Sonic branding: How Mastercard cut through the noise by creating its own sound

Speaking at Marketing’s virtual content 360 conference, chief marketing and communications officer Raja Rajamannar shared how Mastercard innovated its marketing strategy by tapping on one of the lesser established forms of marketing – voice marketing – and created an audio branding to engage with its consumers.

Spending nearly two years on what the company called its “sonic brand architecture”, Mastercard set out to create a unique melody that represents the brand in a sound form. This comes as the company finds it important to insert itself into the stream of interaction with its customers when it comes to the operating in the medium of voice. According to Rajamannar (pictured), it is not enough to simply being intermediated from streams of conversations and communication that is happening in the medium.

The melody used for an audio branding should be pleasant, memorable, and also neutral so it does not dominate the situation in which consumers hear it from. It should also be simple enough that consumers can hum to, which will make the tune stick in the minds of consumers longer and stronger, said Rajamannar. 

Versatility is also key for a company’s audio branding. Mastercard looked to make its melody relevant to consumers no matter where they hear it at. “Whether it was in a football match or whether it was at an opera, it has to feel at home in both these extreme settings,” Rajamannar said, adding that the team wanted the versatility to go beyond situations and across geographical locations as well. The company wanted the melody to feel native, whether their consumers are playing it in Dubai, Bogotá, South Africa or Asia.

To ensure its audio branding remains relevant to consumers in different countries, Mastercard created a sonic DNA, which is essentially a set of guidelines that a composer needs when trying to create music for Mastercard. With the DNA, Rajamannar said the team then decentralised the process of creating contextually different melodies, by getting local folks in its different markets to come up with an adaptation of the melody that is consistent with the brand guidelines. As a result, a total of 148 different versions of its original melody was created.

With the melody created, brands also have to ensure the audio branding is well-established among its consumers. To so do, Rajamannar emphasised on the need to create awareness, association, and attribution to the brand. He added that Mastercard is currently looking to create more awareness of its audio branding, and decided to create its own music album. The album will consist of eleven popular songs with subtle hints of the Mastercard melody mixed in them. Rajamannar said it has released its first song, and is looking to launch the album towards the later part of the year.

Creating a multisensory experience

Besides engaging customers’ sense of sound through its audio branding, Mastercard also used experiential content to engage consumers through their sense of taste. The company ventured into the world of culinary, and created dining experiences at unexpected locations such as on top of a billboard at Times Square, in a middle of a baseball field, and even next to a dinosaur skeleton in a museum. This was to create truly memorable experiences for its members.

To take the experiences to a heightened level, Mastercard also launched five restaurants that offer unique experiences and are only open to Mastercard cardholders. Bringing innovative content into its culinary assets, Rajamannar shared how Mastercard made one of its restaurants in Manhattan look exactly like a restaurant located right in the middle of the sea, off the coast of a place called Zanzibar in Tanzania.

“We went [to Zanzibar] and we took immersive pictures of that entire environment,” Rajamannar said, adding that it made sure its restaurant in Manhattan is an exact replica of the original restaurant. “The view from every window is exactly the same as from the original restaurant in Zanzibar,” he said. The restaurant also has a boardwalk and sand, and makes consumers feel like they are on the actual beach as they enter the restaurant.   

mastercard priceless 719 nf 38

mastercard priceless 719 nf 38

Cutting through clutter with simplicity

Rajamannar emphasised on the importance for brands to innovate their consumer engagement strategies. This is especially so in the increasingly saturating marketing scene, with more clutter, competition and technology coming into the industry.

“Marketers have to realise they cannot stick to the same old models and say, 'Let's keep bombarding people with the same ads’, and thinking somehow if they produce better quality of ads, people will suddenly start loving them,” he said.

Brands should also embrace simplicity during this era of information overload. “When there is a data overload, advertising overload, as brands, we have to give simplified solutions. We have to simplify our presentation, and make it minimalistic,” Rajamannar said. He brought up the example of how Mastercard dropped all of its different logos and sub-brands that it had, and concentrated on redesigning its main logo. This was done in 2016, as the company aimed to evolve its brand identity into something simplified, modernised, and optimsed for use in digital contexts.

Keeping the three main elements for its logo: Its name Mastercard, its colours, and its interlocking circles, Mastercard revamped its logo. Its new logo then showed two simple overlapping circles with its name below in small letters. The company subsequently dropped the name “Mastercard” from its logo, turning the two overlapping red and yellow circles into a symbol brand. According to Rajamannar, the redesign garnered positive feedback, and also increased the logo’s visibility because there is more space after the removal of the brand name.

“In reality, the space [occupied by the logo] is increased by approximately 7%. But the visual effect makes it seem like the logo increased by 20%, which is fantastic for us. So there has been a method in the madness, and this has been a breakthrough for us,” he added.

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