Bose’s CMO on products, content and new ways to advertise audio

Yesterday, two major brands in audio had competing product debuts on separate coasts. In Cupertino, California, Apple debuted the second generation of the AirPods Pro. In New York City, Bose debuted its new QuietComfort EarBuds 2. And in the tale of two headphones, the latter is focused on being music-first rather than being distracted by also making other types of tech.

“When you look at the landscape, you have these incredible tech giants that are out there that are making TVs and laptops and phones and TV shows and music platforms and ad networks,” Bose Chief Marketing Officer Jim Mollica told Digiday. “We only create products and experiences for music.”

Mollica never mentioned Apple by name, but in an interview yesterday afternoon, he said the company has created a new platform for marketing the EarBuds II that aims to highlight the various ways music is integrated into people’s lives.

While paid advertising still has its purpose throughout marketing, it cannot be the primary element of what you do, and how you communicate and engage consumers.
Jim Mollica, CMO, Bose

This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

When you talk about having a new brand platform, what does that entail?

While paid advertising still has its purpose throughout marketing, it cannot be the primary element of what you do, and how you communicate and engage consumers. We can all skip ads. You’re streaming, you’re DVRing — you’re skipping ads online, blocking them, with all of those other elements. That all leads to a much more difficult environment in which to connect so you need to find different, more authentic and organic ways to connect.

Many advertisers have had issues reaching audiences because of changes made by Apple and various new data privacy laws. Has that been a challenge for Bose, and is some of the content strategy been to compensate for that?

I look at this as more of like a publisher, and the filter with which we’re using for this is around music, and people that love music and sound. Last year, we had a campaign that we launched and there were probably 50 different segments that were behavioral and psychographic attached to it as opposed to traditional demos. And that’s really looking at people, what they think and how they behave. Those content tracks are helping to feed content that will be very different for you and different for me.

It’s a lot of work creating those types of content. We created a studio, partly internally, partly with some production companies different than agencies that were churning out probably 250 different pieces of content a week. That’s a different kind of model. It doesn’t mean everything’s going to get the polish of an above-the-line TV spot, but it can perform incredibly well for different audiences.

How much is paid media versus organic and how has ad spending evolved with various products and amid shifts in the economic outlook?

You want to have some level of consistent [ad] spend over a period of time. When you take long lulls — or even medium lulls — to get back to a relevant point takes a lot longer. And for a period of time, Bose had underspent in certain markets and you’re going to see us start to come into these markets in a stronger fashion. So we will have the biggest media push that we’ve had in a very long time with this latest campaign. That’s sort of an overarching presence.

From my standpoint, if you’re going to make the content, you have to put pay dollars behind it to get it to be seen…As we move into this campaign and future campaigns, it’s really around where sound is important and where we can have outsized influence or cultural moments. You’re gonna see us have big content creations and spends around the start of the NFL season, music sports around certain athletes. If it draws big audiences, there’s a big connective tissue there.

How have your findings about marketing insights informed Bose’s product development strategy?

We were looking at the role that music played in people’s lives — how it showed up on a daily basis and so we created all of these listening moments that happen — and we started to see the types of products that people use for these different moments. It started to show where there were opportunities. For example, as portable speakers — Bluetooth speakers — what we realized is that the amount of time that people actually use them for going out to a location like a park or a beach, and putting that speaker down and having a party or gathering with friends and family is very, very rare. However, it becomes a massive aspirational use case for that, and people actually buy the product with that in mind. So you start to think about how that product is used, how portable it is and what types of features it has for that moment. That goes into product development. It also changes the way that we started creating content.

Lifestyle and music — just like Fashion Week, just like art— are intertwined.
Jim Mollica

A lot of the competition in the audio hardware space seems to be focused on lifestyle marketing. Are you looking to expand beyond core audiophiles?

I don’t think you can separate lifestyle from music. Lifestyle and music — just like Fashion Week, just like art— are intertwined. It’s very hard to say that you’re going to separate this, because music drives culture. Music is defined by culture. Music is created by what’s happening in that moment. They call them artists for a reason; They’re creating this craft. That element of lifestyle and providing people with inspiration and a soundtrack to do extraordinary things…That’s why you’ll see us combine our content creation with interesting artists, interesting athletes, interesting entrepreneurs, and interesting chefs. This expands.

With everyone focused on video, it seems like maybe there’s a white space for audio.

It’s funny you say that, because you have YouTube music, which is still video-focused and audio is just with an overlay, right? You have Tidal, which may get a larger audience, ultimately, because of the focus on sound quality there. You’re going to see as technology improves that sound quality will explode and then at some point, there will be room for more personal curation from people, tastemakers and individuals as opposed to just [artificial intelligence]…The audiences will only start to continue to grow as you see this renaissance of audio continue to swell.

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