What's Working in Marketing™: The Future of Audio and What It Means for Brands with Shez Mehra, CMO at Audio Branding
What's Working in Marketing™ is a podcast where we uncover what’s working across the digital landscape by tapping into the world’s best data-backed research and through candid conversations with industry experts. Join us if you're ready to learn what's working when it comes to your marketing efforts.
On this episode we spoke with Shez Mehra, Partner and CMO at Audio Branding, an audio-first consultancy that specializes in building affinity through the strategic and intentional use of sound. Shez explains how sound is currently used in the world of marketing and branding. We dive into building a sonic identity and look at examples of how that's being done well on a global level. Integrating your brand's sound across digital, experiential, and all the extra points throughout a customer journey map can be extremely tricky, but Shez explains why it's a crucial exercise for brands that want to strive to create the best experience. Do you know what your brand sounds like?
Here's a full transcript of our conversation with Shez:
Charlie Grinnell: Welcome to What's Working in Marketing, a podcast for marketers that uncovers what's working across the digital landscape by tapping into the world's best data-backed research and through candid conversations with industry experts. I'm your host, Charlie Grinnell. All right. On this episode, I'm joined by Shez Mehra partner and CMO at Audio Branding. Shez, thank you so much for joining me.
Shez Mehra: Oh, it's my pleasure. Thanks so much for having me. Excited to be here today.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah, likewise, this conversation's going to be an interesting one. I feel like audio has been a hot topic. So, before we dive into that, I always go back to the beginning with all of our guests. So, could you just start at the very beginning, how you got into marketing, how you got the focus onto audio and how it took you down that path?
Shez Mehra: Sure. I'll do my best to give you the Coles Notes. I was that kid banging on pots and pans pretending to be in a band when I was three or four years old around the house. I've always had this fascination with music and thus sound. I would press my ear up against the physical stereo and radio in our house, imagining that band inside those speakers and how that sound came out. I was just enamored by this concept of music and sound. Then throughout grade school, I was that kid at the side of the stage watching the DJ play the songs at the school dance and so forth.
Shez Mehra: And then about nine or 10 years old, I had heard, I think it was a Mix Master Mike or Beastie Boys record, maybe it was DJ Premier. I just heard scratching for the first time. And I thought it was the coolest sound in the world. And I fell deep into this rabbit hole of Turntablism and hip hop culture, specifically DJing. I treated myself to my first pair of turntables on my 15th birthday, started collecting all kinds of vinyl, all types of genres across decades, and really just spent all of my free time playing with records and trying to manipulate them and make something new out of preexisting music. That hobby then ended up turning into a full-time career throughout university and so forth.
Shez Mehra: I found myself playing all ages nightclubs initially across Toronto. That led into 19-plus clubs across Toronto when I was actually underage. So, I couldn't legally attend the parties I was DJing. Before I had a license, my mom would drop me off and pick me up at these nightclubs downtown, which was pretty funny. But I digress. After that, DJing continued throughout university. I started traveling the world and it was a full-time career. I was finding myself all over the States, Canada and these global events, nightclubs, and corporate events being the person controlling the energy within those spaces via music and DJing these parties.
Shez Mehra: I did that for a number of years full time. And I eventually decided I was tired of always being up in the air and I wanted something different. So, I utilized the connections I had made globally through my own DJ career and put them to work by starting really an entertainment agency at the time. That's how it began at least. I started booking talent all over the world. Then that led to getting involved with the marketing space formally through experiential marketing.
Shez Mehra: We would be the partner, the entertainment partner on several of these brand activations and corporate events and product launches on behalf of brands and often their agencies of record. So, that's really how one thing led to another in terms of my journey through sound and music and my introduction, formal introduction into the marketing world. During that time, I started asking these brands and their agencies if they really thought about and knew what their brand sounded like beyond that one-off activation or that one-off event, more of a holistic approach as to, "Well, how do you sound when you show up on these channels or these platforms? Or what does it sound like when someone calls you or interacts with your app or your product?" And I didn't really get the answer that I thought was so blatantly clear in my own head and that's how it all kind of came to be for me.
Shez Mehra: I was in those situations myself, globally, looking at human beings reacting to what I was doing and noticed I had this tremendous power and governance over their emotions and their psychology and even their physical reactions in those settings I was in with them. And then I thought that was an interesting insight to transition and apply to the marketing world. Because everyone was speaking about branded experiences and multi-sensorial marketing and all of these things that should have sound baked into them strategically and mindfully, and yet they just weren't. So, that was how this all sort of came to be in terms of how I landed here.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. I'm so fascinated, because I feel like hearing that story or hearing your story of, "Got my start as a DJ playing shows." A lot of people will be like, "And now I'm on the railroad track, so to speak, and off I go down that kind of line." Right? So, it's really interesting to hear how you transition that into marketing and then almost the curiosity or your own curiosity of just asking agencies or people on the brand side how does sound show up. Do you think that came from that childhood thing? I'm trying to put that together is like why did your brain go down that path? Because I think that having my background, I've done a lot of work in the music space and there aren't a lot of people that think like that. So, I'm just curious as to like, was there a business influence to you from an early age? Was there something your parents? I just find that fascinating.
