Untalk Review: Max Kickinger ‘Selling The Invisible’

For the 9th Uncomfortable Talk, LHBS invited Max Kickinger, a sound experience designer and brand consultant from Vienna’s Raven and Finch.

Max’s presentation attempted to detail how much sound design matters for brands, who currently only spend 20% of their budgets on sound, the other 80% going to visual identity. This discrepancy between audio and visual output leaves, in Max’s view, a tremendous opportunity for branding, as people deeply care about music.

Max explained how in his work at Raven and Finch, he helps companies develop their sound branding. He explained how the firm uses a framework they call IEP, an acronym that stands for Identity, Experience, Platform– in order to shape brands’ sound identities to better appeal to, and engage with, consumers.

Building identity with sound

The identity aspect brought into question ways in which brands have and can create sonic identities for themselves. To illustrate this point, he showed how some of the biggest songs of the last few years were associated with brands, namely Adele’s “Skyfall” which was the main theme of the James Bond film of the same name, as well as the song for the 2010 World Cup, K’Naan’s “Waving Flag (Celebration Mix)”, which was an adaptation of Coca-Cola’s jingle. Both of these examples show what Max called a 100% artist-brand affinity.

Another example of brand identity through music was the sound that an Apple computer makes when it turns on– it is a sound that not only stands out as an identifying feature of a product, but also makes people associate the sound with feelings of happiness or assurance. This example also points to the promising future of sound branding that is attached to the proliferation of devices and software which all rely on customized sounds to get the attention of users.

The E of Raven and Finch’s IEP framework, Experience, shows how powerful music and sound is when it comes to setting or changing moods. As a thought experiment, Max played a trailer of the horror film The Shining that had been rescored with the music and voiceover characteristic of a romantic comedy.

With this recut trailer, he demonstrates how a shift in the sonic experience can completely alter the entire meaning of the visual element. Through using sound and music, companies can add a richness to their brand storytelling and enhance their brand experiences.

A sound branding case

To articulate the last part of the IEP framework, Platforms, Max detailed how Converse set up a brand platform that relied on music and sound to engage users and bring them closer to the brand. Converse created a recording studio and content platform called Rubber Tracks, which offered free studio time to bands looking to get record deals. In exchange for the recording time, the bands contributed to a sample library that could be accessed by anyone via the Converse Sample Library (link: https://www.conversesamplelibrary.com/) website.

The move made for two great marketing experiences. First, for every band that succeeds in finding a record deal, there are 99 that don’t. For all 100 bands, they are going to remember that Converse helped them chase their dreams. Secondly, there are thousands upon thousands looking for free samples online, and many of them will find them in the Rubber Tracks library. As such, it stands as a useful, engaging brand platform that provides branded audio content.

Through the presentation of this framework, one of the primary takeaways from Max’s presentation was that “music isn’t just something that brands should add-on, but rather must be a central part of brand experience”.

The New Normal.

The COVID-19 outbreak is a new global reality that arrived fast and unexpectly, resulting in the birth of completely unfamiliar business context. With the beginning of the new calendar and fiscal years, businesses have seen their plans for 2020 become obsolete over the course of a few weeks. Undoubtedly as part of immediate crisis management, business leaders are coping with today but also revising plans, projections and priorities for what many are calling the ‘New Normal’.