The sound of money

A bank tries to differentiate itself through music. Will that be pure melody to consumers’ ears?

It’s rare to see bankers sway to any other tune than cha-ching, the sound of money. At HDFC Bank’s central Mumbai headquarters, about 200 executives led by their managing director Aditya Puri assembled for a session that would last for an hour.

Holding centre stage was Rajeev Raja, co-founder, Brand Musiq, whose firm specialises in sonic branding, the art of creating brand recognition through a signature tune for the brand. To drive the point home, Raja plays the Airtel tune created by AR Rahman on his flute. “Who can guess the brand?” he asks. A lady banker enthusiastically shouts out the answer and gets a bar of chocolate as a prize.

Next, Raja takes the audience on a tour on how music can bring images to your mind. He asks every member of the audience to close their eyes and plays the Raag Hamsadhwani. He then asks members of the audience to spell out the images that came to their mind when they heard the tune. Most people in the audience come up with similar answers, like the onset of dawn, flowing river and so on. Raja has underscored his point – music brings associations and imagery to mind.

Hence last week HDFC Bank got its employees together to launch its sonic branding or musical logo (Mogo). Set to the tune of Raag Bilawal and Raag Shudh Kalyan, the first raga is an expression of innovation and dynamism while the latter reflects the caring, humane nature of HDFC Bank. In the brand anthem, contemporary western instruments such as the piano and guitar are used along with the sitar, to create a blend of global aspiration and Indian earthiness.

The Mogo will be used across multiple touch points such as ATMs, phone banking, mobile banking app and the website. The objective is to create a distinct brand imagery where the Mogo helps form an emotional connect with consumers across platforms. A company statement says that the musical logo creates a sonic imagery of a brand that’s in tune with the evolution taking place while remaining true to the brand’s core values of operational excellence, customer focus and so on.

The Mogo is to be present across touch points in the bank’s journey from hi-tech to hi-touch, says Kartik Jain, executive vice-president and head, marketing, HDFC Bank. “The intention is to create an emotional engagement among various stakeholders ranging from a farmer in rural India to urban city dweller and from a government employee to a corporate one, through the use of sonic branding across platforms,” he adds.

The exercise started with the bank holding focus groups to understand the brand essence and attributes. The brand essence that came through was ‘everyday evolution’ with an underlying message of ‘caring’. The brand was also associated with the avatar of a sage and creator followed by the attributes of courage and caring. Based on this feedback, the agency looked at which instruments would best connect these attributes. The sitar, piano, guitar, santoor and dilruba were all tried out. After that three different sets of music compositions were researched with customers. The customers had to come up with their perceived visual representations of the music. The chosen tune was selected because it had all the right attributes of caring, surprise and joy. The first reaction from employees was that the Mogo was extremely soothing. The Mogo has been adapted to ringtones and caller tunes. The entire composition will be played in bank lounges and so on.

Raja says that every time BrandMusiq executes a project, the proof of concept comes through very clearly. In the past, the agency has worked on brands like Vistara, Mahindra Holidays and Cadbury Eclairs. It will soon unveil sonic branding for Lenovo. Raja, however, says that a Mogo is much beyond an attractive signature. “If you execute it strategically, then you can unlock much more than just brand recognition,” he says. “Sound evokes a million words and images,” adds musician Merlin D’souza who’s worked along with Raja on this project.

Much like a new-born baby, the Mogo might evoke positive reactions, but a brand manager advises caution. For companies that have a substantial subscriber base running into millions like Airtel or a HDFC Bank, a Mogo might work. But for brands who do not have such numbers, it’s very difficult to justify the marketing spends behind popularising this signature tune. HDFC Bank’s Jain sees an advantage. For a brand that’s often faced with the gargantuan task of taking its message across India and translating brand literature into several languages, music is the big unifier. No one has ever heard of a CMO getting sacked for a poorly translated brand message (that too in a language the CMO did not understand). However, if such a situation was to arise, music could always come to the rescue.

Are logos with sound the next stop for companies?

HDFC was facing a perplexing challenge in its journey from hi-touch to hi-tech. “With fewer interactions at the branch, getting emotional connect for the brand was a challenge,” admits Kartik Jain, head – marketing, HDFC Bank. The bank turned to an unlikely solution: deploying sound in a structured-manner. The bank hired Soundmusiq for an intensive sonic branding endeavour which has been recently rolled out across touchpoints. These include all ATMs with a sound card, NetBanking, PhoneBanking IVR and hold music, YouTube videos, Mobile apps, employee caller tunes and ring tones.

A leap of faith for a brand that has been wary of splurging on print and television. It rolled out a TV campaign after a gap of nearly five years. Sound evokes memories, can help create an emotional layer. At the same time, the mnemonic is fundamentally digital, thus putting it in a sweet spot.