Shez Mehra: I've always sort of had an entrepreneurial mindset since I was a young kid and I've always had one foot in the world of music and the other in the corporate world. What I mean by that is even when I was in university, trying to find a venue for myself to DJ and give myself a forum to play my own music, I realized no one was giving me the time of day or energy. So, I took it upon myself to cultivate that opportunity for me. And in doing so, is when I learned how to deal with my professors and negotiate when I would write an exam or defer an exam. I put together a street team of kids to flyer all the lecture halls and residences and did mass email marketing.
Shez Mehra: So, I was doing all of these things that, I guess, traditional agencies back then were doing in terms of XM or guerrilla marketing or out of home, whatever you want to call it formally. I was just doing that because I wanted a place to play my music. So, I've always sort of looked for the answers in whatever it was I was trying to solve or the questions that were in my own mind and really the DJ perspective, for me, especially globally, when sometimes my audiences didn't even speak the language of the music I was playing. I thought that was really interesting that I was able to cut through without saying anything and letting sound and sound alone be the caveat that would influence people.
Shez Mehra: Again, with the brands and the marketers and all of the money they are really putting behind their message to try and drive home this message and cut through to human beings and resonate with them and make this emotional connection and so forth to really build brand affinity and hopefully get people to buy their product or service at the end of the day. They weren't considering how powerful sound is and could be for them.
Shez Mehra: That was the question in my mind. It was like, "Why not?" Again, it was very clear in my own mind, but it was an uphill battle, to be honest, to take it from a post conversation where everything had already been done in terms of strategy and creative direction and production, and even the plan media by, and usually it was like, "Okay, now we need to think about sound or send this to a music house or a post house or whatever." And I thought that was a huge misstep. And I thought there was a lot of possibility to uncover if we moved sound from a post-conversation to a pre-conversation and put it at the top of the strategy and planning phase often before the creative brief was even written for an agency partner.
Shez Mehra: That's what I really started pushing back and sort of poking the bear on in terms of the brands and agencies and challenging the way they think about sound and oftentimes music. But the conversation was bigger than just music. And I think that's the thing here is when we started doing this, everyone assumed this is a music conversation. Until we started illustrating that, "Well, no, audio can be used in differentiated ways across even mundane and boring things that you are already doing, like buying display advertising," or whatever the ad dollars were going towards. And yeah, once we started having those conversations, my team and I, the light bulb started going off for marketers and brand teams and even ACC suite. And I think these days, especially with how technology governs all of our lives, it's really more important than ever because people are looking less and they're overstimulated visually, but we can't shut off our ears, we don't have ear lids, we can't close our ears. So, that's what we're focused on.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. Super, super interesting. And I kind of want to maybe talk a little bit about just the state of audio and marketing and kind of business and how this all kind of in interplays together. I think, historically in marketing it's like, okay, music aside, that's kind of been the obvious one, but you've seen brands typically activate like, "Oh, we have a Spotify playlist or an Apple playlist, or we've gone through this podcasting revolution now." Where podcasting is blowing up. But you've mentioned other applications, whether it's in display ads or retail spaces, obviously events, there's so many different ways that sound can come to life. I think probably just getting an understanding of where are we at in this journey of audio as it relates to marketing in the different areas?
Shez Mehra: Yeah. It's a really interesting time because everything has changed, but at the same time nothing has changed. What I mean by that is the human experience, if you zoom out for a second, really just take stock of how we live our lives. We all sort of aspire for the same things. We want to avoid conflict. We want to sort of keep our stress and cortisol levels down. We all want excitement and to feel happy. We love that shot of dopamine. So nothing has changed really in terms of all of those basic human attributes and instincts. Now, if we take those into consideration, when someone interacts with our brand, even if it's the most boring of things. Like, if I call a company's phone number to complain with their customer service department, because I'm so frustrated that I've gone beyond the digital complaint and the chat bot and the emails, and I'm to the point where I'm now actually calling you, who picks up the phone and calls anyone anymore? But that's how frustrated I am, that I'm actually bothering to do this.
