HearDis! make brands – and hence the experience they offer – audible. Specialized in merging human and artificial intelligence efforts to analyse companies’ corporate identity and translate their brand values and other core features into music, sound, and voice content. This is an invaluable comprehensive process to define a company’s audio identity that goes to consolidates the marketing communications of its brand, in a coherent and effective manner. In doing so, companies elevate their value proposition with an enhanced omnichannel customer experience and brand perception.
We talked with Robin Hofmann, Co-Founder and Creative Director of HearDis!.
How and when did you come up with the idea for HearDis!? What differentiates you from other sound branding and in-store music agencies?
After first crossing paths via legendary Stuttgart vinyl shop Freddy Records, Felix Haaksman and I began collaborating with Pulver Records – the music label I founded and to which Felix (aka “Dutch Rhythm Combo”) belonged in the roster. Aside from my label’s activities, I was also consulting brands on ways to effectively implement music in marketing, often involving Felix to produce original songs for a variety of projects. At the same time, Felix was exploring the potential of audio content across industries in his graduate studies and as a music supervisor. By experiencing firsthand a growing demand to empower companies with smart decision-making around music and sound, Felix and I identified the novel business opportunity. On February 6th, 2005, we were ready to formalise our mission of making brands audibly distinctive and memorable by establishing HearDis! GmbH.
HearDis! is alone to offer a comprehensive audio branding that benefits all of a company’s touchpoints. Particularly, at the core of HearDis!’ audio branding approaches are intuitive and smart tools and solutions that companies can seamlessly implement in their marketing strategy to optimise internal workflows and quality output – away from the dead-end of a price-dumping spiral of other in-store music providers.
From the idea to the start, what have been the biggest challenges for HearDis! so far? How did you assemble your team and how easy or difficult was it to get funding/investors back in the days when you started?
Right from the start, our biggest challenge was to explain to our prospects what our offering was all about. In fact, being pioneers in the field of audio branding meant that we had to first and foremost raise awareness and “educate” our target audience on the competitive advantages of comprehensive audio branding.
Years later, a major next challenge entailed the transformation from a traditional creative agency (project-led) to a tech company (service-led). Our successful R&D achievements as part of the 3-year long research and innovation project ABD_DJ was the driving force of such a transition. Since then, we continue placing great efforts into the re-alignment of our venture.
In terms of assembling the team, networking is certainly a strategy that has paid off for us. Most of our talent comes from informal encounters or recommendations Felix and I (or other team members) have. We tend to trust these spontaneous and lively chats or word-of-mouth endorsements most. It has been our talent serendipity so far.
Back when we decided to launch HearDis! there were no funding opportunities (whether private or public) known for our line of business or industry sector. So we actually brought our personal finances together and kicked off the company with our own resources!
You worked on a joint R&D project, called ABC_DJ, with seven companies and research institutions as part of the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. How was the outcome and what are your future plans for it?
The main objective of ABC_DJ was to develop an AI that identifies music for brands. With our consortium partners, we created a powerful algorithm that automatically chooses brand-relevant music by relying solely on the audio content of the songs themselves, rather than on manually assigned tags. With such innovative music recommendation software, companies and advertising agencies are able to seamlessly identify the right music for any given marketing activity, finally giving branding strategy a sonic dimension that was long overdue.
The European Commission recognised our R&D efforts by awarding HearDis! The status of Key Innovator. Since the market-readiness reached with ABC_DJ, we have invested further resources to finalise the technology and refine products for market entry.
The corona pandemic has hit the entire planet. How did it affect your business and your relationships with the music business and your clients?
As soon as the first lockdown was announced back in March 2020, it immediately got very quiet. The industry was in shock. The brands we were in touch with commented that this was due to a widespread hesitation: which messages to tackle in such unprecedented and rapidly changing times? No message, ergo no campaign. This lasted more or less until the fall. And suddenly as of the last quarter of 2020, projects have come in at full speed!
Though the first half of 2020, even if less thriving in the more traditional sense, actually revealed as constructive and rewarding! We took advantage of these unprecedented times to focus on boosting our internal resources: by advancing our skills with workshops and training, streamlining and optimising workflows and processes as well as progressing the development of our in-house technology. We certainly managed to keep ourselves busy!
Generally, the retail industry has been hit by the pandemic very hard. For this reason, many companies have to rethink and reposition their stance in the new market. Because of the future-fit appeal of our offering, we already notice that a growing number of brands are seeking our expertise and added value to compete in the retail of the future. So if anything, our relationship with prospects is as relevant as never before.
© Dirk Bruniecki
What are the trends for in-store music and audio branding? Where do you see this industry segment in ten years?
Brands are no longer after sound just for the sake of playing background music. The game changer today is the smart and dynamic adoption of audio content (music, sound, voice): reflecting the brand (identity, values), resonating with the target audience (listeners’ music perception) and responding to the atmosphere (time/weather of day, number/type of visitor, store location, etc.). Emotionalising brands through audio content that take all these factors into consideration has a significant impact on space performance and reinforces the bond with the audience.
Major market trends expect in-store music to play a key role in retail-as-a-service or at the workspace for instance. As for audio branding, its significance increases on digital media marketing due to the ever-greater number and type of channels (podcasts, apps, wearables, home and in-car infotainment). Exciting opportunities also revolve around internal communication, particularly as companies seek to engage with a workforce whose screen-time is saturated.
Please name 3 tools, resources, applications etc. you or your team use daily?
Asana for project management; Guru for knowledge management and Google Workspace for collaboration tools.
Do you have a musical listening tip (song or video) or a favorite podcast about innovation, music tech or sound for our community?
Our friend and brilliant music mind Georg von dem Bussche is a great source of inspiration: he is the creative lead at our music production hub playdis (latest project: Mercedes-Benz EQS original theme) and releases his own music as Georg Levin (latest track: Fall Into A Dream).
Finally, as “senior” startup founders who have built quite a strong and substantial business together, what is your tip for our community and entrepreneurs in the making? What advice would you like to share with founders who are just starting out?
Be conscious of your genius and hold on to it. Find co-founder(s) and team members that complement it. Always be focused, persistent and patient!