PETRONAS' sonic branding leap aims to achieve 100% recognition

PETRONAS expanded into the sonic branding space last year to break away from the mould that it deals exclusively in oil and gas. Done in collaboration with Dragon Rouge and Sixième Son, the sonic branding was part of a visual refresh that included sonic and motion to deliver a 360° brand experience. It wanted a distinctive audio identity that underscores PETRONAS' commitment to being a progressive energy and solutions partner for a sustainable future. The sonic branding was launched internally through its brand positioning in August 2019 and first used externally throughout its festive ads last year.

Anita Azrina Abdul Aziz, SGM, group strategic communications at PETRONAS told A+M that the sonic logo has been used and appears in various branded video content for both internal and external consumptions. It also appears at the end frame of its festive ads to reinforce brand messaging and recognition. At the same time, the sonic branding has been incorporated in its internal video and digital content, PETRONAS apps, staff engagements, and used as a background sound for official signing ceremonies.

Conversations about the sonic branding began at the end of January 2019 given the demand of digital media, and was developed as part of its refreshed brand positioning "Passionate about progress". The new tagline represents everyday progress as well as more fundamental, transformative progress. "Who would have predicted that [the sonic branding] was timely due to the pandemic and nowadays digital dependency has been more pertinent and essential for livelihood," Anita added.

Together with Sixième Son, PETRONAS composed a piece of music that sought to express progress, enriching a sustainable future, through modern textures and instrumentation, as well as convey passion through the uplifting and positive melody and harmonies. As a reminder of its cultural roots, the sonic branding also featured a traditional Malaysian flute, the Ney. 

According to PETRONAS' Anita, having a visual representation of the brand is never going to be enough. "Like any other successful sonic branding out there, we want to ultimately achieve the level of 100% association and recognition with PETRONAS the moment that they hear our sonic branding, and that gives us a competitive edge that would drive a call to action translating to the actual purchase of our products and services," Anita explained.

We want PETRONAS sonic to provide a consistent identity across all touchpoints and evoke a sense of familiarity, consistency, uniqueness and association to the brand.

While Anita declined to comment on the specific ROI for the sonic branding, he said that similar to other marketing materials, it wishes to "achieve as much ROI as possible". 

Meanwhile, MD of Sixième Son, Laurent Cochini, told A+M that the sonic branding will also be used in radio and TV campaigns for the year, as well as on-hold music for call centres. Cochini added that while the agency will keep developing new adaptations for the PETRONAS parent company, it is also within the ambition of the project to carve out unique sonic brands for the group's subsidiaries. 

"The idea behind our work was to musically transcribe the business of PETRONAS, as well as its values of progress and innovation. We, therefore, worked on the aspect of the transformation of organic material (represented by stringed and wooden instruments) to synthetic material (represented by synthesisers and electronic tones)," Cochini explained. 

The challenge, however, was to represent the identity of PETRONAS, which is both anchored in heritage and history, but also driven by an ambitious vision towards the future. "We always start from the same key objectives for success when developing sonic identities, such as creating engagement, grabbing attention, triggering recall, conveying meaning and making sure that the sonic identity is flexible and coherent for all needed adaptations," he said. Among the list of brands it has worked with for sonic branding include Michelin, RBC, Carrefour, and the United Services Automobile Association.

Along with the sonic branding was also a brand song titled "A growing passion" composed by Rendra Zawawi and sung by Adibah Noor and Jaclyn Victor, giving users a sneak peek into the world of PETRONAS and how the company is living and breathing progress. The song was released last November and the company has plans to further boost it moving forward.

Meanwhile, the visual refresh features a renewed, more comprehensive brand identity system that according to PETRONAS "is progressive and not rigid". Its circles graphic, also known as the PETRONAS Dots, was created with a digital-first approach and consistently evolve like the way energy flows. According to PETRONAS' website, the circle represents the energy that exists in multiple forms. From the carbon molecules of the earth, the electrons of the sun, to the latent potential that lies in every individual. It also pays homage to the company's core identity.

PETRONAS' Anita said the rebranding exercise followed the launch of its statement of purpose - A progressive energy and solutions partner enriching lives for a sustainable future - to replace its vision and mission. This marked the fourth rebranding exercise PETRONAS has undertaken in the past four decades.

"Passionate about progress delivers the spirit and position that the company wants to partake in the hearts and minds of consumers and stakeholders," Anita added.

PETRONAS aims to "further intensify" its brand positioning, including the sonic one, both internally and externally. For starters, a corporate campaign was launched last October along with the "Connect the dots" film for Malaysia, India, the UK, as well as translated versions for China and Japan. Closer to home, it produced a localised corporate campaign together with Mediabrands' Ensemble known as "Siapa kata" in February this year which rolled out oh digital and static OOH billboards, featuring state-targeted messages all across Malaysia.

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In addition to the corporate brand exercise, Dragon Rouge also helped the company re-align its brand architecture and value propositions across the total business, from upstream to new energy to downstream products. Southeast Asia CEO Zayn Khan told A+M that when the new brand was ready to be launched, it worked with PETRONAS to execute a large-scale internal launch and brand engagement programme to reach all 47,000 employees across dozens of markets.

For this, it created several elements including a brand film, brand song and music video, and brand training tools: workshop modules, gamified digital app, quiz cards and a digital brand booklet.

"Sonic identity is about more than the notes you hear when the logo animates at the end of a TVC, although that is an important aspect. A sonic identity system has many components and layers that can be used in a variety of ways across a range of brand touchpoints and experiences," Khan said.

He explained that in a digital world, brand identity is not just about logos and ad layouts. Instead, it is about the brand's behaviour and expression across a multitude of channels, and this means that all of the senses need to be engaged – visual, tactile, auditory and even olfactory. "Sound works to form deep impressions and memories in our ‘primitive brain’ and is a powerful tool for brand engagement," he added.

Impact of the pandemic on PETRONAS' marketing plans

Like many companies, PETRONAS had to pivot its marketing and communication plans and find creative ways to re-engage with its stakeholders. The company understood the importance of being ready in positioning itself for the future new normal. This includes having a superior and high-value portfolio that is robust and sustainable in the long run while positively contributing to society.

"As consumers are getting more sophisticated with endless choices at their fingertips, we need to be constantly curious about what they need, what is important to them and their appetite while not forgetting who might be our new customers beyond traditional business," Anita said.

Anita added that the company needs to see customers as partners and growth with them, as well as with their needs and wants. "We need to be bold and fearless to challenge the status quo and embrace new solutions. Our marketing plans must find new spaces with high potentials for PETRONAS to increase our share of wallet. Each business divisions has a specific strategy and targets for us to pursue and make into reality," Anita added.

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