101 Great Minds on
Music, Brands and Behavior


Sanjay Gupta

Marketing Director APAC at Uber


“Sonic identity can enable our consumers to simplify choice making, especially in the world where there is excess cognitive load.”


Sanjay Gupta, Marketing Director APAC, Uber

Sanjay has twenty years of experience in building consumer and tech brands. He is a purpose driven marketer, who believes that doing good for humanity is doing good for business. He loves working at the intersection of analytics, strategy and creativity and has had the fortune of working on strong meaningful brands like Uber and Saffola. In 2015 he was recognised at the Hottest 40 under 40 Business Leaders in India, by the Economic Times. Outside of work is an avid Chelsea fan and a proud #GirlDad.

Uli Reese: Tell me a little bit about your role at the brand.

Sanjay Gupta
: I’ve been at Uber for three and a half years. I joined them as Head of Marketing for India, which was a fantastic experience because it’s when we set up marketing at Uber. After that I moved to the US and became the Global Brand Director responsible for the rides business. Recently, I moved to APAC where I’m the Marketing Director across countries including India, Australia, Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong. In terms of key deliverables, the first is to continue to build our brand reputation and the second is to drive adoption for our products. Uber is a growing business and we only constitute about one to five percent of transportation on the road. Finally, I’m here to build a strong team. Marketing is not evangelised in the tech world in the way that it should be, so one of the key roles we play as marketing leaders is to drive home the importance of marketing and what it should stand for, especially in tech.

“The magic comes when we’re able to go beyond engagement and create memory structures, use music to create memories so that when I think about certain music we can associate it to a specific brand.”

Reese: How important is music in branding?

Music is special. And it has two unfair advantages; one is the fact that it appeals to the heart. It’s emotional, it makes you feel something. The second is that music is timeless. No matter where you are in the world, how old you are, music can be relatable and stands the test of time. Most brands use music as an engagement tool, to enable better cut-through, to make the communication more emotional and engaging. The magic comes when we’re able to go beyond engagement and create memory structures, use music to create memories so that when I think about certain music we can associate it to a specific brand. Also I believe that as brand custodians we should think of the embedding “music” across the customer journey and the entire consumer experience, and create consistency across multiple touch points. Most people understand visual identity but if you ask them about sonic DNA they are often lost. I believe we need audio evangelists. Music is underleveraged and the number of people who understand it well is limited.

Reese: Looking at Uber’s customer experiences, what are your challenges?

Sanjay: We’re only ten years old. And we are a phygital business that’s built from the ground up at the intersection of the physical and the digital world. Uber’s magic is on our streets; it’s built upon a local driver and rider interacting and connecting. In 2017 we embarked on a journey to create a new visual identity and from there to now we’ve been able to deliver a consistent visual and verbal identity across the world. But when it comes to sonic and sound most of our efforts have focussed on the UX. When the driver engages with the app and they get a trip they hear a  notification, and that’s a strong element of our sonic branding. But we haven’t had the opportunity to look at the experience holistically and I believe that’s an opportunity for us.

Reese: What is your advice to CMO’s who are grappling with the recent explosion of sonic identity?

That’s the billion dollar question which I can divide into two parts; as brand custodians we are one part “truth seekers”, and one part “magic makers”. Can we really be truthful in seeking what’s in the best interest of the consumer? And then, present it in a way to create delight when our consumers engage with the brand? I’ve said before that a brand exists to reduce the cognitive load of consumption and to increase the joy of consumption. Sonic identity can enable our consumers to simplify choice making, especially in the world where there is excess cognitive load. If you look at some of the most successful brands today, such as Apple and Nike, they are very good at simplifying the problem. I feel when it comes to sonic branding, we should move from a model of sellers to a model of educators, and this model will have a lot of takers. CMO’s face pressure when it comes to sonic branding, of what is the ROI? What we need is empowerment where we can educate practitioners, like me, on the ROI. I believe this will go a long way in terms of building adoption for sonic branding.

Reese: Can you expand on what you said about reducing the cognitive load?

Sanjay: The amazing thing is that music trumps the visual because it’s emotional. If someone plays a track that you like in that second you’re instantly transported to a beautiful place. I was thinking about brands that leveraged sound before the interview and heard of the jingles I heard as a kid, and instantly I had happy memories and associations for those brands. Music gets you to a happy place, and personally for me visuals don’t have the same power. Brands like Uber, and others that will flourish in the next era, are going to be voice based and so it’s vitally important to build strong sonic assets. My daughter is five and a half and she’s much more comfortable with sound and is already commanding devices in the house.

Reese: I agree. Gen Alpha is so comfortable with sonic but we need to build it for the ear as well as for our emotions…

: You’ll never hear someone talk about visual identity and have Instagram as a filter. It will always start with the fundamentals of why we need this identity and what it will stand for. I feel when we talk about sonic we should do the same, today it is always around engagement; and that we’re simply looking at what’s the channel that will deliver maximum engagement. I believe we need educators to help us build sonic branding in the right way and who will help create a tribe that will become the flag bearers for the future.

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