101 Great Minds on
Music, Brands and Behavior

BRAND EDITION

PEter Knapp

Chief Creative Officer at Landor Associates

 

“It’s about choosing the right time to create the right influence.”



Peter Knapp, Chief Creative Officer, Landor Associates

 

Peter is Chairman and Global Creative Officer at Landor, an award-winning global branding and design consultancy. He specializes in integrated branding programs where graphic, three-dimensional, digital, and engagement design platforms are merged to form total branded experiences for consumers. Peter has decades of experience across sectors, geographies and disciplines and is widely known for his unparalleled expertise in airline, hospitality and destination branding to name but a few.

Reese: We both have a common admiration for Gene Rodenberry, the creator of Star Trek, who I was lucky enough to meet.  

Knapp: As a child I always loved science fiction. It was a place to go in my mind – and I think it encouraged open-mindedness. One of my disappointments with our world is that people like Gene Rodenberry, as with Asimov and others, aren’t more celebrated as visionaries, as people who inspired generations of engineers. Their creativity was without bounds. And yet they don’t get the credit I think they deserve for projecting forward on the consequences of humanity, the opportunities and the threats

Reese: I completely agree. There’s so much stuff that is normal to us today that Gene foresaw.

Knapp: Since we’re talking about music and the cerebral imprint it makes on your mind, I would say the first four notes of that theme – possibly even the first note – are instantly and unequivocally recognizable. And then the tension in between them…even now, as the different films come out, how they riff on that, how they pull that space…you know where it’s going, but each time it sounds new and full of possibilities: the tension of the future. All in four notes. How good is that?

 

 
Reese: Absolutely. And also, what pulls you in as a consistency. It’s a tonal vocabulary. It’s almost like a design language. It’s similar to what you guys do every day for brands…

Knapp: It’s the DNA.

Reese: The DNA, right. And this for me is where most brands miss the boat. In terms of their musical identity brands keep reinventing the wheel, while studies show that on the consumer side inconsistency breeds distrust.

Knapp: I think that’s because people don’t push it through a brand lens. It’s often to do with personal choice – or a trend. To be on-trend is one thing, but you have to be on-trend for the brand. There’s a lot of careless usage of music, so therefore what people hear is just – sonic wallpaper. Unless you make positive associations, driven by what the brand represents, it’s just more “stuff”. It’s a bit like logos: the world isn’t short of logos, just as the world isn’t short of music. But when you create a positive association with the brand – through the music, through the logo – because there is a visceral, emotional, intellectual connection between them, then you’re in a very strong place.

Reese: Why do you think so many brands are relatively careless when it comes to audio, when in many cases they’re very disciplined when it comes to visual? Why is that an overlooked opportunity?

Knapp: I think it has yet to be considered in a way that would make it a consummately potent ingredient of the brand. I believe the reason for that is because music can be involved in a brand in very diverse ways. More and more brands understand that the sonic contribution, whether music or verbal, is increasingly important because people are now listening in more and more diverse channels. So you do get brands who put that core sonic representation at their heart. But it gets more complicated as you move away from the core. Different series of adverts will have different types of music, for example. Or you might sponsor music. But is that music an expression of the brand? Or is the very idea of sponsoring music an expression the brand? So the waters are clouded. There’s a lack of distinction between “what is the music of the brand?” and “what music is the brand involved with?” Two very different things.

Reese: Why do you think so many brands are relatively careless when it comes to audio, when in many cases they’re very disciplined when it comes to visual? Why is that an overlooked opportunity?

Knapp: I think it has yet to be considered in a way that would make it a consummately potent ingredient of the brand. I believe the reason for that is because music can be involved in a brand in very diverse ways. More and more brands understand that the sonic contribution, whether music or verbal, is increasingly important because people are now listening in more and more diverse channels. So you do get brands who put that core sonic representation at their heart. But it gets more complicated as you move away from the core. Different series of adverts will have different types of music, for example. Or you might sponsor music. But is that music an expression of the brand? Or is the very idea of sponsoring music an expression the brand? So the waters are clouded. There’s a lack of distinction between “what is the music of the brand?” and “what music is the brand involved with?” Two very different things.

Reese: Interesting. If you look at Converse, or Red Bull Music Academy, they’re kind of…trying to put their name in the middle. I find that OK, but it’s non-equity building. What’s really important is to have an identity. The benchmark is…well, it’s Star Trek! With closed eyes, in two seconds, instant recognition. With the Mercedes logo, you could go into the jungle in New Guinea and people would recognize it. But sonically? No.

Knapp: I’ll give you two examples which I think are interesting ways of using music. So, Adidas was associated with being a high performance sportswear brand. But there was a moment that took the brand to the streets, changed the fate of the company, and propelled it further and faster than it could have otherwise gone. And that was when it became associated with Run-DMC. Run-DMC and their alignment with Adidas created a link with street style that Adidas adopted and celebrated. The reflection of that hip hop culture onto a brand that wasn’t even looking for it – but which brought them to the street – made them not only a high performance sports brand, but a cool brand.

