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After graduating in Business Management from Boston University, Guillaume began his career in the musical business with EMI in New York, then in France at BMG and Sony Music, in the strategic marketing department. His work was rewarded by several platinium and gold discs rewards over his 10-year international career (Native, Cut Killer, Suede, The Fugees, Polnareff). During this time, Guillaume also spent time elaborating his knowledge in the graphical, sociological and historical aspects of music. In 1998, becoming more and more interested in the strategic side of the business, he moved into consultancy (Fnac, LVMH, 365 Corporation). In September 2002 he co-founded STRATEGIC SOUND, the first ever agency specialising in Sound and sensory strategy. Apart from his work at STRATEGIC SOUND, Guillaume Huret teaches music marketing to graduate students at the ITEMM (European Institute of Music Trades)and Toulouse University. He is a regular guest speaker in marketing and communication symposiums (COMMUNDI, STRATEGIES magazine, ADETEM)He is an active member of the EMC European Marketing Confederation) and the ADETEM (National Marketing Association). He is currently putting the finishing touches on a book about “ Sound and music in brand communication “

Guillaume, you started your career in the music industry (EMI, New York; BMG and Sony Music, France) and worked on several platinum and gold disc rewarded projects with known artists (Native, Suede, The Fugees, etc.). What made you switch to the strategic side of music?

Doing strategic and development marketing in the Majors, included doing deals and partnerships with media and brands. By the end of the 90’s, more and more brands used music in their communication (adds, website, media communication, etc) as well as their marketing strategy (give away gifts, bonus, tie in, etc).
It was usually done in a very unprofessional way, as on the one hand, the brand’s marketers did not have the appropriate knowledge of music. On the other hand, the music industry, at that time, didn’t know much about “brand strategy”. So music was always used in the most basic way: always the same, with basic songs (hits) and no originality what so ever. Music was just another parameter and never a tool in the brand approach.
Things began to change with……TV series (6 Feet Under, Desesperate Housewifes, etc) that began to use particular songs (not always hits) in order to express a certain character’s feeling, or for certain situations. As you know, music sometimes expresses feelings better than words.
It started to have a real impact in the media.
Paralleled to this, music, around the year 2000, began to play a significant role in everyday life in our society. Music began to follow us everywhere, at anytime (shops, restaurant, TV, computers, ring tones, hotels, airports, etc..) and became a daily item like never before. All of this was amplified by the success of the Ipod: way beyond the entertainment industry territories.

Today like never before, music plays a key role in our daily life, to the point that it is not just a leisure or a simple pleasure but part of a way of life.
From a marketing and brand strategy approach, music and its pre-eminence in the emotional impact of a brand is undeniable today. It is not a simple aesthetic parameter, it is a real language and medium that offers strong ways to evoke, to differentiate and to associate.

best_brands.gifThere are only 3 means of expression in brand communication:
image, text and sound. Apart from in advertisements, 80% of brands avoid using sound as a tool, even when there have never been so many types of media available for sound communication. How can you meet the new demands of consumers, and at the same time differentiate yourself in an environment that is increasingly inundated with signs? Of all the various possibilities for identification, association and differentiation, sound is often used too little, if it is used at all.

In early 2000, finding no agency capable of thinking about music other than its artistic approach, and anticipating the role and impact of music on brand strategy & business, I created the first agency linking music to strategy. I organized the knowledge that goes along with cross-channel experts in different but complementary topics such as psychology, sociology, cognitive, artistic, semiology, architecture, design, marketing, strategic, legal.
We are currently working with the world’s best specialist in each of those fields. Encountering them and working with them (from John Sloboda to Brian Eno) I can say that these are still some of the most interesting moments of my life.
Research and prospective applications are 50% of my work; imagining tomorrow’s use has never been so exiting.

What Strategic Sound is all about is sensorial branding, or sound branding. Could you explain what this means and what you do?

At the beginning we were a sound design & strategy agency. Our current expertise ranges from sonic identity (Thales, Suez, Renault, Michelin), to TV adds (Armani, Hugo Boss, Lancaster, Audi, Remy Martin), and from music design and soundscape for stores (Kenzo worldwide, Newman, Louis Vuitton flagship on Champs Elysees) to sound strategy for brands worldwide (L’Oréal, EDF, Antalis) as well as prospective missions.
After our first successful results, brands came back to us and asked if we could work on a more general approach, including emotional aspects of the brands (an emotional approach).
Our job is to be able to be coherent and translate within the territory of each of the five senses an idea, an impression, an atmosphere or brain values.

Remember one thing: this business is not only about knowledge; it is about ideas and vision.

In that matter, in September 2006 there is going to be a change for STRATEGIC SOUND.
My goal as founder and general manager of STRATEGIC SOUND, is to work more as an international consultant expert than just run a sound agency.
Having worked with the top 20 best French brands, some of them world leaders, my goal is to work with the Top 100 best brands in the world, as a music consultant expert on new territory applications (digital application, mobile phone, etc) as “vision and ideas” are my natural assets.

role_in_life.gif In your mission statement you stress the important role of sound in the (emotional) experience of brands. Could you explain why music has such a direct impact on our emotions and how this relates to how we experience brands?