Shez Mehra: Even in that journey, sound is an afterthought. Usually people are playing the same hold music for 40 minutes at a time. It's this loop that is repeating. Every few moments this voiceover comes on saying that, "We value you and thank you for your patronage and blah, blah, blah." Then they go back to slowly torturing you. So, we really uncover every aspect that someone is interacting with the brand in the fun, cool and sexy ways, like the big experiential campaigns and brand partnerships and that stuff, but also the really boring details of product sounds and on hold music. Once you take a holistic approach as to all of these different things, you realize that, wow, there's so many points of interaction that a human being has in terms of their "brand experience."
Shez Mehra: Then, so we look for ways to solve for making a better brand experience through audio, and what might those solutions mean? And you can't paint everyone or every brand the same color, and some people might need something, whereas others don't. But when you really start digging, you realize, okay, this brand has a retail component. They obviously have a digital spend. They're spending on TV, radio, and they're doing TikTok challenges and you can call them, they have an app, you can interact with the app, they partner with celebrities and brands, and they're doing all of this stuff.
Shez Mehra: So, if we can now boil that down to a strategy in terms of an audio strategy or sonic identity that can be weaved in, but flexible enough to be applied to all of these different places of interaction, but actually stand for something in the same way that that brand stands for something or aspires to stand for something they want to be perceived a certain way, regardless of what they're selling. They want people to feel a certain way about that company or that brand. They try and do it through their tone of voice and their colors and their palettes and all of these other rigorous things that they go through to guard that brand rather.
Shez Mehra: What are they doing sonically? Because sound is, even if you don't think about, it is in all of these places. If you walk into a store, there's something playing in the background. If I'm using an app, there's notification sounds. So, this is happening whether you want to deal with it or not. So, that's our approach is like, it's not reinventing the wheel, you are already speaking with people and you're already omitting sounds and audio. And you have to think about whether you want that to be sort of noise that is differentiated and doesn't have a unified tone, or do you want sort of a cohesive strategy and to build a brand voice across channels and platforms and everything you do.
Shez Mehra: That way, once you have that, regardless of what the new channel of tomorrow might be, whether it's TikTok today or something else tomorrow, Clubhouse, brands continue to just jump from thing to thing, whatever the trend is, all of those instances have audio, TikTok is a huge example. The app is useless without audio. That's the whole thing there. So, I'm obviously biased here, but I don't think audio is going away. It's a critical means of communication for the human species and has always been that way, since the beginning of time and evolution, before language and things got complex and even like, yeah, I have young kids and there's a joke, it's like, "When a baby wants your attention, they don't wave at you."
Shez Mehra: If I'm driving, my child is hungry or sleepy, no matter how eloquently they present that to me visually, or they could be in a child genius and draw me a sign and tell me that. Once they're screaming-
Charlie Grinnell: You know.
Shez Mehra: ... I innately know and my attention is there. So, I'm not saying brands need to be screaming at people, but we can all take something from that inside of like, "Huh, what can we be saying to people through sound? Or how can we make people feel through sound, especially subconsciously?" And there's several brands that do that really well. Apple being one of them. They have this sort of ecosystem of brand sounds and product noises and things like that. So, yeah.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. It's funny. The thing that you just said that really resonated with me was this idea of think about how many brands out there work on their brand voice and a huge part of brand voice is sound, yet, in my experience, it rarely-
Shez Mehra: The irony.
Charlie Grinnell: ... it's never been talked about. When people think brand voice, "How does our brand show up? What's the copy we're writing?" That sort of thing. "What's the visuals?" But it's so funny, because voice innately is a sound in most cases. So, that's hilarious, hearing you just say that I was like, "Oh shit." Yeah. That's a massive oversight that many marketers probably aren't thinking about.
Charlie Grinnell: The other one that you just said also and I was going to ask your take on this is, I think, previously, specifically around social, there's a lot of data out there that suggests a lot of people were consuming content on social in silence. So, there's been that data from Facebook and Instagram and that sort of thing. But to your point, TikTok has kind of reinvigorated that because of its roots as musically and sound being that thing that kind of puts it over the top, I guess, anecdotally, what I've noticed now is whenever I'm out and about, and people are heads down on their phone, so many of them have headphones, but specifically AirPods in.
Charlie Grinnell: It's probably because the experience is so much better on TikTok with sounds or with whatever they're doing with sound, whereas previously, when we all weren't wearing AirPods or whatever, headphones, wireless buds on the go, we had to keep things in silent because otherwise you're the person on the bus or on the train where your phone goes off and you're like, "Ah shit." And you turn it. So, that's really interesting too, to see, I would've typically said, "Yeah, audio, a lot of people consume in silence, but I don't have any data to support this." But anecdotally, I think it could be shifting the other way. What do you think.
Shez Mehra: I think you nailed it. I think it's sort of this convergence of technology and how technology is growing and evolving. Then also that generational shift. So, you think about Instagram, when that launched, it was only a visual app. Then they started foraying into reels and videos and IGTV and all of this other stuff, which obviously involved sound. Now it went from sort of a binary means of consuming in terms of only visual consumption to this dual consumption of sound and visuals of hearing something and watching something.
