101 Great Minds on
Music, Brands and Behavior
Global Brand Director at AXA Group
“If you think about sound, it can be a way that differentiates your brand from others if you get it right over time.”
Paul Bennett, Global Brand Director, AXA Group
Paul Bennett is the Global Brand Director of the AXA Group, the global leader of insurances. He is responsible for driving the Group’s initiatives on global brand strategy and management, advertising and content. Paul has over 20 years of marketing experience in the insurance, banking and healthcare sectors. At the AXA Group in Paris since 2010, he has led key global brand projects to ensure that AXA has remained the number 1 insurance brand for eight years and in 2015 becoming a Top 50 global brand for the first time – increasing the brand value beyond the $10bn mark. He has established corporate brand campaign initiatives that have delivered best in class and award-winning campaign creativity and ROI.
Reese: Can you talk a little bit about your recent sonic branding process?
Bennett: In 2008, we had our last brand relaunch, when we were redefining our brand standards. We had introduced a single kind of sonic tag for the first time, which was used at the end of all advertising. In musical terms, it was very electric guitar driven and very masculine. At that moment, it fitted well with the spirit of the brand as it was in those days. But as we kind of moved through the years we realized that actually we have a strong brand and that this tag doesn`t reflect us anymore.
We are perceived as a very strong international traditional brand, but with a lack of proximity to the people.
Reese: AXA is a respected brand. But it`s not a loved brand.
Bennett: Correct. It’s a respected brand, but not exactly a loved brand. At the time when I came to the job as Global Brand Director and we started to think about how we can put more emotion into the brand in order to become a loved brand. We tried to achieve that through a number of landmark campaigns. First of all, we started telling emotional stories about people and putting our own employees in the centre. We then moved the customer in the centre. We saw that emotion was generated, but the masculine sonic tag at the end was too strong. We got into a situation, where we had beautiful pieces of communication, which all ended with this very heavy sonic tag. This took all the impact we created before away from the customer. We decided to not fully eliminate the tag, as it had already helped us built equity over time. So, we generated version 2.0 of it, which had the same melody that could be recognized, but in a much lighter way. It was a facelift, but it was not the solution. This year, when we relaunched the brand, we actually changed to a completely new sonic identity. We now have this set of notes what can be played by anything and anyone, as loud or soft as you like. So, we really take the lead from the piece of content in terms of the spirit, the tone, and the emotion we are trying to give. We have really changed from where we`ve come from. We can now apply the new DNA to certain types of advertising, events, customer servicing and more as well.
Reese: What exactly does your sonic DNA consist of?
Bennett: It is a piece of music that is completely owned by AXA and we can use it everywhere. The new sonic tag, for example, is driven from the DNA. This is what we have as a starting point. Now, we are trying to build equity across the different touchpoints. There`s a number of ingredients we can extract from the DNA in order to create new pieces. We are still at the beginning of our journey, but we do have the opportunity and the need to evolve that over time.
Reese: AXA has been an incredible performer in terms of economics. Do you think that the way you approach identity has something to do with business performance?
Bennett: I think so. One of the key elements of a strong brand is consistency. We believe, that having one AXA master brand is something that is actually valuable for all of our markets, even though the interaction that our customer might have is a very local one. The essence of the brand needs to be prominent everywhere. Sound has an amazing ability to cut through and to create attraction. There`s a direct correlation between the consideration of the brand and the actual sales. We see a strong connection between music and consideration and that means also to sales.
“The essence of the brand needs to be prominent everywhere. Sound has an amazing ability to cut through and to create attraction.”
Reese: We are talking about the Golden Age of Audio nowadays. For almost 80 years, everything was visual and now it all changes unbelievably fast for brands.
Bennett: This is an incredibly important topic. I`m trying to transform AXA to an iconic brand. And I think you can achieve that with four different things. First, by creating differentiation. Second, by creating recognition. Third, the creation of experiences. And ultimately, it`s about becoming part of culture in some way. For each of those four things, sound is a common denominator. If you think about sound, it can be a way that differentiates your brand from others if you get it right over time. It brings the recognition when you are in a non-visual world and creates an experience or a feeling which is beyond the usually experience of the customer. And if you do it in the right way, ultimately it can become a piece of culture. I really do think that sound has a huge part to play in brands. Not just in being a brand but being the iconic brand of the category. It`s super important. That`s why we are trying to give it the proper time and focus.
Reese: Do you think audio consistency should be treated like the visual consistency of brands?
Bennett: Absolutely. The way things are evolving, it’s becoming such an important part of the equation. If you go back a couple of years, sound was something that always was taken care of at the end. This mindset is changing now, and you need to think about music at the beginning of the process.
Reese: Brands are in the trust building business. You need to be consistent, as all of the buying-decisions are taken subconsciously. And the only way to get into the subconsciousness is through the ears.
Bennett: I think you`re right. It is definitely moving more and more in this direction. There is so much value in the DNA-driven identity. I think, the only right way to talk to people is if it`s done in the same way at every single touchpoint. I want to create the same feeling, the same emotion at every touchpoint. Only then, trust can be built.
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