Poetry in motion

I am sitting in the works canteen of LMS Engineering just outside Brussels with the founder Urbain Vandeurzen, and brand consultant Michael Wolff. The complex of offices and research labs is so immaculate you could eat your lunch off the surfaces – and we are; scallops simmered in white wine sauce, poached salmon and creamed potato, Belgian chocolates and coffee. Urbain is a charismatic visionary who specialises in the art of engineering. He talks beautifully about how brands live in the minds of customers. “The way we position LMS is to help our clients engineer superior products with compelling brand values. If you buy a BMW you are buying a sporty car, the handling, the luxury, safety and sustainability. All those brand values are engineering qualities. We engineer the suspension, the structural sound and the wind sound. We build products that appeal to customers because they project the client’s brand values.”

Harley Davidson is also a client. The extraordinary thing about the Harley is that you hear it before you see it. I live near the Hell’s Angels HQ in Shoreditch, and come the AGM or clan funerals, the air runs rich with the throaty off-centered drumming that makes the Harley so distinctive. Urbain explains how the Harley sound is engineered into the machine: damping out whines, whirs, ticks, knocks, and other unwanted mechanical noises, then sculpting the noise to produce the right balance of sound from the intake, exhaust, engine and drivetrain. “The sound of the Harley Davidson is patented and engineered using our products. The original sound of the bike was horrible because the engineering was so poor, but it became part of the cult. Now very sophisticated things are done to preserve it. First you make the bike quiet. Then you open up the inlet and the outlet. Then the sound is replayed with different frequency spectrums to get feedback from target audiences. We quantify the subjective experience of what feels appropriate and this sets the engineering targets.”

We reflect on the irrational behaviors that go into making big decisions. We’ve all done it – bought a highly complex piece of kit because of the shape of the knobs or the colour of the casing. I bought my flat for the view. We can fall for the love of our life across a crowded room. Urbain talks about the magical touch-points that encapsulate a brand. “When people are buying a car in a showroom, they look at the design and smell the seats. They lift the bonnet, glance at the engine and listen to the sound of the closing door. We work on the sound of the door. It has nothing to do with the stiffness or structural integrity but the tiny connectors in the locking mechanism. If you buy a Mercedes you expect a different sound to any other car.”

In an increasingly interfaced and vicarious world, technology enables everything about us. We communicate with people we never meet. We eat food without any idea of the origin. We put our trust in modes of transport we have no control over. Choosing a flight or mobile phone involves a cocktail of allegiances. Our favourite airline might be BA but do we care if the plane is a Boeing or an Airbus? Are you in the iPhone or BlackBerry tribe? And which carrier do you choose – Motorola, or O2 or 3? Then Orange and T Mobile start sharing signals, which blurs the brand landscape even more. Urbain says that whatever we select, LMS is managing our feelings for us. “When you fly on a plane, the three things you want are safety, comfort and minimum engine noise. Every two seconds around the world an airplane touches down safely because we have engineered the landing gear. The most important thing a human being does is to talk, and your mobile phone only works thanks to telecommunications satellites. We have tested 80% of all the satellites in orbit.”

We decide that LMS is actually engineering emotions. Brands belong to customers. They hold them in their heads, and the brand entices people to express themselves through the brand. Branding is about fragments of memory and micro-judgments. Michael says that we interpret experiences, and compare them with the expectation and reputation of other brands. “It’s not only about the rational message, it’s the emotional message. Brands make it easier for people to choose things. There is no mass-market. It’s a dance with one person at a time, and there are millions of individuals. The brand is more valuable than the business. Businesses are engines that create brands.”

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