If I serve you a dish with classical music in the background or the same dish with reggae music in the background, your general feelings about the dish might change, even though it is exactly the same dish!
Sound is not more important or has more impact than the other senses, its impact is just different ….and is frequently badly exploited
For one, you can’t escape sound! Ears have no eyelid and its impact is constant. Therefore, as a brand or a store, you should better pay real attention and care to what you are offering instead of thinking that it’s only “background music” or “elevator music”. It is not ! Starbucks understood that very well.
A brand that understands and masters the physical and psychological properties of music is likely to optimise its marketing goals (loyalty, position, image, perception, etc) and be coherent.

To illustrate:
Physical properties:

  • It represents the emotional language par excellence
  • It is a universal language
  • It is a timeless language
  • It is a language that crosses the generation gap
  • It is a language that speaks to both the reason and the spirit
  • It affects many senses (emotion, physic), not just hearing

Psychological properties:

  • Power of association (with a brand)
  • Power to evoke (a memory or experience)
  • Power to identify (express who I am)
  • Power to segment (e.g. according to age)
  • Power to unite ((ex/ national anthem)

You have done sound branding projects for acclaimed and emotionally appealing brands like Hugo Boss, L’Oreal, Thales, Citroen, Adidas, Audi and Louis Vuitton. Is sound branding something that can be applied to any brand, or does it need to be a brand with a high emotional appeal ?

It is not a question of brands but rather of product categories and a brand’s goals.

There are universes in which the atmosphere, the emotional environment, the perceived values are crucial : cosmetics, luxury goods, luxury hotels or any high status service or good. For that type of universe, music plays a key role in translating a state of mind, an atmosphere, high standards and values. Sophisticated or very emotional music says it all. In fact, most of the time, music is 70% of the message.

Before I sit down with any brand, the only question I ask is : what is your goal ? I will not start to think about strategy (ideas) and music (material) before the goal is clear.

Of course I never use music the same way for different goals. Sometimes it is music, sometimes it is only sound. Twice before, I have recommended complete silence, no sound at all!

For several brands you have created special in store experiences with the use of sound. Could you explain which and how much influence sound or music has on our shopping experience?

Basic application of music does have an impact. Loud and up tempo music is likely to optimize purchases and give the brand a young and hip image. Smooth and delicate music is likely to make you feel really good about this restaurant where you brought your fiancée… but all of these are music marketing clichés and consumers are more intelligent than this.
I am not interested in stores that just need music as an aesthetic parameter, in order to escape silence. They don’t need me, I am too expensive for them, they will find hundreds of others for services.

Each time I have been called was by people who hated their own experience of music in stores or through brands, who wanted something different, or a particular attention to sound.
My latest and demanding mission in that regard, was my work for the biggest luxury store in the world, the LOUIS VUITTON flagship store on the Champs Elysées, in Paris. I proposed an innovative and never done before concept of “sound constellations” which displayed sounds translating subtle blends of music, miscellaneous sounds and voices, as well as melodic and organic tones.
The goal was not to have an impact on sales (Vuitton does not need that), but, coherent to their image of innovation and quality, to do something that has never been done before with subtlety and

What is your approach when you start a project? How do you get to know which sound experience people need to get in touch emotionally with a brand?

I put aside a subjective approach and personal taste, and put myself as the typical consumer or brand prospect . I then think about ideas and what could or should be done ideally, without budget restriction. Than I return to earth and try to mix ideas and a concrete budget.
As I am doing a permanent prospective and monitoring job, I often propose innovative and new applications of recent technology and music, in order for the brand to always have a few steps in advance.
My choice of music or sound comes from a mix of my ideas with my knowledge of consumer sociology and psychology as well as discreet signals of underlying consumer needs. All of this is of course coherent to the brand position and history.

optimise.gifWould you say that sound branding is getting more accepted as a vital element in branding, and do you think this is a result of the increasing focus on people’s experiences?

Amazingly not really ! It will take time.
Music is still considered like something not really important or specifically something that will not get a budget assigned, mostly because of its light “entertainment image”.
Only top brands that can not afford to become N° 2 or loose its advantages, spend time and budget on this with a real strategic approach and a lot of attention. I am sometimes amazed of the difficulty of some of the missions they send me on…but I love challenges !.

Business wise, resistance does not usually come from the brand but from their communication agency (add, marketing, etc). This can be explained by the fact that when you’re coming in with expertise that might jeopardize somebody else’s work, power, position or revenues, you are likely to encounter strong resistance.
Music as a media, as a strategic tool is not that easy to use effectively unlike what you might think. Advertising agencies will continue to use it in a very basic way, mainly for radio and TV adds , as they don’t have this particular knowledge and experience, which is not only about how much you know about music or how hip are you.
It will continue until consumers get fed up with it , which is currently happening with internet, podcasting, wifi, and digital communication.
Could you give us an example of a project or brand that embodies the perfect approach to sound branding?

Starbucks / DIM (France) / Intel / Microsoft (aaah, its Windows opening by Brian Eno!) / Kenzo / Levis / Nestlé

Where do you get your inspiration from?

Art in general, atmospheres from films and natural sounds are permanent sources. Concrete and experimental music is another one. It allows me to go “into the music” in ways that are sometimes unbelievable.

Everybody hears, but who take time to listen nowadays ?!

What’s the next big thing in sound design/ branding? What can we expect to see change in the (near) future?

The biggest changes will come through technology evolution and digital management content. It is already happening. Legal issues have to be solved first though. Technology will disappear, will be transparent and new services to listen to music will emerge. The kind of services that will make you ask yourself : “gee, how could we have lived without it before “!

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