5 Ways the Power of Sound Tackles Top Brand Challenges

Steve Martin did a bit in his early stand-up routines where he talked about buying a new stereo system to play his vinyl albums. He bought a two-speaker system, but it didn’t sound good, so he upgraded to a quadraphonic four-speaker system, then to a dodecaphonic twelve-speaker system, then a milliphonic system with one-thousand speakers, then a googlephonic system – “the highest number of speakers before infinity.” Still terrible, so he says, “maybe it’s the needle”.1

There’s a lesson in there about going down traditional paths to solve a problem, but overlooking other, not-so-obvious solutions.

At the ANA’s 2014 Masters of Marketing Conference, industry leaders focused on a core set of brand challenges. Brands must be authentic and convey a clear purpose. Relevance to Millennial and Hispanic audiences is crucial. Mobile-first has become a primary way to engage with people. Innovation and experience transformation is rooted in human-centric design.

Back to Steve Martin, perhaps there’s one solution that many are overlooking. That is, the sound of their brand. When developed strategically, a brand’s sonic identity can be one of the most powerful and effective ways for a brand to communicate and engage.

Wild and crazy? Not so fast… According to the Harvard Business Review, “There’s one powerful branding tool that has been generally overlooked or perhaps undervalued by most marketers: sound. The strategic use of sound can play an important role in positively differentiating a product or service, enhancing recall, creating preference, building trust, and even increasing sales… cognitive studies show that relevant sounds and musical cues can truly influence people in ways marketers want.”2

Here’s why…

Sound and music is visceral – it gets you in the gut, sparks emotions, motivates and conveys meaning. Music can change your mood in an instant. Research has shown that “brands with music that fit their identity are 96% more likely to be recalled than those with non-fit music or no music at all, and respondents are 24% more likely to buy a product with music that they recall, like and understand.”3

Sound and music is experiential – it sets the tone, provides context, give you cues on what to feel and helps you navigate. One study explored the impact of changes to the music score of a movie scene, and found that it causes people to have a different perception of what’s happening, the characters’ backstory and different predictions about what will happen next.4 The same can be applied to the impact of sound and music on how well a brand is understood or perceived.

Sound and music is efficient – it bypasses the rational part of the brain and reaches us at the most instinctual level, and you react even when you are not fully paying attention. Scientifically, reaction time to what you hear is faster than reaction time to any other sense.5 The right sounds can be the fastest and often least-expensive way to instantaneously heighten engagement.

In other words, a brand’s identity is incomplete without incorporating the strategic use of sound and music. While many have a strategically defined brand identity that includes usage principles for core visual and verbal components, the sonic identity is not yet dimensionalized or well managed. It’s potentially damaging, and certainly a missed opportunity.

Here are 5 specific opportunities where a sonic identity can be used to address some of today’s top brand challenges:

1. Conveying Purpose and Values
People gravitate toward brands that stand for something, ones that have a role and contribution in the world, that go beyond what they’re selling, and rally employees to exceed the expectations of customers. A strategically designed piece of music can be the anthem and emotional engine to convey your brand’s purpose and values, the types of products you design or the genre of entertainment you showcase. Music can set the tone, the pace and the energy behind what you stand for.

2. Communicating Across Cultures
When used strategically and thoughtfully, music can be an incredible cross-cultural language. It has the ability to bridge borders and unite demographics under a shared psychographic. Whether the goal is bringing disparate employees together around one mission or extending appeal to multicultural and generationally diverse audiences, music can be the answer. By using the right set of instruments, mix of genres, or enlisting the influence of certain artists, your brand can authentically and efficiently connect with multiple groups of people simultaneously.

3. Connecting Disparate Touchpoints
The strategic use of music and sound can score the brand experience seamlessly across all touchpoints. It has the ability to consistently convey meaning and personality in both physical and digital environments. It can help your brand be noticed even when there is no room for visual or verbal storytelling, and over time, a sonic logo/identity can reach similar levels of attribution as your visual logo/identity, enabling presence where you were once invisible.

4. Supercharging Sponsorships and Spaces
Gone are the days of spending millions of dollars on a sponsorship with just a logo on the building to show for it. Brands are now looking for new ways to be seen and add value by improving the experiences they are a part of. Whether it’s a stadium sponsorship, retail store or another immersive environment, appropriately weaving in your proprietary music and sounds will increase attribution and heighten emotional engagement, as well as improve ROI.

5. Humanizing Digital Interactions
Digital is fast becoming the way many brands communicate with customers. For all of its usefulness and efficiency, digital has the challenge of being devoid of personality and ultimately leads to an undifferentiated and seemingly uncaring experience. The strategic use of music and sound can dramatically improve a digital interaction by placing a brand’s unique identity and personality front-and-center to provide clear navigation with proprietary sounds that are simultaneously functional and emotional.

A brand’s sonic identity can go a long way to address many of today’s top brand challenges. It begins with a strategic foundation. Ultimately it’s not about creating sound, it’s about creating powerful emotional impact that transforms brand experiences.

Kevin Perlmutter is SVP, Chief Strategist at Made Music Studio, a strategic music company that specializes in Sonic Branding.

1. Steve Martin “Googlephonics”
2. Harvard Business Review “What does your brand sound like?”
3. Dr. Adrian North and Dr. Hargreaves at Leicester University
4. Aniruddh Patel, Associate Professor of Psychology at Tufts University
5. B.J. Kemp, Developmental Psychology Vol. 8

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