Since it first unveiled its sonic identity in February 2019, Mastercard has been at the forefront of sonic branding. In an exclusive interview, global CMO Raja Rajamannar tells Communicate about the ins and outs of this strategy.
What is a sonic brand, in your definition?
A brand is nothing but an embodiment of the values, characteristics, properties, functions, benefits, etc., of a particular product or company. Historically, the connotation of a brand was essentially presented through a visual logo: you see the logo and know, subconsciously or consciously, that it stands for these values, characteristics, and so on.
Now, the world is changing pretty significantly; a number of consumer interactions are happening in the absence of any visual real estate. For example, with smart speakers, the entire interaction, right from the search all the way to purchase, happens only through voice and the medium of sound. So, a visual brand logo will not be sufficient. Like they did in the visual world with a logo, brands now have to find a way to have an equivalent logo in the audio world, and that’s what we call sonic branding.
How is sonic branding different from a jingle?
This is like saying that Mastercard’s logo has a red color. But this red color is just one tiny component of our brand logo; there are many other elements: color, design, shape, dimension… Similarly, a jingle is one tiny component of a brand’s audio identity.
A brand is multidimensional. You should surround it with all kinds of identifiers, even in the context of sound. So, we started writing our own playbook.
Firstly, we have, at the heart of our brand, a 30-second melody. The second dimension is the three-seconds sonic signature. The third dimension is the 1.3-second acceptance sound. Ten dimensions that are going to come in total.
How many iterations did you go through before the final result?
I have seen about 2,000 melodies before we could finalize this. We were really tapping into a whole music ecosystem, so a lot of options were coming in.
How have you rolled out your sonic brand?
We launched our sonic brand at the Consumer Electronics Show. Then, we started going to the marketing and the technology communities.
Then, we went to the next level. For 50-60 years, we had been consistently investing in our visual logo, but I don’t have 50 or 60 years to popularize my sonic brand. So, we have developed what we call a three As model:
This three-phases process will take about three to five years, at a minimum, to really get to that kind of attribution. So, to speed things up, we work with world-class music producers and composers to create songs especially written for us, with a little bit of the Mastercard tune embedded in a very creative way – people don’t want to listen to corporate anthems. We launched our first song, called “Merry Go Round,” and we are coming up with a full album, called “Priceless,” with 11 songs, each very different from the other, but each with a subtle infusion of the Mastercard melody in it.
Does marketing need to evolve to fit in this new technological landscape?
Absolutely. Manifestations of audio in various technology environments – home systems, smart speakers, connected cars, etc. – vary wildly, and marketeers could take advantage of each new sonic branding opportunities. For example, if your refrigerator is making a sound when it automatically orders food based on your consumption, it becomes a new advertising medium in the sound form. But if I want to showcase my brand in that environment today, there is no infrastructure. We need to adapt, and systems have to completely be set up, right from zero.
But what does adapting mean, in that case?
First and foremost, talent is absolutely critical. You need musical talent, and technology talent. Now, fortunately, Mastercard is a technology company. What we are trying to figure out is the kind of support that we can get from our tech talent, and where we have gaps. We are leaning in on outside resources: sound engineers, sound technicians, people who understand the science and the technology of sound.
On the other hand, we are looking for a music specialist to join the Mastercard marketing team. This person will be musically qualified, will understand how to adapt music to different situations, and will be grounded in commercial realities – because that concept has to be converted into a commercial reality.
Thirdly, we are working in close partnerships with companies that really are at the cutting edge on the production side, or even on the conceptualization side. Some of them are Silicon Valley startups, and some of them are massive studios with a small division looking at the future of sound.
And we are also training our own people. Our marketing team is constantly bombarded with sonic, because I want the entire team to embrace it; it should become a part of their DNA. It’s a cultural transformation.
What is the risk for organizations that overlook sound and audio today?
The world is getting more and more cluttered. Competition is intensifying. The consumer is bombarded by 5,000 commercial messages every single day. If you want to cut through the clutter, you have to do everything possible. When a new way of interactions is coming about, if you are in the business of marketing and selling things, you cannot afford not to be in that space. It’s absolutely critical.