If you walked into Rajeev’s office, you would find an ensemble of some of the finest musicians, composers, sound designers, sound engineers, brand strategists, and even digital technologists. Many of them wear different hats, but their love for music and creativity brings them together.
Rajeev Raja started BrandMusiq, India’s first and only Sonic Branding agency around 8 years ago with the late JS Mani. Today Rajeev and his co-founder Ajit Varma have created sonic identities, the shortest expression of it being a MOGO® or musical logo, for leading brands in India and abroad. Ajit joined the team three years into BrandMusiq’s journey after the untimely demise of JS Mani. He brought in much needed financial discipline to the agency and has been instrumental in its success.
BrandMusiq today is the only dedicated sonic branding agency in Asia, having worked with marquee brands like HDFC Bank, Vistara, Zomato, Master Card, Tata Salt, Myntra, to mention a few. The agency has also recently launched a new division called BrandMusiq XP, focusing on creating sonic experiences for brands. The new division will focus on creating a whole new range of sonic experiences from UI/UX sonic design to creating ambient sound inside brand experiential spaces to creating navigational on-app sonic alerts and notifications. All of which engage with and enhance the customer experience.
When we reached out to Rajeev for this interview, he was more than gracious to give us his valuable time to discuss his journey and perspective on the sonic branding space in Asia. It would be wrong if we didn’t acknowledge that we have learned a lot about sonic branding in the process and the value that it delivers to brands.
1. Tell us more about BrandMusiq; how was the brand conceived?
BrandMusiq was sort of a labor of love between Mani and myself. Mani was the business head at Bates and I was the creative head; that’s where we first met. We struck a great working relationship, and we used to do a lot of stuff around music and creativity. We had live musical performances in the office, and ran lots of workshops on the interaction of music and brands. After that, Mani moved to DDB Mudra, and I followed him. So we were a jodi there also.
This was in 2008. I was National Creative Director, and Mani was President at DDB. I think around 2010; Mani left to pursue his own interests; he was interested in teaching and other such stuff. And though I was busy pursuing my advertising career, music was always a parallel passion. I used to perform regularly as a professional musician. So it came to a point around 2010-11, where I realized that my life passion was music, and being in a senior position, couldn’t spend enough time on it. So in one of our many chats, Mani and I started thinking about how we could monetize our combined passion for music and brands.
The idea popped into our heads that there is a way to elevate music beyond being a mere jingle, where it can take on a much larger role of identity creation. Very much like there are specialised visual identity firms in India and across the world and. So if a brand wants a visual identity, they go to a specialist design agency, and the specialist will then understand the brand, its ethos, its culture; and only then design its logo, color palette, a particular font, etc.
We asked ourselves, can we do the same thing with sound? It is a little more difficult with the sound because, as you know, everybody loves music and listens to music. But each person has different musical tastes. Also, the technicalities of music and the science of music are not something that everybody knows.
Taking this thinking further, Ajit, co-founder and CEO of BrandMusiq, and I worked together to develop a whole system to create a sonic identity, which was really coming together of brand strategy, the science of sound, and the art of music. For example, we know that some ragas, certain scales, harmonies, rhythms, can evoke different moods in people. When you listen, some music makes you happy, another piece of music, another piece of music makes you sad.
So we said if we can map the personality of the brand then match it to this known codified knowledge of music, then we can find a unique musical expression that matches the DNA of the brand.
This was what lead us to creating the term MOGO® or ‘musical logo’. It is our trademark, and has become a part of global lexicon now. More and more brands are using the term MOGO®. We are getting calls from even global brands today, asking if they can have a MOGO® for their brand.
So really, what we do is we create the MOGO® and MOGOSCAPE®, which is like a 90-second master composition for the brand. That reflects the brand’s personality and emotions. We keep it all very intuitive because, at the end of it, it is what the brand wishes to express emotionally using sound. We have created sonic templates that reflect different moods, emotions, and personalities that brands could occupy. That way, we can then create a logical framework by which we can create the sound for the brands. But at the same time, never forgetting that at the end of it, it is an emotional connection that we want; therefore, the musical expression of the science is also equally important.
2. How difficult is it to arrive at the sonic mood board? What challenges have you faced when working with clients?
I think being inside of the advertising world helped. That’s really a key differentiator for BrandMusiq. That we have worked very closely on the inside with local and global brands and have understood the processes, so we can speak in marketing language to brand owners. On the other hand we also have real experience in music from performance to production. This combination makes us unique.
In advertising, we have often faced situations where the film was approved, but the music was not. The client was not able to put a finger on what was wrong with the music. The client will often say:“I don’t know; it’s not touching me or isme punch nahi hai.”That isn’t helpful to the music director who is going to react to that brief.
