Marco Vitali: Innovative Solution Shaking Up the Music and Branding Industries

Marco Vitali: Shaking Up the Music and Branding Industries | The Enterprise World

Sometimes an industry needs change to keep up with the growing world to maintain its success. Many leaders dare to step up and create a difference and Marco Vitali, Founder & Managing Partner of Sonic Lens Agency, is one of them. He has shaken up the music industry by introducing the world’s most data-forward, insight and strategy-driven approach to sonic branding through Music Intelligence and never looked back.

A Creative Start in the Music Industry

Marco Vitali started playing music at the young age of three and was accepted into Juilliard at the age of eleven. He also has an MBA in Marketing and Finance from NYU and had a career at JP Morgan Securities for almost a decade. He had founded and ran several music agencies before he founded the Sonic Lens Agency in 2019 out of a glaring need gap in the marketplace. 

His job at Wall Street was going well, but he wanted to do something special. The need to create work that he could be proud of and be exceptional at made him quit the role and motivated him to start this agency.

He has collaborated with Nile Rodgers as an artist and producer and gained the opportunity to work with famous artists. He has won numerous titles, including “Brand Strategist of the Year” in 2022 and “Creative Director of the Year” in 2023 by Transform Magazine. His agency fills a vital consulting role that does not yet exist in the market – getting ‘in between’ the client and music producers to help brand teams figure out exactly the best way to approach sonic branding – putting a true strategy in place first.  

Utilizing Sonic Branding

Sonic Lens empowers brands to use music more strategically to supercharge their marketing and branding – an area of tremendous value many marketers don’t yet realize the full potential of. The company disrupts traditional branding practices by emphasizing the importance of music and sound in marketing and branding. They use a unique “music intelligence” process to guide marketing teams and apply their Grammy-level music experience to create Sonic Identity Systems. These systems are designed to be more precise, holistic, and performance-driven, catering to today’s sound-on world.

Sonic branding is one of the most valuable and underdeveloped frontiers in marketing, and Sonic Lens is undeniably a trailblazer in this field. Many have not ventured beyond cookie-cutter solutions, but there is ample opportunity to utilize sound in fresh and inventive ways. With every project the brand undertakes, it is redefining sonic branding into a more holistic and strategy-driven discipline. This is the result of its proprietary and collaborative ‘music intelligence’ process – something Marco Vitali developed in part with Nile to analyze sonic landscapes and create a sonic strategy that goes far beyond the creation of a few signature assets.

The Company’s Creative Products & Services

Sonic Lens Agency creates “sonic identity systems”, or “SIS”. This is the audio equivalent of a “VIS” or “visual identity system”, which every brand sets up to cover all visual identity rules and assets for all situations. While many people think sonic branding is just a mnemonic (i.e. Intel), Sonic Lens creates comprehensive systems that provide brands with flexible styles, modular to fit any situation, and precise in how they evoke specific brand attributes.

It provides other brands with an actual sound and audio language that fits their essence and purpose and lays the foundation for an entire vertical in their equity stack that can be built upon over time with no limitations – just an easy-to-understand set of guidelines and asset toolkits from which to draw.

Their services include consulting – acting as a “sonic lens” so marketers can understand the sonic landscape and apply strategic planning to their own sound. With their vast network of partners, they provide everything else that might be needed, including research, marketing sciences, analytics, focus groups, workshopping, music composition, production, recording, supervision, talent management and negotiation, and more. Sonic Lens is a full-service branding agency that focuses primarily on music and sound.

Crossing the Hurdles

The biggest challenge Marco Vitali faced was flying under the radar as a boutique agency. Sonic Lens is a small company by design, hence, it focuses on fewer projects to do the deep work and plans to continue doing the same. The downside of this is that it is competing mainly against the biggest established sonic agencies with strong sales and PR efforts, and it still has low awareness in this field. There are still lots of opportunities the company simply doesn’t get to see, but as it continues dominating all the awards, this is starting to change.

