us aren’t musicians or composers. We don’t have an as effective vocabulary for sound as we do for visual. I can describe a painting to you but describing a song wouldn’t be as easy. When you’re communicating the way, we do with PowerPoint decks and emails, you can lose a lot in translation.
Reese: What is the solution? I have nothing against using a great piece of music as a credibility transfer, but the process is intrinsically flawed…
Glenn: Many times, clients and brands are married to an anthemic piece and don’t address how it contributes to a broader narrative. I’m from Southern California and grew up in this surf, skateboard, punk rock world, and a brand like Vans comes to mind as, since the Sixties, they’ve helped shape the culture of surf rock, punk rock, indie rock, and all that epitomizes that Southern California lifestyle. While they themselves aren’t a record label, they’re a music tastemaker for the rest of the world. And now that I’m living in New York, I can see that a brand like Vans continues to be relevant in that way, even for younger people. You almost get a taste of what Southern California feels like through that brand.
Reese: Trust building should be the first order of business, but when it comes to sonic, it takes more than a pop song to create brand loyalty…
Glenn: I think trust, especially with a brand like Citi, is incredibly valuable and directly connected with meaningful connection. The marketing world, both the agency and brand side, are just emerging from being obsessed with impressions, amplification and awareness building. It’s more of maximizing quantitative brand reach versus qualitative brand engagement. Marketers act as if the amount of a media buy is directly correlated with brand adoption and brand love, but they’re not. They license popular music in the hopes that the ten million people who bought an album will also buy into their brand, but it doesn’t work that way.
Reese: The conversation amongst CMO’s should be ‘stop associating, start co-creating’. Would you agree they should be using data in the decision-making process?
Glenn: It’s important to be data-driven, but data can’t create a hit song. We must understand what our brand stands for, and how it looks, sounds and acts. Only then can we leverage data to turn information into knowledge. It’s one of the many challenges that faces a brand like Citi, which is the world’s most global bank. We must differentiate our firm for bank customers, credit card customers, small businesses and clients, corporate investors, and capital groups. How do you authentically resonate with such a diverse group emotionally at scale? A shoe brand or energy drink has more specific customers: you can look at their buying habits or competitor trends, and your answer might be more precise than financial brands. Ultimately when a brand identity and sonic identity gets into this safe space where you’re trying to please everyone, you really run the risk of pleasing no one.
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