Shez Mehra: Then TikTok just leaned right into that and made the sound component or the audio or music component the main focus. Like you said, the visual component almost became the ancillary sort of point of the app, and they go hand in hand, because people are doing visual things to the sounds. But now those sounds are becoming famous. I think the latest Uber Eats commercial is using one of those famous viral TikTok, oh no songs. And that's the point is like, without saying anything, you can hear something and know right away that, oh no, something bad is going to happen. Or this video is going to lean into here. Without the visual context, you can just listen and sort of know what to expect.
Shez Mehra: So, I think people should be given the choice. I think it's a very noisy world already with a bunch of brands and marketers and humans yelling at you and politics and just everything going on, people are exhausted, they're just mentally tapped out. So, do you want to show up now as the brand that is just yelling more noise into the world? No. But should you at least give people the option to consume things or add to your message through sound or audio? Absolutely. Because, I see so many ads running on Twitter and even like, I'll get a sponsor targeted like IG story ad or something. And if I turn the sound on it, there's nothing there. What a waste of ad spend, right? Imagine how much more engaging that ad could have been if those visuals were supported by sound that laddered up to the brand strategy on that buy and that campaign, or what have you.
Shez Mehra: So, when things like that happen, it just seems silly to me that you are already doing this, was it laziness or was there a strategic means as to why this is muted? Are you showing up as a mute brand to the world? If so, is that a conscious decision? And then if so there, why? Because you're alienating, arguably, people that might be visually impaired now. So, then there's this whole accessibility angle. It's like, well, not everyone can see. So, if you're only giving people the means to read or look at your content, what about all those people that might be customers of yours that are visually impaired or blind? Do you have a strategy to connect with them? Do you have a podcast or some sort of tech that makes your visual content in terms of the copy audible? Like through AI.
Shez Mehra: So, those are the types of things that we look to solve for is like uncovering opportunities for brands that they might even just not be aware of. And it might not be a conscious decision, but it's adversely and negatively affecting them without them knowing it. In my mind, that's the worst of the worst. That's like, if you own a restaurant and someone comes and eats at it and has a shitty experience for some reason, their steak is overcooked or whatever, but they don't leave you a Yelp review. How will you ever know? You'll never be able to fix the problem, because it was never articulated. So, for brands that spend all this money on research and data and Ipsos and this and that. It's like, "Well, we don't even know that we're adversely affecting people. So we can't plan to fix for it, because no one is telling us that." Right?
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah.
Shez Mehra: So, yeah.
Charlie Grinnell: So, you're really plugged into brands who are doing this. You mentioned a little earlier Apple, I think back to my previous life, when I was at Aritzia, we had a music strategy and music was a big part of what we were doing to create retail experiences. And we were using that stuff digitally through playlists and working with DJs and all that sort of stuff. And my background before that at Red Bull Music was a big part of what we were doing. Who else comes to mind in terms of brands that are approaching audio in a great way? Now, not necessarily through a music lens, but just I always find you have so many interesting examples of just, "This brand is doing this thing." I was kind of like, "What?" So, yeah, who are some that you're like, "This brand is doing a great job."
Shez Mehra: I sort of default these days to Mastercard because they've gone so deep and their CMO Raja has gone so deep into actually investing in and getting behind his belief and his notion that sound should be a paramount part of the brand experience through and through and through and through. So, all of those things that I had mentioned and alluded to earlier, they've actually planned for and have deployed. And we're talking like 200-plus countries, billions of consumers, it's a big undertaking to sort of reinvent the wheel or just plan for adding a new wheel. Let's add a fifth wheel to this car that has four wheels that we've always driven on for decades and have built this entire massive global organization on. Now we're going to add something new. It's like, whoa, whoa, wait, what, why, why are we doing this?
Shez Mehra: I don't know the kind of hurdles he had to jump through with his board to get the backing to do this. Because they've spent a lot of money in this space. But it's working out for them, without getting into it, the data is proving that. Again, when you look at it in terms of an investment, now they have assets that live on their P&L that they can use across everything they're doing. So, there's the argument that these assets are being amortized against their ad spend globally on all these different places for years and probably decades to come. I don't think they're going to reinvent the wheel. These are long-term strategic approaches. But they have an audio logo, they have an audio identity. They have distinct sounds for when you tap your Mastercard at a POS terminal. All of these different things. These are now assets that they give their agency and production partners.
Shez Mehra: And anytime Mastercard shows up in market, whether it's sponsoring the US Open or even just the customer calling them or their latest TV spot or whatever the case is, it's like that brand is shining through with their sonic identity. And a lot of times, again, it's subconscious, people might not know or pay attention. But if you do that over and over and over again, it builds, it actually does, it's sort of that Pavlovian effect. You think about like, I grew up on WWF wrestling, back in the day, dating myself here, so under tinker, bright heart.