In the advertising industry, pre-existing relationships have always made it difficult for music vendors to enter the market. This makes sense because music is high-risk and highly subjective, and ad agencies are ultimately responsible for results. Hence, they tend to stick with jingle houses that do consistently great sounding work.  The problem is a tsunami of those jingle houses now profess to do sonic branding and by default are getting this work as well, despite the fact sonic branding requires an additional skillset that is arguably more important than just producing great music.

That is why the need for Sonic Lens exists – to provide that skillset.  Nonetheless, it also continues to be a significant challenge for them to hear about many projects that stay within these comfortable alliances.. Agencies often choose to play it safe with their clients, providing tactical creative solutions rather than the strategic ones a master brand project deserves.

They prefer opting for ideas that sound great as pieces of music rather than ones that are strategically designed to optimize a client’s branding goals and set them apart. There are numerous reasons for this cautious approach. It is an opportunity for Sonic Lens, but a challenge when dealing with a marketing community that doesn’t yet  realize what is possible in today’s sound-on world , let alone what is actually required to do it properly.

Immense Growth in a Short Span

Marco Vitali describes the start of this journey as “jumping off a cliff and hoping the parachute opens”. The work they do at Sonic Lens does not produce repeat clients, thus, they couldn’t rely on past clients for new projects. Yet, when the first three projects won gold in various global awards, it assured Marco Vitali that they had something special, and it was a tremendous PR boost that got them noticed.

He worked for years with Nile Rodgers as an artist and music producer and then CORD Worldwide hired him to launch their  NA branch in 2011. He personally oversaw every Sonic branding project depicted in the attached graph. His unique “music intelligence” process took eight years to develop and prove its effectiveness. Despite the tedious nature of its development, it proved to be extremely effective, and when  Sonic Lens was launched, this process became its major advantage over competitors. As shown in the chart, this smaller boutique approach and dedication to the strategy-first process has resulted in gold for every project undertaken.

As more brands are testing the effectiveness of sonic branding to achieve their branding goals, the results Sonic Lens is achieving have been consistently off the charts. For example, when Sonic Lens rebranded Disney Junior, they focused and tested all their emotional and marketing goals against 820 kids and parents, and every metric over-performed in a big way.  

  • 78% of kids liked the new brand track with 41% of girls saying they “loved” it.  
  • 83% of kids agreed the new music was “fun”, and, 
  • 70% of kids agreed the music was “exciting”.  

To quote their ECD, “Music intelligence enabled us to pinpoint specific connection points with our audience with laser accuracy and deliver on key objectives from our brief.”  

The Long-Standing Success & Achievements

Marco Vitali credits the brand’s long-standing success to their no-shortcuts mentality. He believes in forcing as much thinking and insight into the process as humanly possible, and this takes time and patience. It’s not easy for music people to hold back from jumping into their creative work instead of lengthy analysis and strategy – and that’s why nobody else does it. Having lots of data to create graphs and visualizations to power strategic conversations allows them to do more daring work with greater buy-in, which is important for brands trying to differentiate.

Sonic Lens has recently‌ been inserting more explicit and implicit testing into the music intelligence process, and the output impressed Marco Vitali. In the latest bank rebrand, they added a layer of qualitative focus testing with different consumer segments into the demo assessment stage.

The specific insights they received allowed the company to incorporate the most resonating qualities of its demo work into the revisions, as well as help define how it could stretch the music to better fit different consumer groups by understanding their specific reactions and preferences. When the work was completed and underwent implicit focus testing, the lead researcher at Sentient Decision Science said “this is one of the strongest performing sounds that we’ve ever had the good fortune to see, and we’ve been testing sonic for years so we’ve seen it range all over the place.”

The company has recently collaborated with Ford’s visual branding agency Makerhouse, working hand in hand from day one with their design staff and strategy team. As music is almost always the last add-on piece of the branding puzzle, this was a luxury that never happens in the real world – but the results were off the charts and undeniable. Together, both agencies won every award they entered. They coined this process “synchronized branding” and Marco Vitali has been pushing for similar levels of collaboration ever since.

