“All news music doesn’t have to have trumpets and trombones, and all trains don’t have to just ring, you know, or honk. And all appliances shouldn’t always sound like ‘beep beep beep,’ you know, chip sounds instead of having a tune that would make people remember them better and maybe like them better.” — Colleen Fahey
This week’s guest is a creative executive with deep experience in branding and marketing at multiple touchpoints. When she learned of Sixième Son, a sonic branding agency that had created over four hundred brands, she approached them about expanding to North America. She opened a sonic branding agency in Chicago at the end of 2012 and, in 2017, co-authored the book Audio Branding: Using Sound to Build Your Brand. Since those days, her team has led Sixième Son’s sonic branding initiatives for Atlanta, Michelin, Huggies, Merrell Footwear, USAA Insurance, Sparkling Ice drinks, a hospital, a news network, an AIDS treatment, and many more. The North American business now operates out of New York, Toronto, and Cleveland, as well as Chicago. Throughout her career, she’s been a creative director for leading brands in the US, Europe, Latin America, and Asia. Raised in Madrid, she speaks fluent Spanish, conversational French, and a courageous-but-embarrassing Portuguese.
Her name is Colleen Fahey, and if you’ve always wanted to ask questions about audio branding from one of the oldest premier companies in the business, you’ll want to hear this interview. I have no doubt Colleen will blow our minds with her observations about the audio branding landscape.
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An Elegant Idea
The episode begins with Colleen’s earliest memories of sound: she tells us about leaving the U.S. at the age of four to live in Spain, and how the sound of the ocean liner’s horn as they departed literally shook her from head to toe. “It somehow also got into my psyche too,” she tells us, “because it was almost like a book had closed with that sound.” We then talk about a pivotal moment in 2011 when she first learned about sonic branding, as she attended the Audio Branding Congress at Columbia University. “I was struck by how elegant the idea was that these people were so excited about,” Colleen explains, “how elegant the idea of having a sound that repped the brand from every angle.”
The Value of Your Brand
Next Colleen tells us about writing her first book, and the importance of, as she puts it, “an audio brand that fits your brand, that communicates your values, that gets attention and really becomes a brand asset that lasts for years.” We talk about the power of early audio marketing in transforming Hawaii from a little-known territory into a tourist destination, and about avoiding the cliches and sonic codes that commercials have created. “A brand needs to stand out,” she says, “be recognized and differentiate, and the music has to help you differentiate in a way that’s appropriate to the value of the brand.”
Using Your Ears
We go on to talk about mood boards, what exactly they are, and how they helped inspire her team at Sixième Son while creating a sonic brand for Atlanta’s tourism board. “The music,” she recalls about one brainstorming session, “instead of coming together, was layered. Everyone sounded good, but they didn’t sound like they were all playing the same thing, and that was just a big a-ha moment.” There’s inspiration all around us, she explains, and she tells us about the importance of listening for it and keeping our ears open. “I’m talking about people having to really sit and use their ears,” she says. “Everyone loves doing it, and they’re amazed at how exhausted they are at the end.”
Hearing Without Listening
“The thing that an audio brand can do,” Colleen tells us, “is access people at a very immediate level, and almost without their knowing that they’re being influenced.” We talk about audio cues and sonic logos that have become an almost invisible part of our lives, and how brands have replaced intrusive advertising with a more subtle and widespread presence. As we close the first half of our interview, we talk about how classic audio brands like the State Farm jingle are changing with the times. “They kept the basic structure,” she says, “but they kept evolving it as the brand took on new meanings.”
- Colleen’s first bittersweet experience with the power of sound
- How Colleen brought Sixième Son’s sonic branding strategy to the U.S.
- The power of sonic branding to create a unique and lasting impression
- Mood boards and the process of creating an audio brand kit
- Audio branding’s ability to reach the consumer on an unconscious level
Tune in next week for the second half of the interview as we talk about some of Colleen’s most innovative uses of sound, how smaller companies can still take advantage of audio branding, and what direction she sees sonic branding evolving, particularly when it comes to technology.
Connect with the Guest
Connect with Colleen Fahey on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/colleenfahey/
Follow Colleen Fahey on Twitter: https://twitter.com/SixiemeSon/
Get your complimentary mini e-book and learn how to create your personalized and branded audio branding strategy with my Top Five Tips for Implementing an Intentional Audio Strategy.
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This interview episode was very skillfully made to sound beautiful by the talented Humberto Franco.