Shez Mehra: Once you heard that theme music hit, right off the first note, you kind of knew you were excited for that wrestler to come out or that thing to happen, or that TV show to start. Mastercard's really doing the same thing here. They're like, "Oh, Disney has done this forever in kids TV shows. And we know that this is powerful. So, let's actually apply it to brand in the biggest, most meaningful way possible." So, they've really done it properly because they've gone deep.
Shez Mehra: Now you mentioned something else is like, we're moving towards this convergence of worlds with the metaverse now. And how you show up as a brand in that space is not going to be enough. If you think your visual identity and your written copy guidelines are going to be enough to guide you through this new reality, good luck. Because these people in that space with the new headphones and so forth, those are all pre-wired for things like spatial audio and 360 audio and all these different tactical sort of nerdy things. But those become really important components of experience design.
Shez Mehra: Not just sound design, but holistic experience design. Because if I'm going to go to a new shoe drop for Nike in the metaverse and I'm walking towards that lineup or whatever. If now, in the back of my mind, in my back left of my brain or my ears, I hear an artist, I hear a sound, it's going to cause me to physically turn around and look at something else. So now there could be another brand capitalizing on Nike's moment of their drop, but they're pulling people's attention because they have Drake performing on another stage.
Shez Mehra: So, the possibilities are going to get really interesting with how people use sound. So right now we're working with a few automobile companies and I can't say their names, but with one of them, we're specifically working on how their Spotify ads and flight sound and they really want to reinforce safety as the message. So we're doing some really cool things with spatial audio in terms of making people feel very uneasy and then resolving for it at the end with sound of safety. And that drives home the brand message way more clearly than long-form copy of someone reading off of a script. Right?
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah.
Shez Mehra: So we can say and do a lot more through sound design and cohesive sonic strategy than we might be able to do through traditional means, which people are kind of tuning out now. People aren't just waiting for the TV commercial to come on, or when it does, they're back on TikTok or Twitter or IG. They're on their second screen. So, as marketers, I think we're really fighting now for scraps and fighting for attention, nevermind attribution and all this stuff. It's just getting people's eyeballs on the message and on the campaign is a task in and of itself. Then when they're there, how long are they staying for before we lose their eyeballs? And all the planning and strategy and investment is done, to my point, for eyeballs. So, if you plan for something else, either on its own, or as well as the eyeballs, then even though we lose their eyeballs off the screen, whilst they're doing other things, if we can still resonate with them and get the message through, that's a huge opportunity as a marketer.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. Well, one of the things, the Mastercard example is fascinating, because I didn't even really... I was thinking back to, "Okay, what are some iconic sounds?" And I think about within an iPhone, when you send a text message, that sound that happens, or using Apple Pay, there's a specific thing. But I was just like, "Holy crap. Think about how many people, especially with COVID, are tapping their cards now." And when you tap a Mastercard, versus when you tap a Visa, versus when you tap an Amex or an Interac card or whatever, I didn't even think about that. But like-
Shez Mehra: It's a huge moment to own for someone.
Charlie Grinnell: ... that repetition over and over and over again, and you automatically associate that sound with that brand. Fascinating. I literally didn't even think about that until you brought that up.
Shez Mehra: Next time you tap somewhere for a coffee or whatever you buy, just pay attention to that little beep or bloop, regardless of what it sounds like. Because if that sound wasn't there, you wouldn't know that your payment went through and you would, the merchant, and both of you would be looking at one another, there'd be this awkward moment. You'd be looking at the device, you'd be looking at the card and it would cause so much friction. That friction is resolved hundreds of millions of times a day due to this little thing that nobody thinks about. That's like the golden nugget here is like, again, this is nothing new, we're already using it to govern our lives in ways that we don't even really think about. Like when you lock your car door, you're just relying on that sound. You walk away. You're not going back to check if it actually locked. Right?
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah.
Shez Mehra: So, if we take that and then find ways to apply it to brand or building brand across the whole ecosystem of where that brand shows up and lives, those are the questions that we're having with brands and marketing teams is like, let's dig a little bit deeper as to why we're having this audio conversation and what it really means from a long-term strategic holistic point of view. Obviously, there's the tactical solutions on the way and so forth, but we're hyper-focused on really building brand and brand affinity through strategic use of sound. And then those, like you said, Apple's a great example, they don't have an audio logo per se, like McDonald's does, or Netflix does. There's no stinger. But they're notorious for licensing indie music in their spots. And they've broken a lot of artists by doing that. And shout-out to Keys N Krates, friends of mine, their track was used in the latest iPhone unveiling, which is super cool. So happy for them.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah, that's amazing.