Therefore, we built it in a process; the first stage is something that we refer to as Brand Discovery, which is really about analyzing the brand’s DNA—understanding the personality and emotional essence of the brand. Which is structured like a 2-3 hour collaborative, interactive kind of session.
Once the brand discovery stage is complete, we take two-three weeks, and then we float the brief out to a panel of music directors, whose sensibilities will fit this particular brand. Once we get our feedback from the sonic moodboards session, we move on to creating the actual MOGO® and MOGOSCAPE®.
3. When do you know that the MOGO or MOGOSCAPE is working? Is there any screening test that you conduct before the final product goes live in the market?
As I said, we have broadly divided brands into different personalities using a bit of psychology. So there are certain personality types and certain emotions that the brand stands for. Now we know through the history of music and sound that music also expresses these personality types in various ways.
So this becomes our guideline, and defines our approach to creating the MOGOSCAPE® and MOGO®.
4. How is creating sound for a brand different from creating sound for a product? Tell us a bit more about your experience working on the Zomato?
Well, it is not different because everything is ‘brand first’. After we create the sound of the brand, we have to map the brand’s ‘earpoints.’ Compared to touchpoints where your brand is seen, sonic is all about ‘earpoints’ where your brand can be heard. When we do ear point mapping, then we look at product design, UI, UX; all of that becomes a particular type of ear point. There could be other types of ear points across digital content, an event where you need ambient sound, or an award show where you want a more grand version of the MOGO®, etc
So the app itself is just one of the ear points at Zomato, we came up with an innovative idea where we said, can we track the rider’s movement using sound—thereby providing alerts to the consumer to punctuate the delivery cycle.
5. Why aren’t their many dedicated sonic branding agencies in India? Do you think there is a larger awareness among brands in the market now regarding sonic branding?
I will answer your second question first; there is certainly a broader awareness that has also been fuelled by the current circumstances, which have made it even more critical.
The digital medium is exploding, and there is no way brands can ignore it any longer. Sound has become integral to the digital experience. Brands recognize that sound is just like your visual identity. Just like you have a consistent visual identity across touchpoints, you need a sonic identity across ear points.
The second thing that is happening is that brands realize that it is not about communicating what they are all about via traditional advertising methods but about creating brand experiences. Consumers today are a little cynical about mainstream advertising; they consider it an intrusion in their digital interactions.
Brands are today creating experiences using content. Sound plays a very crucial role in the content developed. For example, if a brand has a very recognizable MOGO®, then you can even create content without a logo. Then it doesn’t come through as advertising in that sense. It comes across as very interesting content, and you can subtly build your MOGO® into the content for brand presence.
With voice activations rising, on platforms like Alexa, how can your brand make its presence felt on this ‘invisible’ medium? If your brand has a MOGO®, then you can give a purchase reassurance alert using the MOGO® or a Mini-MOGO®. A MOGO® is normally three seconds, while a Mini-MOGO is about 1.5 seconds.
Master Card, for instance, has a mini-MOGO® that you can hear whenever there is a transaction. Whether on Alexa or when the card is swiped in the shop, the MOGO® plays from the POS machine.
Why aren’t their agencies majorly getting into it? Among the reasons I can think of, I believe you need a unique combination of musical knowledge, music creation capabilities, and brand sensibility. That’s not an easy combination to find.
We have been searching for people who fit both those criteria, and it is not easy. We have musicians and brand thinkers. Luckily, I have been able to straddle both fields.
The second reason could be that look it is still early days; they haven’t realized the potential of sonic branding. One day people will wake up, and we will have a lot of them. But right now, BrandMusiq is the only sonic branding agency in Asia.
6. How did you get into advertising? Is this something that you always wanted to do?
When I finished college, I stumbled into advertising because my history lecturer told me you seem to be an all-round creative guy – you play music, do theatre, skits, and write well, so why don’t you go and meet a friend of mine in Bengaluru who runs an advertising agency.
That’s where I got into advertising, and thank God for it because I don’t think I would have been employable for anything else other than being a musician. I was lucky that I got into the creative aspect of advertising, and I could keep my music going as a parallel career right through my advertising career.
7. What qualities do you look for in potential hires, and if a marketing professional wants to better understand sonic branding, what resources would you recommend?
I look for people who are passionate about music; it is not necessary that the person has to be a musician, but the person needs to love music. The person also needs to have some understanding of brands. The meeting of music and brands is what we look for. Our team is now instinctively able to understand brands and transform that into musical expressions.