Creating a Sonic Identity for the University of Houston

By Ballouli, Khalid; Bennett, Gregg | Sport Marketing Quarterly, March 2012 | Go to article overview

Creating a Sonic Identity for the University of Houston


Ballouli, Khalid, Bennett, Gregg, Sport Marketing Quarterly


Creating a Sonic Identity for the University of Houston

On the red-eye flight from Ann Arbor to Houston, Noelle found she was the only passenger not sleeping soundly. The electric buzz from the previous day's studio recording was still rippling through her body. Noelle had spent weeks in Ann Arbor consulting with the University of Michigan regarding a music strategy to help market Wolverine athletics. Last night, she witnessed the culmination of her project, as Michigan rock band Pop Evil recorded a final version of their song titled "Big House," a tribute to the famed Michigan Stadium. In the studio, Noelle and her colleagues glossed over details regarding the launch of the song on iTunes and Amazon in the coming weeks. She also provided a detailed timeline of events where Pop Evil was scheduled to perform live at Wolverine events. During these final stages, Noelle is always reminded of the question posed by clients at the outset of each project: "We know what our brand is supposed to look like; we have a logo design. But what is our brand supposed to sound like?" Now, just hours from landing in Houston, Noelle began the process of answering this question for her next client, the University of Houston (UH) and Cougar athletics.

Noelle arrived in Houston later that day and began the process of building a music strategy for the UH athletics program. She first revisited her notes from an earlier conversation with Rob Stewart, the assistant athletics director of marketing, sales, and promotions for the UH athletics department regarding their desire to enhance the brand image of Cougar athletics through the use of branded music. According to Stewart, the current state of the Cougar athletics brand "consists of the related associations of history and tradition, and does not coincide with recent developments that have thrust UH athletics to the forefront of the national spotlight ... Our main objective is to supplant our existing music strategy, which basically consists of us featuring whatever is popular on the radio at the time. Instead, we want to employ a new strategy strategically tailored to match our brand identity and appeal to our current and potential fan base" (personal communication, August 3, 2011).

Using this information as a basis for design and implementation, Noelle began work defining a sonic identity for the Cougars brand intended to function much like its visual identity in deploying consistent brand attributes across a multitude of touch points. After years of working in the sports industry as an event manager, Noelle understood the importance of providing consumers a consistent and enjoyable experience with the brand. She also knew that transitions from popular music to customized brand music can be fundamentally important to sonic branding success, as the initial shock and awe of the transition is quite impactful on the immediate change in consumer perceptions. However, her experience also taught her that most managers did not know how to use the power of music to turn consumers into fans. She found this to be particularly true among university athletics programs, where it is not uncommon to find different staff members controlling the use of music at different venues and events. As a result, music is typically selected randomly and without regard to whether the effects of the music played reinforce or contradict the university's brand identity and value proposition. In some instances, staff members have been known to bring their own burned CDs to events and stores, resulting in a more serious situation where the university- unbeknownst to itself-becomes liable for playing music illegally in public spaces.

Noelle was given the assignment of creating the sonic expression of everything that makes the Cougars brand unique-and uniquely valuable. To complete this task, she would first need to consider the strategic role of music in brand communications and clearly establish the overall objectives of the project at the outset. …

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