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Recall, reassurance, and buyer confidence – three powerful reasons to have a sonic strategy

To continue our expert post series, we are taking a look at the use of sound by B2B brands with the help of Rachel Fairley, Global Vice President Brand Marketing at Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE). HPE is one of the world’s oldest technology companies and the leader in edge-to-cloud. Rachel is an international marketing leader and brand strategist whose focus is on driving growth. She has contributed to over 25 business transformations across more than 100 countries and many industries and is an expert in repositioning brands.

What led you to HPE?

“I’ve been working on repositioning brands since my early 20s and I think I’ve worked on around 30 now. I’m a big believer that people choose brands not products. To be successful you need to be perceived as a choice by the buyer. It’s all about leaving associations and memories in people’s minds. The more connected those associations are, the more likely people are to purchase from you, leading to greater market share. This feeds through to the experience they have with you and the confidence this inspires post-purchase that they made the right choice.

“I see the role of brand as driving sustainable demand. I love helping companies who want to be successful again, or more successful, by repositioning their brand so it taps into market needs and is authentic, relevant and differentiated.

“I love what I do for a living. It’s art and science. It takes data and diagnosis and a really focused strategy and creative. And then the whole organisation engaging to execute brilliantly.

What excites you about repositioning brands in the B2B world?

“I don’t understand why B2B brands are created in a different way to consumer brands. Think about all the amazing ways that consumer brands have tapped into what buyers want and build confidence that they made a wise decision in purchasing the product or service. Do we really behave so differently at work than at home? Take decision making - it is never completely clear who influences a decision maker, whether it is finance or procurement at work, or a friend or child at home.

“The reason I love working in the B2B space is because, although the sale may be more complicated, often takes longer and has more money at stake than a consumer purchase, it still comes down to human beings wanting to make the right choice in a complex world.

What role does sound play in your brand strategy?

“My mother was a world music expert, so I grew up with music. We lived in Edinburgh and during the Festival each year the house was full of musicians, so I understood from an early age how emotive music is and the power sound has to create mood and atmosphere, to make you feel and remember.

“Now we have detailed research from academics and companies like SoundOut, that shows the impact music has on recall and association. Recall is very important in B2B because we rarely have shops for people to have a brand experience, instead operating in a much more ‘virtual’ environment. Marketers have tended to rely on words and visuals. But human beings are multi-sensorial and use all their senses to gather knowledge and build memories about a brand. So B2B brands need to find a way that uses more of the senses to their advantage. For me sonic is an obvious first step, creating aural recall. It’s like planting seeds in people’s minds – buyers and employees - so that when they need something they remember you are an option.

“Sound builds reassurance. It gives buyers confidence they are dealing with the same company even if they experience it in a different context or market or campaign. This reassurance that you will receive the same quality of products, service and support is critical for a global business.

“We are exploring how we use music and smell in our innovation centres as well as the impact of sound on our people to create a greater sense of belonging, connecting our talent to our customers.

With recession looming will your investment in the brand make HPE more recession proof?

“Our buyers don’t have a blank sheet of paper to work with. They inherit the decisions of their predecessors and have to make sense of how they meet new challenges with the constraints of what they have. Certainty that they are making the right decision for their business is what brand can provide. Being consistent throughout the journey provides reassurance and confidence. With this consistency to drive reassurance and recall, you also have to be fresh to get cut through in a noisy world. Sound can help you achieve both.

Why do you think more B2B brands have not adopted a strategic approach to sound?

“I don’t know. After all, brands like Intel have had a very consistent and successful sonic identity for a long time.

Perhaps it was because it used to take a lot of time and money to test the effectiveness of sound. SoundOut now has a body of work which explains what makes a sonic logo effective and what drives recall. And they have also created a way of testing it quickly and robustly so you can be certain it will be effective before you put marketing budget behind it. Objective data of how the sonic performs compared to other sonics and your brand strategy make objective decision making possible. That’s why I was so excited when I discovered SoundOut. I’d never seen this approach before, and it has made it much easier to invest in sound at HPE.

“Another reason perhaps is that B2B brands tend to do less TV and radio advertising than B2C. These types of advertising crave sound and music. Just Eat’s use of sound is a superb example of a sonic logo that is ruthlessly consistent but can be played and sung in very different ways. We’ve done something similar. Our sonic has a clear melody but already has already eight different ways of playing it to match different moods.

What are your thoughts on how brands should use the implicit power of sound and music now that SoundOut has mapped the implicit DNA of sound?

It will help with brand consistency because it identifies which sounds aurally bring to life what the brand stands for. It helps brands to identify melodies that convey these attributes globally and yet have them delivered via different musical treatments that may be more harmonious with cultural preferences. Knowing how your audience responds means you can make objective decisions on what to use and how to use it.

What do you like about collaborating with SoundOut?

“I like their expertise – genuinely. One of the best bits of business advice I’ve been given came from a former boss of mine, who said: ‘You need to seek out people who know more than you. Find the experts and work with them. Run towards expertise not away from it.’ SoundOut’s way of thinking and methodology is invaluable. I felt safe thinking through our sound strategy with their insights. They are also lovely, ego free people to deal with. It’s great to work with people who know more than you do and want to share that expertise.

“I think data speaks. So, I particularly like their depth of data and their proven methodology. It provides a way of developing sound, understanding how it works and what it is likely to deliver, so that you don’t have to second guess it.

If a brand is going to invest in sound for the first time, what advice would you give them?

  1. Do it. Do it. Do it.

  2. Understand what makes a good sonic

  3. Develop options with composers and work with a company like SoundOut to understand the impact it will have before you make a decision

  4. Use sound to drive buyer recall, reassurance and confidence.

That’s what we did. It was straightforward to take the decision with the CMO and CEO on which to go with because we had we had data to tell us how each option worked with our audience. It made the decision feel confident and joyful.

You mentioned the importance of sound for recall. What track summons up a happy memory for you?

“When my son was three, we had a family holiday in Greece and the song of the holiday was the Donna Summer track, I feel Love. My son loved dancing to it. I played it recently and he smiled and asked: ‘Do I know this?’


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