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A little less conversation: what Peloton's Elvis push tells us about the power of sound

We all laughed at Peloton when its ad sparked parody. But the closure of gyms across the world saw the company do exceedingly well in 2020 due to its immersive digital experience. Paul Reynolds, managing director and partner at MassiveMusic, the global creative music agency looks at how sound is a vital part of the Peloton.

Elvis Presley was one of the most famous and culturally influential artists of the 20th century. The African American-influenced sounds of his music, combined with his unique stage presence and provocative performance style, saw him skyrocket to both fame and controversy through a time of turbulent and transformative race-relations in the US.

With over 1bn records sold, Elvis ranks as the best selling solo artist of all time. But despite his incredible success, Elvis is famously quoted as saying “I don’t know anything about music. And in my line of work, you don’t have to.”

44 years on from the King of rock ‘n’ roll’s death, he still continues to move the limbs of his listeners. But now instead of hip-swivels and pelvic thrusts, the sounds of Elvis accompany the frantic peddling of stay-at-home fitness fanatics, following the exclusive acquisition of Elvis tracks by popular fitness start-up Peloton.

Fitness and music share a special relationship. For many of us, the prospect of exercising or going to the gym without a pair of headphones seems at best unappealing, and in reality, nigh on impossible. Many studies, and some as recent as last year, have found that music allows us to work out harder and for longer. Who knew music had such great health benefits?

Music, particularly in the context of personal fitness, is an incredible motivator - and so it makes sense to see Peloton look to expand its sonic saddle.

Riding high as a brand ‘winner’ of 2020, Peloton is in the enviable position of being the right product in the right place at the right time. The brand saw explosive 100% year on year growth and used this momentum to seal high profile partnerships with artists like Beyonce, collaborating on new music and classes for its members. It’s remarkable how quickly the Peloton brand has risen to the top of a seemingly-saturated competitor set, entirely off the back of a strong brand.

Peloton is going places (not literally, of course). A huge driver of this growth is its intelligent sonic strategy and acute appreciation of the importance of sound in delivering the full brand experience.

Peloton’s sonic strategy has two clear pillars. The first is leveraging influential licensed music and securing impactful strategic partnerships, which Peloton has done. I’m excited to see how this plays out with more partnerships announced. The second pillar, and the next evolution in Peloton’s sonic strategy, would be developing its own sound, unique to the platform and the Peloton experience - and completely ownable.

Creating a unique suite of sonic assets enables brands to distinguish themselves in consumers minds. Brands like Apple, Coca-Cola, and McDonald’s have invested in creating their own audible DNA that exists across their various touchpoints - and have reaped great rewards. There is a similar opportunity for Peloton to do the same. Its users are regularly interacting with Peloton products, and each interaction is an opportunity to reinforce its brand through sound.

A key moment is the start or end of a live class, or in one of their streamable classes. The build-up, anticipation, eagerness, and then at the end - success, and accomplishment. When you hear those sounds again and again you start to feel the rewards even when you aren't in the class. Imagine getting an endorphin hit by just hearing the sound of Peloton in marcoms. This is key for helping people not only build an emotional connection but get better results from the brand's products; an example of 'priming'.

Recently published research from Ipsos shows that if you harness on-brand distinct sonic assets, these are 16 times more likely to capture audience attention than visual assets alone. This combination of a distinct, personalised sonic identity, supercharged with high-profile commercial partnerships, is a recipe brands and marketers should follow closely.

It fuses the short-term goals of stealing headlines and grabbing attention through superstar sounds, with the long-term, pervasive effects of growing your own sonic identity as a brand. For Peloton, it could see the brand become the ‘Intel’ of the indoor/home activity market. This market is totally up for grabs. Sports brands are slow on the uptake of sonic identity when compared to other tech and finance brands, for example. At this moment Peloton has so much more to gain by being first and owning the white space.

Brands and marketers should never underestimate the transformative effect a suite of sonic assets can have on building brand equity. And you don’t need to be a musical mastermind to make it happen.

To return to the words of Elvis, the good news for marketers who don’t know anything about music is that in this line of work, you don’t have to. All you need is an appreciation of how sound can elevate your brand, a desire to make it happen, and most importantly a trusted partner who can bring the strategy.

A little less conversation, a little more action, please.

Paul Reynolds is managing director and partner at MassiveMusic.