Why does Infosys need a sonic identity?

Infosys recently made a media splash about launching its own sonic identity. A sonic identity is nothing but an audio logo of sorts. The basic idea is that you hear a piece of sound or music and you identify the brand behind it.

This is Infosys’s new audio logo:

It does sound nice, in a non-specific way. It’s short and adequately pleasant. I wouldn’t call it catchy or memorable… yet. It’s just nice, for now. To my Indian ears, it sounded Indian, but this is entirely subjective, I reckon.

What does Infosys hope to achieve with this sonic identity? Here are some snapshots from Infosys’s press release:

As a strategic brand asset, the signature Infosys tune will serve to reinforce the company’s core identity and brand purpose – ‘to amplify human potential and create the next opportunity for people, businesses and communities’, when stakeholders interact with the brand. The unique melody, the sonic landscape will be integrated across Infosys’ many platforms used by employees, and across brand assets, ranging from videos to signature events that the company’s clients and the broader community engage with.

“As more of our stakeholders interact with brands through digital channels, and more brands continue to crowd digital spaces, the Infosys tune will serve as an auditory reinforcement of our unique brand identity. It will also help deepen the emotional connection our stakeholders have with Infosys by cueing in the promise of opportunity creation that is integral to our brand purpose,” said Sumit Virmani, EVP and Global Chief Marketing Officer, Infosys. “We aspire for the sound of Infosys to signal and be recognized as the sound of opportunity for all our stakeholders, across markets,” he added.

Source: Infosys

I did roll my eyes while reading, “to amplify human potential” (reminded me of WeWork’s mission, as stated in their IPO filing: “Our mission is to elevate the world’s consciousness”) and “promise of opportunity”. But let me not digress.

About sonic identities/audio logos

Probably the best example of this is Britannia’s ‘Ting Ting Ti-ding’. I wrote about it recently since there is definitely a world-first in the way the brand has evolved the audio logo.

Some of the other famous examples in India include Paytm’s ‘Paytm karo’ tune that plays without the lyrics when you pay using Paytm UPI in any shop.

Google Pay has a similar sound too when you make any payment.

Globally, McDonald’s is known for its audio logo that the brand uses consistently at the end of most consumer-focused communication.

And Netflix has used its audio logo in a masterful ad campaign, thanks to the agency Publicis Italy!

Before Infosys, HCLTech announced the launch of its audio branding (it sounded to me like a combination of Intel and Microsoft Windows’ audio signatures!).

Why sonic branding?

Before I get into why Infosys or HCLTech need sonic branding, allow me to set a larger context.

Branding may include assorted elements that appeal to different senses.

The most common brand element is a logo – a combination of design and color. When we notice a logo, particularly one in which the brand name is not mentioned (like the McDonald’s golden arch, for instance), we common people can recognize and describe it in human terms. So, we say, that bright yellow design that looks like an M, or an arch. Similarly, we see a combination of red and white, and our brain prompts ‘Coca-Cola’. Red, white, and a particular shade of blue? Pepsi.

The point is that design and color can easily be recognized by normal people like you and me.

In the era of print media’s dominance, design and color worked well. In the era of radio’s prominence, jingles worked well. In the era of television’s prominence, the combination of audio-visual elements worked well for branding.

But, now that we don’t have a singular media format dominating our content consumption, brands like Infosys are seemingly trying to include sound as a branding element along with design and color.

Very short pieces of sound are easy to recognize. Like Britannia’s Ting Ting Ti-Ding or Paytm Karo. It’s just the audio/sound equivalent of recognizing a simple combination of red and white as Coca-Cola. It’s the link back to the brand.

But why should people link the brand element back to the brand? For what purpose?

If you recognize red and white as Coca-Cola, the basic expectation is that you may feel inclined to consume the product. Ditto with red and yellow leading you towards a possible craving for McDonald’s. The Paytm Karo sound? It is expected to remind you to try using Paytm instead of PhonePe or Google Pay. Or, at the very least, help you to remember the ubiquity of Paytm as a financial services brand, and potentially consider their other products or services that you haven’t yet bought into.

Now, play the audio logos of Infosys and/or HCLTech and try to imagine if you would be able to recognize the sound if you heard it, say, in an airport, and link it back to the brand.

This is, of course, a function of how much you are exposed to those audio logos. And this is a larger point – as an end-user (consumer user), how often are you likely to be exposed to the audio logos of Infosys or HCLTech?

B2C vs. B2B

The crucial difference between HCLTech and Infosys on one side vs. Britannia, Google Pay, Paytm, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, etc., on the other side is that the former are business-to-business (B2B) brands while the latter are business-to-consumer (B2C) brands.

The most elementary way to define the difference between B2B and B2C?
B2C – anyone and everyone could be potential buyers/decision-makers of purchase.
B2B – a select few people could be the potential buyers/decision-makers of purchase.

So, if you recognize the Infosys or HCLTech audio logo when it is playing somewhere (say, a TV ad, perhaps?), what purpose does it serve? This is the first ‘So what?’ in response to ‘Infosys now has an audio logo’.

You could say: “That I recognize Infosys or HCLTech merely by sound is a great marker of effective branding, right?”.

Fair enough. But effective branding towards what? So, let us ask a second ‘So what?’: So what if you were able to recognize HCLTech or Infosys merely by sound?

For most normal people/end-users, the branding stops here. We end users cannot buy anything from Infosys or HCLTech.

But what about the people who may be decision influencers or decision makers for Infosys’s services? The decision influencers could be 2-3 levels before the C-level, while the decision makers could be from the C-level itself. I’m reasonably sure that Infosys would add the sonic branding at the beginning or end of all corporate/technical videos that they share on their website (or on YouTube) with the same rigor as adding their logo.

So these people recognize the Infosys sonic identity just like they see and recognize the logo and recall Infosys. So what? How material is a sonic identity/audio logo in enabling their decision-making process?

In B2C scenarios, the basic idea is that the more we think of, recognize, and remember a brand, the more we are likely to eventually become its consumers at some point. That’s not how the B2B buying process works. Even if we do our own research into which burger to eat or which biscuit to buy, B2C is primarily about impulse. And the audio cue builds on the impulse. The B2B buying process is not based on impulse even though the people who recommend the B2B product or service within a client organization, and the people who sign the cheque are still very human, with the same impulses that they otherwise reserve for B2C products.

To be fair, even B2B services/products were bought on impulse a few decades ago. There is a famous phrase, “No one gets fired for buying IBM“! This was meant to imply that since IBM is a really, really large company, it was a safe choice when a company is spending a lot of money on buying some complex service or product. But this phrase is laughed at, these days.

There are no impulse purchases in B2B anymore and there is no need for B2B brands to appeal to the impulse either. But, of course, B2B buyers are human too and beyond all the formal presentations, jargon, and meetings, the final decisions may still depend on the human connection between the salesperson and the decision maker. The audio logo, however, has no role in this, as far as I can see.

Other types of audiences?

However, there are other types of audiences that HCLTech and Infosys are going after – this is what they call ‘stakeholders’ in communications jargon: employees, investors, and society-at-large for their philanthropic/social activities.

Take employees, for instance: if Infosys plays this audio logo a LOT inside its campuses, before or after every presentation, during town hall meetings, during company events, among other possible occasions, it still plays to an audience that is already a convert (from buying into the Infosys brand perspective). They are already employees. At best, the more they hear this sound, the more they may mentally tune out this sound.

If you take HCLTech’s or Infosys’s philanthropic activities where this audio logo is played, people completely unrelated to the brand could possibly associate it with some societal good. But, for that to happen, these brands need to ensure that a large enough set of people (unrelated to the brand) are first able to recognize the sound as belonging to that particular brand.

The all-important media budget

The reason why we instantly recognize ‘Ting Ting Ti-Ding’ as ‘Britannia’ is not because it is catchy (which it surely is, however brief the sound is). It is primarily because the sound is relentlessly pounded on our senses through extensive use of media budgets. Naturally, Britannia being a B2C brand, spends a LOT of money to showcase its B2C products, on all kinds of media. The audio logo is a beneficiary of that spending.

Or, consider another set of audiences: potential employees.

Could Infosys play this sound in its college campus presentations and campus hiring/interview sessions? Or, actively add the sound to all its online videos intended for potential employees/recruits? But once again, those potential employees would,
a. need to identify this sound as uniquely belonging to Infosys (like they do far more easily with a logo that literally spells the company name)
b. need to consider more than just the sound because the kind of decision they are making is not the kind they would with a B2C product (from this perspective, potential employees are making a B2B’ish decision)

The crux:

It all boils down to 2 basic things.

One, B2C companies spend an inordinate amount of money marketing all kinds of brand elements, including the audio logo, if they have one. But B2B companies do less mass-market advertising of the relentlessly repetitive variety and more targeted advertising and events because they need to—and can—target the much smaller set of decision makers and decision influencers who would end up buying/deciding on their products and services. It is simply a more effective way to spend the marketing budget.

Two, B2C companies essentially use brand elements to constantly be in front of the entire world because the world is their potential buyer set. An audio logo is part of that brand elements arsenal. The more of the world they convert, the better for business results. However, B2B companies use brand elements in a vastly different manner. The total number of people they need to convert is a much smaller subset of what B2C companies go after, and hence their marketing is decidedly more targeted and focused. Because of this basic difference, audio logos for B2B brands would tend to matter less and travel far lesser amongst the already smaller audience base, whether clients (potential or existing) or employees (potential or existing).

But what about the exceptions?

Still, you may argue about IBM (and this is not about audio branding, per se) splashing its branding during Wimbledon, for example. Why would a B2B company need to visibly associate itself with a sporting event?

But observe what IBM does with and during Wimbledon in terms of marketing! They showcase their technical and analytical prowess using data from Wimbledon’s players and games. Who would this impress? Decision makers and decision influencers in large organizations that IBM could convert into clients. And this is a much smaller set of people within the (potential) client organization.

On a related note, I was involved, while at Ogilvy, in a similar project for IBM using the 2015 cricket world cup.

If Infosys sponsors a large sporting event like Wimbledon, for instance, the audio logo could potentially be a neat addition to the branding. But whether key decision makers/influencers in target companies identify the sound as uniquely Infosys or not depends entirely on how much Infosys has pushed it out in other ways to that audience. Otherwise, it may simply seem like generic background music.

In fact, Infosys recently signed up Rafael Nadal and Iga Swiatek as its brand ambassadors. This is a bit along the lines of IBM’s Wimbledon collaboration even though we are yet to see how Infosys uses these sports stars beyond merely tagging them with ‘champions evolve’. For example, Infosys too has a tennis collaboration much like IBM.

The gold standard of B2B sonic branding

Finally, when it comes to B2B audio logos, the gold standard is perhaps Intel. Intel is a decidedly B2B brand, selling to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) like Dell, HP, Acer, etc. So, why do they have such a memorable and recognizable audio logo that consumer users like you and I remember so vividly?

That is because of the genius ‘Intel Inside’ positioning. To ensure that people seek products with Intel processors, they took a B2C’ish positioning to specifically market the so-called soul of a computer – the processor, even though people cannot buy it alone directly. And it is an open secret that Intel spent (and continues to spend) an enormous amount of money co-branding OEM communication – whenever you see the Intel logo along with its sonic identity before or after an OEM’s advertising/video, you can be sure that Intel paid to be a part of a B2C campaign. So, even if Intel is a B2B company, they paid their way through B2C OEM campaigns to ensure people remember the soul of those products.

What would be the Intel-equivalent positioning for Infosys, for instance?

For example, one of the more popular (for even the wrong reasons) work by Infosys that affects millions of people in India is the income tax portal. Or, consider the passport seva kendra software handled by TCS, as another example.

Can Infosys ensure that the income tax portal plays the audio logo in the background when people log in? That would depend on Infosys’s ability to convince (and pay) the government of India for that privilege! This is usually highly unlikely to happen since most B2B clients consider technology vendors merely as back-end partners and not as someone worth willingly publicized to the world (unless the B2B vendor is influential enough or pays adequately for such a position).

So, I believe that audio logos are far more useful and purposeful for B2C brands given that the world is their potential buyer set, and the more they convert, the better.

For B2B brands, I’m not entirely sure if audio logos can be as tangibly useful as they are for B2C brands. It is perhaps a nice-to-have addition to the branding elements arsenal and can definitely generate some amount of PR when launched mainly because of how unusual it is for B2B brands to have a sonic identity.

PS: While reading up on Infosys’s audio branding and views that other media outlets may have on it, I stumbled on an incredibly acerbic point of view 🙂 And you know what was even more abrasive than that one? The comments under that story!!