Shez Mehra: But yeah, the text message sound when you send it, the locking your iPhone down there for security and safety, the start of your MacBook, that nice harmonious glow that your technology is working, all of those things-
Charlie Grinnell: For example, WALL-E stole that, remember? In the movie WALL-E, the animate movie where when he turns on it's the Mac thing. I remember being, whatever year that came, and I was sitting in the theater and that happened. I was like, "I know that sound, I know exactly what's going on."
Shez Mehra: Right, right. No, it's really interesting when you start digging a bit deeper as to how human beings respond to sound. And how our brains are just hardwired to do. So, as we're being formed in the womb, hearing is our first sense that is developed and it's such a powerful thing. Ironically, as an industry, that prides ourself on communications, it's something we've been largely ignoring. But I think now, again, due to the overload and the overstimulation and technology and just where things are, I think marketers are now being forced to pay attention to a very old concept, because they're losing people to what they've always been doing and they need to find another way to cut through.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. Well, to your point, like it being the most competitive that it's ever been, it sounds like it's something that's been kind of glazed over by brands and also now they're going, "Huh, okay. That's super competitive. What else can we be doing to make sure that we have our bases covered?" And I'm curious to see how that plays out as we enter the metaverse, whatever that actually means. I mean, I think, it still is early days there, but there was something that I wanted to get your take on.
Charlie Grinnell: I was listening to either the Prof G Show or Pivot one of Scott Galloway's podcasts that he's on. And he had a really interesting take about the metaverse and accessing the metaverse, and his thought process behind it was, typically a lot of brands are talking about whether it's Snap, whether it's Facebook with rebrands, the way that you are going to access the metaverse is through a visual thing, glass, like a set of glasses or something like that, maybe a contact lens.
Charlie Grinnell: He had a really interesting take that I'd love to get your perspective on is he's like, "Let's think about this. AirPods is the largest headphone business in the world. The amount of AirPods that have been sold." And he is like, "Is Apple actually going to lead the way into the metaverse through AirPods? Because it's something that people are so used to wearing and keep on and that's going to be the gateway?" And I found that incredibly fascinating, because everyone's like, "Ah, yeah, you're going to be able to meet with your friends in the metaverse and look around." But he was like, "No, no. The device actually could be in your ear and that's actually going to be the gateway for you to get into the metaverse." What do you think about that?
Shez Mehra: Yeah, that's a super cool point. I think there is this ubiquitous marriage of hardware that is going to be the thing that, it's going to be this overlook thing, it's like the chip that powers the thing that powers the thing that if someone buys something. But as we're learning today, without the chips, good luck getting the experience you're trying to get. I'm trying to order a car right now and there's a 10-month backlog and they're saying it's due to chips. So, if headphones and EarPods rather can become that component that's a huge advantage. I think it's a great point. I don't know if that will be the case, but what a great strategy for Apple to sort of... Because you can't experience that world, even with the latest glasses or HoloLens or whatever the case is, you still need something to listen and it's been proven and proven again, that experience is going to suck if the sounds within it don't line up to what is happening visually.
Shez Mehra: That's actually a huge frustration with the VR industry or the early VR industry was this cognitive dissonance that occurred between what was happening visually and the sounds not correlating to it as they would naturally. Again, because humans and our brains are just hardwired to have sound and visuals consumed and processed and digested a very specific way. Now that we're trying to augment that in a virtual or fake setting, if something is off there, it's going to just mess with your head and actually cause distress and work against you. It's like watching, watch kung fu movies, those Wu Tang ones and the over-dubbing was so bad on them. Right?
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah.
Shez Mehra: Where it's just like after 15 minutes, you're like, "I can't do this anymore. The lips are not matching up with the sound." So, that's a thing now, if you don't actually plan for this and solve for those issues, no matter how good your brand partnership or your activation within the metaverse is, and however much star power and ad spend you have behind it, if something small attributed to sound is causing this dissonance or friction and subconsciously, especially, where again, people don't even know why they're feeling sick or feeling off, it's going to do, it's going to put them off of your brand. Right?
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah.
Shez Mehra: So yeah, to your point, I do think like the EarPod, the AirPod could be a great way for Apple to capitalize on the space and take a leadership position within it because it's something everyone, whether it's their product or not, you're going to need something to put in your ear or over your ear to experience that world in the best way possible. Right?
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. And I think the scale too, they've already kind of... Why they're so much further ahead is you think about how many pairs of AirPods that have been sold versus-
Shez Mehra: Distribution.
Charlie Grinnell: ... versus Oculus versus Snap Spectacles versus what Google Labs.
Shez Mehra: I always say it like distribution over product. Right?
Charlie Grinnell: Totally.