The banking brand is not the only using sound to give it a distinct connect. Lenovo is in the midst of an extensive sonic branding project, touted to be a global roll-out. Bhaskar Choudhuri, director – marketing, Lenovo India refused to share details, but believes very few brands use sound in a strategic way. Being under-leveraged and under-populated, gives brands an opportunity to make a distinct statement. “For a relatively new tech brand like us, it provides an opportunity to leapfrog,” he adds.

With increasing visual clutter, brands are realising the importance of properties that communicate and strengthen core values, not necessarily via TV. Says Richa Arora, chief operating officer, consumer products business, Tata Chemicals, “Over time, sonic identity will subconsciously acquire a deeper meaning.” Tata Chemicals has already implemented sonic branding for its newly launched Tata Sampann brand and is close to a roll-out for the flagship Tata Salt Branding via sound is relatively unchartered terrain the world over. In India, Rajeev Raja co-founded India’s first specialised outfit Brandmusiq after many years in advertising. For Raja, music was always a key driver (he performs with retro rockers Wanted Yesterday). But he’d hit a stage where “I had to decide between ‘same-spot bicycling’ or trying something new.” And so Brandmusiq launched in 2012, specialising in sonic branding through creation of a mogo (musical logo) and mogoscape.

A mix of art and science, it’s a three stage process: Brand Discovery in which brand-owners articulate the brand’s vision, persona and values, within a structure best suited to creating a sonic identity, followed by Sonic Moodboards, in which “we present ‘sketches of sound’ to initiate an understanding of the ‘zone of sound and instrumentation’ that the brand can operate in which best reflects its persona and values, shares Raja. The final stage is Mogo/Mogoscape creation in which the final sonic identity is created. It can take anywhere from 6 months to a year or more.

In a cluttered, over-exposed world a sonic identity could provide brands a layer of emotion and recognition sustainably and memorably, the Holy Grail for all brands. “Nearly every brand is a multi-platform brand now, and the sonic opportunities are limitless. Just think that all the customers are now walking around with a speaker in their pocket!” says Joel Beckerman, founder of one of the oldest sonic branding agencies, the US based Man Made Music. (Read – Making The Right Sounds)

Richa Arora of Tata Chemicals sees the mogo as a longterm brand asset, to be deployed the way they would a logo or visual identity: consistently across all communications and consumer touch points: From TVC, radio ads, digital to events, activations… even ringtones, she shares. The mogo in its ultimate form goes beyond an audio mnemonic to creating an audio signature. One key challenge is people confusing it with a jingle which really are two separate things. “The issue is to shift the benchmark of brand owners from a tactical ‘jingle’ to owning a strategic long term ‘sonic identity’ as an asset”, says Raja.

Joel Beckerman, of ‘Man Made Music’ creator of sonic identities for AT&T, HBO, Imax, Southwest Airlines etc, shares his vision for this niche form of branding

Why Sonic?

Man Made has been in business 17 years. Our work has always been about sonic branding — even before the term was fashionable. We’ve moved from a communication focused to an experience focused world. Brands need to make emotional connections with al l their audiences. It’s as if Apple showed the world that loved brands do better business. General market brands in technology, communications, airlines, retail, restaurants — even financial services — approach us to tap into our entertainment expertise and help tell their story with music and sound. It is an incredibly efficient shortcut to emotion. Every brand is different, and everyone has different sonic opportunities. There are no cookie cutter solutions.

Why Sonic Now?

Nearly every brand is a multiplatform brand now, and the sonic opportunities are limitless. Just think that all the customers are now walking around with a speaker in their pocket! Usually people come to us just looking for a sonic logo as a sign-off for their advertising, or a sound for their app. We introduce them to our approach which is about creating a sonic strategy for the brand and giving them an authentic voice that delivers on their brand and business objectives and that’s where the fun begins.

What are the major challenges?

When brand strategy is either unclear or emotionally flat, or when key stakeholders have very different visions. We need a clear, powerful story to tell to create work that is meaningful and will stand the test of time. It also can be a bit of a challenge when key stakeholders are not involved from the beginning. Many CEOs, CMOs and even COOs have been involved in our workshops. We’ve learned so much about some brands from executives who might not consider themselves ‘creative’. Nearly anyone can identify when music and sound feels right and synchs with their vision of the brand.

HDFC Bank gets into sonic branding, gets new ‘musical logo’

For the first time ever, HDFC Bank is introducing a sonic branding activity. The bank is set to launch a musical logo, that will be used across its multiple touch points like ATMs, phone banking, mobile banking app and the website to name a few.

Rajeev Raja’s Brand Musiq has created the musical logo for HDFC. The company believes that the musical logo or MOGO will help to form a powerful connect and recall among its various stake-holders across platforms.

“The MOGO has been created keeping various aspects in mind. One, the core values that HDFC Bank as a brand stands for in the minds of customers and second is the dynamic nature of the business today. HDFC Bank today is known as the premiere digital bank in India built on a solid foundation of trust and reliability over two decades. The digital element signifies the contemporary and youthful quality of the bank, which is constantly adapting to meet the needs and requirements of the target audience,” said an official spokesperson of the company.

Here’s the MOGO: