Discussing sonic branding with the Global CMO of amp - #GettingToKnow

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The story of amp Global CMO Uli Reese would sound incredibly inspiring to any musician out there.

Forged by the scorching flames of TV composition in Hollywood, Uli entered the industry as a music composer and has found his own way through the music sector by exploring countless different fields – always seeking for the next "truly creative" thing. He found it in sonic branding. And later, in the power to change the sonic brandscape and the way audio branding is conceived in the creative industry, as the Global CMO of sonic branding agency amp.

Today we are Getting to Know an inspiring professional, a marvellous storyteller and an incredibly caring leader from the sonic branding scene.


Tell us a bit about your role! What is one typical day like?

I am co-owner, partner, and Global CMO at leading sonic branding agency amp. Currently, I’m working on a book project called 101 Great Minds, which involves interviewing other CMO’s and marketing leaders from around the world. It’s a mammoth project. Before an interview even takes place, there are multiple steps to put in motion. I have several alignment calls a week to get the strategy for the interview in hand. 

As the book is in the process of being released, my day involves multiple catch-up calls, to keep the 100 or so people who have taken part updated. It’s fantastic to speak to them all again, as this is a project that goes back four or five years now. Beyond that, there’s plenty of questions to be answered, checking lists, proofing interviews, all to make sure that the book goes ahead as planned. 

What was the biggest challenge in getting to your current position? 

In my 20s, I worked as a conductor and Television composer in Hollywood. When I was 40, I thought, ‘that’s it.’ I want to do something genuinely creative. Making TV music in Hollywood is anything but creative; the episodes need to sound the same, it is mainly rearranging what is already there. So, I decided to give song-writing a shot.

I signed a long-term major publishing deal, upped-sticks, and moved to Nashville, Tennessee - where the level of copyright-development for hit songs is simply intimidating - and realised I sucked at it. Here I was in the song-writing capital of the world, having moved away from my previous life, having bought a new house and realising that this role wasn’t suitable for me after all.

I didn’t know where to go from there. I couldn’t go back to composing TV commercials, it didn’t feel authentic and I wasn’t there mentally. I started to look for something new, and that new thing was sonic branding. And, of course, eventually, my current position. 

Before I found sonic branding my gut feel was, I’m way out of my career in my mid-50s, unsure of what to do next. I had no idea that I would become part of something that is growing so rapidly. Sonic branding is like a tsunami now, there aren’t enough companies out there who can deliver what Fortune 500 companies want.

What is your personal background and what role did it play in your career?

When I was younger, I actually wanted to become a tennis pro. I was pretty good as well; I was even ranked in Germany. At sixteen, I played against a twelve-year-old in a tournament, who played two categories up for some reason. I lost 6-4, 6-3. I was so disillusioned that I had been beaten by a twelve-year-old that my choice turning to music as a career was relatively easy. I found out five years later that that twelve-year-old boy would go on to be the youngest Wimbledon winner ever, Boris Becker. 

Some years later, at 21, I shared that story with Ron Jones, the composer of Star Trek: “The Next Generation”.  He had been guest speaking at my school in LA; I offered to carry his bags back to his car for him, and he loved that anecdote. Long story short, I started working on Star Trek: “The Next Generation” two or three weeks later, my first job in my music career. 

What is your biggest career-related win? What is your biggest loss? 

One of my biggest wins was meeting Ron Jones, as it got me started in my music career, and it taught me a valuable lesson. That is, to grab the opportunity and to be diligent. If I hadn’t intuitively offered to take his bags for him, the path to my current role would have been very different. I understood that I would have five minutes with him to pitch myself. I think that the “you get what you take” mindset is crucial. Life can be unfair, so learning that lesson is a facet of long-term success. 

I also have to mention our team at amp winning the pitch to work on the sonic identity for Mastercard and Mercedes-Benz. Both are iconic brands that I hugely admire; being trusted with their sonic branding is unbelievable. 

Losses are more difficult to pinpoint for me because I see them as more of an opportunity. At the time, it hurts like crazy, but a loss usually leads to something better, if not just a little different. I wouldn’t be where I am without them. Thinking back to my hope of being a tennis pro. I felt so disillusioned when I was beaten, but that twelve-year-old saved me from continuing in that sport when my real calling was music. Actually, it freed me. 

What is one top marketing tip you learned on the job? 

To be authentic.

What I call the ‘sonic selfie’ or brands who sway to public opinion and fleeting fads because they think it will make them look cool to consumers. That’s the past, and Gen Z or even Alpha can detect inauthenticity from a mile away. They want brands who are clear about what they stand for and are uncompromising in their conviction. One of my interviewees for 101 Great Minds, Ivy Ross, Vice President of Design at Google said: “If you don’t have confidence in yourself to figure out what that sonic watermark is, it’s much easier to grab something that will make you popular like a hit tune or a pop star, but it doesn’t last over time because culture changes.”

Young consumers don’t necessarily care what is universally cool. They want “real,” not “perfect and packaged.” Many marketers see this as a nightmare because it makes them a more difficult audience to grab. But it’s entirely do-able, as long as you’re authentic. The customer might not like what you do, the way you sound, but they’ll respect you more for not being a flag in the wind. 

Which individuals and/or brands do you gain inspiration from? Do you have any heroes in the industry? 

For me, my heroes will always be the true innovators. The first person to inspire me was Hans Zimmer; he completely changed Hollywood through innovation. He doesn’t know how to write music, but he’s an incredible programmer. 

All other composers at the time would turn up and ask directors to trust in their piece and believe it would work across the show by playing the themes on a piano. Using technology, Hans Zimmer could emulate a whole orchestra and write an entire suite of music. All played through computers. For directors, this was an incredible feat, as they could finally get a real sense of how that piece of music would work in action. He changed the whole industry by using tech and envisioning a better and therefore, more convincing way to present an idea.

How has COVID-19 affected you? 

When the pandemic first hit, I had a massive fear that we’d have to let people go or lose team members. In some ways, as a business at least, we’ve been fortunate that Covid has accelerated technologies such as smart speakers, apps and digital service interfaces. It’s a shift that was always coming, but it brought with it a realisation around how vital sound is in brand communication, especially without a physical presence in meetings. We were able to keep busy and actually grow our team. As is the case with everyone, it hasn’t been without its challenges, but we recognise we’re in a lucky position to have escaped such a terrible time reasonably unscathed.

What is your biggest hope for your brand in 2021?

One of the things I enjoy the most about working at amp is seeing the main part of our workforce, most of which are in their mid-20s to 30s, work incredibly hard because they feel as though they’re part of something bigger. Building a sonic identity for brands like Mastercard or Mercedes Benz is like creating a piece of pop culture. You know that those brands aren’t going away, and the sound we create for them will be around for decades to come. I hope that feeling, the sense of purpose and clarity, doesn’t go away for our team. If anything, I hope it grows alongside our team. 

What is your one piece of advice to aspiring marketers?

To be bold. Get comfortable being uncomfortable. Getting a door shut in your nose and your nose bleeding. The phone calls, emails, and meetings that get you somewhere in your life are often the uncomfortable ones.

For example, when I first started working in this industry, I knew that public speaking would be a part of my career, and if I didn’t do it, I wouldn’t have that specific career. The first time I got on a stage at Cannes Lions was terrifying, but ultimately, I knew that I needed to do it to be taken seriously by my peers and clients.

We are often our own worst demons. You need to be ready to make a fool of yourself, and you’ll definitely, at some point, need to be prepared for rejection. It’s worth it in the end, and it’s all part of the journey.

How do you recharge away from the office? 

I became a father four years ago and then again two years ago. Those two guys are magic. When I’m not working, I get to hang out with them, and that’s how I recharge. It’s not that it’s not exhausting, it’s very physical, but what you get back is tremendous. 

What’s your one big dream for the future of brands? 

That brands continue to recognize the power of sonic and the vast opportunities it can give. The power of sound goes beyond its critical role as a tool in a world with less visual real estate. It can enhance experiences and connect with our feelings to evoke authentic emotion and trust in the brand itself. We’ve already seen considerable advancements in the sonic branding space in the last year alone, it’s exciting to see what will come in the next year and the one after that. I’d expect to see all brands strategically tapping into sonic branding in the near future. 

Do you have any websites, books or resources you would recommend? 

Raja Rajamannar, CMO at Mastercard, recently published a book called Quantum Marketing: Mastering the New Marketing Mindset for Tomorrow’s Consumers. I would highly recommend it to any marketeer interested in a unique look at the sector overall. Particularly for insights on navigating a rapidly changing modern business world.

If you are interested in learning more about sonic branding, I suggest checking out amp’s LinkedIn page and website which is a gold-mine of knowledge and thought-leadership. We frequently post our thoughts on the latest developments in the industry. Similarly, our book 101 Great Minds, for the benefit of all the fantastic thought leaders in there. There are some candid conversations to be found about the “Golden age of Audio” that might just change your thinking on the world of music, brands, and behavior.


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