Honing the Role of a Mentor

As a leader and mentor, Marco Vitali prefers to first figure out what is needed, then seek the blessings of the client and agency partners, and finally assemble the best people in the world specific to each project. This applies to all the roles, from research to production. He appreciates teamwork, especially in the creative phases, and has always achieved great results by putting talented people together. 

Whether it’s collaborating with marketing scientists, pairing up producers and sound designers to achieve something novel, or putting an orchestra together for RZA for his reimagined performance of Wu Tang’s 36 Chambers, Marco Vitali’s role is team building with heavy active participation. He is both a mentor and a participant in this collaboration, thoroughly enjoying the process and finding great fulfillment in it. 

One benefit of the boutique approach is remaining nimble and not being weighed down by having to feed a staff with limited skill sets. The company stays ahead of changes by constantly attracting incredible partners who can bring their skills to the team effort on a per-project basis.  

Leadership Philosophy

Marco Vitali’s leadership philosophy is to guide, not dictate, to do so with tons of encouragement, and to set a high bar with his work ethic. He believes in outworking everybody else and learned this from Nile Rodgers. That commonality between them is why he thinks Nile respects and trusts him, and Marco Vitali instills the same trust in his partners and vendors. He builds all sorts of teams depending upon each project’s needs, but everyone always knows they can count on him to pitch in with their work, guide them every step of the way, and help them achieve new heights.

He tries to work with people who are smarter and more talented than him, but he’s still able to help them achieve success through guidance, support, and a shared passion for doing beautiful work. As one Emmy-winning composer puts it, “Marco Vitali’s creative briefs are unlike anyone else’s in the business – they are detailed road maps to creating exactly what the client wants, filled with tons of inspiration.”

Innovation and taking risks isn’t a choice for Sonic Lens, it’s more of a mandate. The company’s goal is to be known as the GOAT doing the most sophisticated work, thus, they literally have to win gold for every project to reach that goal. The company’s process allows it to do bold, innovative work because it is backed up by analysis and strategy. Without the latter, the former is impossible. This level of dedication requires time and budget. The company is positioned as a premium service provider, and its stability and profitability require it to simply do the best work in its field..

Breaking the Traditional Methods

Marco Vitali thinks disrupting the traditional model of sonic branding and giving brands an all-encompassing voice and sound is a huge net positive. We as humans are living with the most overwhelming sensory overload in history, and a lot of it comes from brands making random noise – just to get your attention or stick in your brain. His broader idea of sonic branding gives brands more cohesion across more of their sound, creating less noise and more harmony.

Sonic Lens is very disruptive in the industry because of its different processes. It doesn’t pretend to know what any brand needs in an initial proposal or propose cookie-cutter solutions. For example, it touts its ‘human intelligence’ during the sonic audits. The music supervisors rate over 500 sonic variables for every communication they analyze – many of them abstract and subjective. While some agencies are claiming AI can do this analysis for them, emotional interpretation is very human and needs the kind of deep dive the company provides. The company discovers every opportunity during the discovery and strategy phases and then designs sonic ‘systems’ that accommodate all of them. It converts brand noise into harmonious sounds. 

Incorporating Technology in the Industry

Technology’s major benefit is its ability to connect global parties in real time on both the client and creative sides of their work. Marco Vitali has been coordinating work with artists around the world for a long time, but COVID helped legitimize this on the client side. It allows Sonic Lens to maintain low overhead and act as a sort of orchestra conductor on every project, making sure all the facets of a project work together in harmony, inspiring and playing off each other.

They can workshop clients all over the world, conduct focus studies and engage in Q&A in real-time, participate in recording sessions in London and South Africa from the office, direct talent, and even share the session mouse to nudge editing, Furthermore, for research and inspiration technology gives them instant access to any piece of music ever created to ingest and study – another reason this depth of music intelligence could not have existed even just 15 years ago. Technology has allowed them to be leaner and smarter, enabled all stakeholders to be engaged along the entire journey, and for their work to be more exceptional. 

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