Shez Mehra: You can always improve your product. And so many people get hyper-focused on product and it's like, no, distribution always wins. Reach always wins. Apple, yeah, they're smart marketers, they know what they're doing. If they're getting the whole world on their products or on their hardware as the table stakes for people's normal lives. And those things can also be functional enough to handle what is happening in the metaverse, what a win for them. Right?
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. Totally. Totally. I want to switch gears here a little bit and talk about the future, again, you've touched so many different parts of audio. What excites you the most just about the potential of audio and how it works into marketing? Our audience on this podcast is typically consumer marketers, what's the thing that you're sitting there going, "Hey, this is really, really cool. And I think this is going to be a big thing. And this is something that gets me fired up about marketing in 2022 and beyond."
Shez Mehra: Sure. Yeah. There's a few things. So, one is accessibility. I think the world should be accessible to everyone within it. I think you can do some really interesting things with audio to make the world a better, more accessible place for those that are often overlooked. I mentioned one aspect of taking written copy and through AI and tech and audio tech, making it all audible, so you don't alienate a subsection of this planet and not give them access to content that they might be looking for or want to consume. So, there's that.
Shez Mehra: Then also within that world, we're working with a really interesting startup right now, a partner of ours. They're basically doing audible-guided experiences and ways for companies and physical places, whether it's a McDonald's or a municipality to help people actually get around. So, people don't have to rely on Braille and touching things. Especially in a COVID and a post-COVID world, most times someone that's blind has either an aid with them or they're relying on someone to help them navigate this world.
Shez Mehra: So now, if we can work with municipalities, just physical places and spaces, and they can be guided through their world through an audible journey, that's a big, big thing that we can solve for, for people that are visually impaired. That might encourage that section of the population to actually get out more and experience things in a way that they haven't been able to do so before. So, that's sort of one aspect is accessibility.
Shez Mehra: The other thing that I'm really excited about, and this is like the advertiser nerd in me is what is happening with programmatic audio and the possibilities there. So, we're working with a couple of brands where we're just trying to get them into this world of, well, what does programmatic audio mean? And how do we show up in that instance or whatever? But let's zoom out for a second and try and boil it down, if you're like Frito-Lay or Pepsi or something. And you want to own Super Bowl Sunday. Well, if you have a big account with a grocery retailer, then wouldn't it make sense for what you heard in the background of that grocery store on Super Bowl Sunday to be messaging for that product that you want to sell while you were in the aisle for that product already?
Shez Mehra: So, now we can hyper-target the type of messaging in a really contextual way. Forget spending on coupons and prints and catalogs to hopefully get to sell more Charmins or sell more Doritos. As you're talking about CPG marketers, especially consumer marketers, people want to buy stuff. Like, okay, what are we going to do? How are we going to convince them? Well, they're already in the grocery store. So, imagine you can now target people that are already in that setting. You don't have to worry about how the copy and the visual design and that flyer that's going to go to their home and get shipped out and you hope that flyer is going to bring them into the store, forget all that.
Shez Mehra: They're in the store, now, what can we do? So, if it's morning, well, what a great time to be marketing bacon and eggs and breakfast products, right? And then as the day goes on and we're already controlling the background music in those instances, in terms of the energies and the ebbs and flows of the lulls and the day and the busy hours and the weekends versus the weekdays and so forth.
Shez Mehra: So, contextualizing all of that from an environment perspective and putting in marketing messaging strategically for those advertisers or brands that want to work with a Loblaws or a Sobeys group or whatever, there are some really interesting things that can and will be done moving forward in terms of how people are spending with regards to programmatic audio and actually not just spending for the sake of doing so, but hopefully making consumers lives easier and better and thoughtfully selling more product at the end of the day.
Shez Mehra: Also, from a CPG perspective, I think, again, especially having young kids, I don't know if this is done consciously or not, but any kind of CPG product, cookies, chips, those packages are so freaking noisy, that as soon as you kind of just try and open it, my kids' eyes are all over me saying like, "What are you eating?" So, I hope that was done strategically, because what better way to get attention? You open a Coke, it sounds a certain way. It's really hard to crack a Coke and get by that like you didn't open a can of pop.
Shez Mehra: So, who was the brand, actually? There was a brand, was it SunChips, I think? About a decade ago, I think it was SunChips, I think that's a Pepsi brand. I think they did the sustainable packaging, where they were trying to be really eco-friendly and earth conscious. So, they did this new package and the bloody bag was so noisy, it measured at a crazy decibel volume-
Charlie Grinnell: Crazy.