Reese: Of course!

Knapp: The second example was largely driven by advertising, but then the brand took it to its heart – and that was “The Flower Duet” from [Léo Délibes’ opera] Lakmé, for British Airways. It started off as a campaign, but British Airways took that piece of music and not only “owned” it – you would board to it, you would disembark to it – but they did a very clever thing, which was that they riffed with it in a global way. So you would hear it through different cultural lenses – a little bit more eastern, or more jazzy – depending on the context. And I think now if you went anywhere and played that music, a great many people would associate it with British Airways.

Reese: When a client that comes to you and says, “What are we going to do in the audio space?”, given that audio touch points are increasing exponentially – thanks to Alexa, thanks to Siri – what would you advise?

Knapp: When we come up with a brand strategy, we make sure it contains enough direction to make choices clear for a client – and that those choices ensure two things: relevance and differentiation. Everything within that strategy will filter towards those two things. So you have to make sure therefore that any sonic expression is different from the competitor, and that is relevant to where the customer is going to experience the brand.

Reese: Where that brand “happens”.

Knapp: Yes, where will they experience it – and the mindset the person is going to be in. If it’s a brand about gentle, private hospitality, then you don’t want something that’s pounding, difficult and scratchy. But neither can it sound like another hospitality brand in the same sector.

"More and more brands understand that the sonic contribution, whether music or verbal, is increasingly important because people are now listening in more and more diverse channels."

Reese: And you’ve got to be culturally sensitive.

Knapp: Precisely. So we always make sure that the guiding brand strategy is an absolute vector for creative expression – either visually, sonically or from a behavioural aspect. While we don’t always come up with the sonic expression, we work with people who do – or we’ll work with the advertising agency. We might say, “We don’t think that’s on brand, because it seems to be against the criteria of the brand strategy,” or on the other hand, “You’ve nailed it – because it really feels as if it suits the intellectual proposition.”

Reese: Would you advise a client to aim for a long-term strategy with audio? Like the James Bond movies. From Shirley Bassey to Adele, with more than 20 movies in between. But with closed eyes, this can only be Bond.

Knapp: It’s a good example. And the reason you can do that is that all those themes share similar attributes. They all have a sense of elegance, of tension, of style. The other interesting thing – a bit like Star Trek – is that throughout the course of a film, just occasionally, you’ll hear the iconic theme – dum de dum dum – to remind you where you are.

Reese: What makes the Bond songs work is that there’s a recipe. There are even certain branded instruments – that guitar sound, for example. It wasn’t invented by the Bond movies, but they kind of hijacked it like a hashtag.

Knapp: Your word “recipe” is a very nice way of thinking of brand strategy, because it’s a series of ingredients. You may vary them, but you know what you’re allowed to put in or not.

Reese: If you take customer experience design, from an audio point of view, what’s important for you? What’s the perfect audio experience?

Knapp: We don’t see it as different from any of the other experiences – whether they’re visual, or behavioural – because you have to decide how and when to best treat each moment. You don’t treat every moment with graphics, just as you wouldn’t treat every moment sonically. You have to decide on the desired mind-state of the customer, and how you can help them into the right feeling, the right ambience, at any part of their journey.

Reese: I understand.

Knapp: So it’s not about bombarding them with a constant soundtrack, but how and where can you make the most positive contribution. We live in a world where we’re bombarded with things all the time. And I think there’s a fine line between a band being a partner and a companion, and a brand being, frankly, a nuisance. It’s about choosing the right time to create the right influence. There are times you need to just let people be.

Reese: I think you’re absolutely right. Sometimes silence can be the greatest gift you can give.

Knapp: Because in today’s world it comes as a relief.

Reese: Especially for airlines, it’s incredibly important. “I can’t close my ears. I’m strapped in. I feel vulnerable.”

Knapp: Talking of airlines, you go into lounges, and I always think it’s remarkable that they’re basically a series of furniture showrooms. Lots of chairs, coffee or wine, and some average sandwiches. But they’re called “lounges”. The word comes with a certain nuance of…speciality and privilege, but rarely do you find that atmospherically. We work with a Russian airline called S7, and in their lounge in Domodedovo we asked them to put in a piano, so they could have a jazz pianist playing – so it felt more like a lounge.

Reese: How cool is that!

Knapp: And here’s the great thing: you could walk down the terminal, and you would hear, from a distance, the S7 pianist. And even if you weren’t going there, you’d say: “That’s the S7 lounge.” Again, it’s taking an opportunity, it’s picking the intelligent moment when sound might be a benefit. And it became a signature for them.

Reese: It sort of sums up our conversation.

Knapp: There’s no doubt that the importance of sound is increasing. And there’s a simple KPI for that, which is the number of people who wear headphones all the time. As a simple human measurable, sound is clearly important to people – either to block out the world they’re in, or to maximize the opportunity to have sound front and centre in their lives. We don’t have to question the importance of sound – we can see its importance.

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