Music and Branding #1

This is a translation of the column I'm writing for Danish industry publication Markedsføring (Marketing).
Music and Branding deals with the trinity of brands, bands, and fans. It looks at how brands use (or don't use) music as part of their branding and marketing efforts and how bands collaborate with brands. Some do it well, others badly. Others just really boring. It also looks at new ways and models for collaboration.
This column was published in issue #7 June 1st, 2010 and deals with the state of music and branding in Denmark, both client and agency side.

From beer to consulting
What does Avenue Hotel, Royal Beer, and Copenhagen Consulting Company have in common? They all use music as part of their identity and market communication.
  • Each week, Avenue Hotel in Copenhagen hosts the Yellow Lounge, a club night featuring DJs playing a combination of electronica and classical music - they also put out a CD series by the same name.
  • Royal Beer runs competitions to win tickets to select summer festivals that they sponsor and - perhaps more interesting - collaborate with Danish rock band Kashmir to find the support act for Kashmir's upcoming tour.
  • Copenhagen Consulting Company (CoCoCo) give away corporate CD compilations with the title 'Everest Within' and featuring a Stephen Covey quote inspiring us to always make our best team effort, like they do.
All of them use music as association and borrow a little coolness in order to differentiate from the competition (CoCoCo) or get closer to the customer (Avenue Hotel, Royal Beer). In the case of Avenue Hotel they also seek to deliver a different hotel experience altogether, and Royal Beer to provide the coveted 15 minutes of fame.
All in all pretty good - and pretty common - examples of how brands use music as a means to support or strengthen their identity.

Lost in music?
Using music as a branding tool is not exactly new. Actually, it is as common as free newspapers in the metro. But just how sophisticated are we in Denmark in this area?
If we take a look at UK and Sweden, it would appear that there is a much greater interest - and ambition - not just for brands and music but brands and music strategies. Look at specialist agencies like UK-based Citizen Sound, New Music Strategies, BrandAmp, Frukt Music, Musically and Swedish Heartbeats International.

They don't just create sponsor programmes, sound branding, and product placement opportunities. They cover the entire value chain from strategic planning, market analysis, music identity, music strategy, concept development, social/viral media, instore, mobile apps, digital media, evaluation, reporting etc. And they research and share their knowledge through workshops, seminars, symposiums, newsletters, blogs, and books.
In other words: These agencies don't just maintain the field of music and branding, they expand and evolve it.

I know a lot of agencies in Denmark who work with one or more parts of the value chain, but none that cover more than just the usual stuff or proactively seek to influence and educate the market. And from a brand perspective, the picture is equally sad - only Tuborg can claim to work with music systematically, strategically and longterm.

From ill-fitting waiting tune to strategic platform
Heartbearts in Sweden have created a simple way to illustrate how brands and agencies work with music - the music ladder. It has 4 steps:
  1. Unconscious use of music. Here, music is used accidentally and with no thoughts as to why, how and what music is used. Best case scenario is confusion as to what the brand stands for.
  2. Conscious use of music. Here, the brand has developed a music identity, a sound associated with a set of values. Music has become a branding element. CoCoCo is an example.
  3. Involved in music. The brand is actively involved in music activity, typically through promotions/competitions or sponsorships/collaborations. Royal Beer s an example.
  4. Strategic music platform. The brand owns a position in music culture and a platform from which it develops the brand, the fans and the music. Tuborg is an example. Heartbeats mention Red Bull Music Academy. Levi's, where I was marketing head for a while, owned music as association for a number of years in the 80s and 90s.
The music opportunity
In Denmark we see all too few examples of step 4. Ironically, except Tuborg probably the super markets are the ones working most strategically and research-based with music! But why?
Is Denmark just too small a market? Are we satisfied with things the way they are? Do we not believe in the potential, the opportunities of music branding? I don't know but I'd love to hear your opinion.

Music is the form of expression and cultural art form with the greatest appeal. Only sports attract the same amount of people and appeal on the same emotional level. Music accepts no limits, it ties us together across borders, age, sex, culture, class, religion and any other preference.
Must this potential, this power, really be reduced to a buy-and-get promotion or an ill-fitting IVR tune - when there are so many other opportunities?