Shez Mehra: ... that it was just pissing off people. If you go on YouTube and type, "Noisy SunChips bag," there's people opening the bag and it being a whole thing. And it totally backfired, because they didn't plan for how the packaging might sound. So, they had to go back and waste a whole lot of money and redesign the package. So, with regards to CPG and product marketers yeah, sound and audio can actually play into the products you're selling as well. Then also you can use it strategically, like Snap, Crackle and Pop, or Rice Krispies. These are really boring freaking products. But the excitement of that crackle, the kids listening. Right?
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah.
Shez Mehra: Remember pouring the bowl and listening to that. That's what makes it exciting. So, you might be able to uncover something from a CPG perspective that actually builds the whole brand story around the product. Then that ladders up to everything else you're able to do. Snapple, you open a Snapple, the sound of freshness, Nescafé, whatever, you click it and they have this like glue in this paper. If you look at the top of a Nescafé bottle or can, or whatever, so it sounds like freshness when you pop it.
Shez Mehra: So, there's so much cool stuff that, again, you don't really think about these things every day, but when you just stop and look at how we live our lives and realize what has always been happening. You're like, "Huh. Okay. Sound is clearly affecting all these different experiences I have." And funny story, really quick. I know we're almost at time, but in regards to the Apple, the text notification sound.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah.
Shez Mehra: My friend's going to kill me for this, but my partner on Audio Branding. So, he was going to propose to his girlfriend. So, he had like a picture of the ring and everything, and he meant to send it to his dad and he sent it to his girlfriend. He texted her and he was like, "Right when I heard that notification sound, I was like, 'Oh shit. Oh my God. I realized this text went through to the wrong person.'" Right?
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah.
Shez Mehra: So, it's hilarious story and it sucks for him, but at the end of it, she said yes, so it's all good. But the way sound can really control our emotions and affect us is a super big deal. And I hope, I really hope, brands and marketers think about that meaningfully. Not because they want to get louder or shout at the world. Sometimes silence is the most powerful thing as well. It's not always about making more sound, sometimes less is more. There's power in silence. Just like there's power in in white space in design, you don't want to overcrowd a page. It's the same thing with sound, you got to be mindful of what you're saying and how you're saying it.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah, for sure. One of the last questions I want to ask you, I ask this to every guest, how do you stay up to date on business and marketing? Who are you listening to? Who are you following? What are you reading? I'm always super curious to hear.
Shez Mehra: It's really a smorgasbord of stuff. It's like I try and be a student of life, and what I mean by that is like, I don't only try and educate myself through marketing and brand and industry-specific things. I find a lot of the time, by listening to something completely just opposed, you can pick up something and then apply it to your industry. So, I really just try and digest a healthy balance of information and content, if you will. I do that through reading books, through listening to podcasts, 2Bobs, I listen to a lot, shout out to Blair Enns and David over there. And Trapital has a really cool podcast, Dan Runcie on this convergence of hiphop and business and all of cool things that came to be from that world. You worked at Red Bull, you know the importance of culture marketing. Right?
Charlie Grinnell: Mm-hmm.
Shez Mehra: And I think a lot of brands are just realizing that now. No, I'm really fascinated by the converge of technology, music, obviously sound and audio, but also just the human experience, psychology, how people think about things, cognitive biases in humans and all these nerdy things. I was an economics major, so I'm really interested in fear, and greed, and emotions driving markets, and rational thoughts, and supply and demand and all that stuff from a macro perspective. So yeah, I'm kind of a nerd through and through. But no, I'm always looking for new stuff. So, if you're listening today and you have something to send my way, please do so, I would love to uncover something new.
Charlie Grinnell: Yeah. And that spurs my final question, what's the best place for people to get ahold of you?
Shez Mehra: I'm really active on LinkedIn. That's probably the best place to reach me in terms of connecting with me and keeping up with me. I'm not really active on social or anything like that. My LinkedIn is really simple. It's Shez Mehra, S-H-E-Z M-E-H-R-A, or shezmehra.com, if you type that in, it'll take you there. Then my email, I'll put it out there as well. It's just firstname.lastname@example.org, through that, you'll kind of find all of the companies and ventures and startups and different things that I'm involved with. I don't want to ramble about all of those right now. But yeah, that's probably the best way to start a conversation.
Charlie Grinnell: Sounds good. Well, to everybody listening out there, Shez is an incredible wealth of knowledge in this space. So if you do have any questions, definitely don't hesitate to hit them up. Shez, thank you. I really appreciate you taking the time, such an interesting conversation about an interesting space that I feel like is going to continue to kind of take over. So yeah, really appreciate your time.
Shez Mehra: Oh, my pleasure. Likewise. I really appreciate it and yeah, always happy to have this conversation and thanks again. Have a great one.
Charlie Grinnell: For show notes, other episodes, and more content, check out rightmetric.co. If you enjoyed the show, please subscribe and leave a review wherever you listen to your podcasts. Thanks for listening.
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