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Why we should be looking and listening to brand identities in Energy, Telecom and Automotive.

BY MICHAEL BOUMENDIL

When it comes to branding, you need to keep a close watch on certain sectors – energy, telecom and automotive among them. For over twenty years, they have faced enormous challenges. The brands in these sectors are at the heart of key battles – battles about business models and battles about the future of the planet. Consciously or not, their branding efforts can affect the whole landscape.

But their branding has long been chaotic. Many companies in these areas have been slow to digest their changes in status. Historically, many enjoyed national monopolies. The captive customer was given little attention.

The arrival of competition was sometimes taken lightly.

Companies were sure they had the advantage, thanks to their often-glorious pasts. They felt that national sentiment would protect them from the threat of new arrivals from abroad.

Ultimately, it was the consumer who made change happen.

Consumer expectations have evolved drastically. Their maturity as citizens has grown. They are interested not only in the functional benefits offered by the sectors’ brands but also in a brand’s culture, the treatment of employees, environmental stewardship and corporate social responsibility. One could almost speak of the «citizenship» of brands in these visible sectors.

Brands can no longer hide behind a technology advantage or an operational advantage.

Energy, telecom, automotive, as well as the media, shape our society. When customers choose their brands in these sectors, they’re weighing in on essential societal choices. Emotional commitment takes precedence over function. But these brands have little experience in building a legitimate emotional connection. Yes, these brands have long asserted their emotional heritage. The clichés followed the pictures. In the communication of these brands, the use of music is fascinating to watch.

Musical choices often betray an absence of considered strategy, and underline the difficulty these brands have in thinking deeply about their identities and their points of competitive differentiation.

The energy sector served up two types of musical clichés: big, powerful orchestras that intended to say « energy is power » (Gazprom is in this universe), and the inverse – naïve, comforting and childish. Listen to Engie’s music, what do you think? I hear, “Don’t worry about anything. Take a nap.” Is this what they want to communicate?

On the automotive side, brands aimed at displaying their industrial power. Being big and powerful was important and every brand followed suit, which produced cold, metallic sounds. The famous BMW sound, two deep, strong percussion hits, produced a long list of imitators and the airwaves rang with these disembodied sounds.

In telecom, twenty years after the mobile revolution and the internet, many brands still have a jingle, using tinkly bells that simulate, directly or indirectly, the sound of the phone keys. Some are still trying to sell pure technology, “ my network is more powerful, faster, more innovative”. But, telecom is rarely about the phone today, if ever, and customers are over the same empty claims, heard from all sides.

Where is the humanity in their messaging? What room is left for the person who counts the most, the customer?

Nothing in their brand strategy is disctinctive and they lose credibility and confidence with their audiences because they are not considering their relationship with people. When we work in these sectors, Sixième Son seeks to embody the specific relationship that the brand wants to offer its customers. The challenge is to articulate the state of mind from which the brand wants to converse with its customers and find its place in society. The challenge is to speak as a human.

As humans, we spend our lives thinking about our relationships with others. These days, a brand is not an object or a label; it has emotional power, emotional clarity, a social purpose, and promises to be reliable. It is this emotional power that enables the brand to find its place in society.

Sound and music have a unique power to deliver the emotional message of the brand, to express conviction and commitment.

I’ll be developing these ideas in a talk at the CHARGE Energy Branding Conference and outline the first steps for brands, so that they can harness new creative sensitivities and new methods of musical approach. I believe that there is an opportunity for brands to identify and express their place in a social and competitive field, which is much more complex than a few years ago, but perhaps more promising as well.

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