Are Brands Neglecting the Most Intuitive Sense?

Intuitive. It’s become an overused word at this point, don’t you think?  Simply being visually intuitive is no longer enough.

It’s true, everything is expected to be more intuitive, and the more intuitive things become, the more our brains yearn for it. But, it has gone from an aspirational point of difference in experience design to a price of entry.  As everything is moving toward copy-cat forms of design, what’s next? How will brand experiences be desirable and distinct?

I suggest that there is a new plateau to reach in experience design. Next-Level Intuitive. It’s time to tap into the power of sound.

Next-Level Intuitive means using sound to create more instinctive and brand-differentiating experiences.

Our lives are now hyper-connected with an increasing amount of tapping, swiping, automated voices and interface-less digital experiences infiltrating our daily routines. Brands are working hard to create these distinct experiences, but over time it’s all starting to blend together as tactile differences and space for visual identification minimizes. Let’s face it… our attention-deficit, split-second decision, experience-hopping world, is putting increasing pressure on instantaneous brand performance. And those experiences we connect with emotionally are the ones we’ll keep coming back to.

Backed by behavioral psychology and neuroscience, sound can go a long way to improve how brands connect and engage with people successfully.

Understanding Subconscious Decision Making

“Our brains have adapted to a new digital world, and we’re neurologically different as a result… we think faster, multi-task better, have less tolerance for ambiguity, less patience and shorter attention spans.  We increasingly rely on faster more symbolic forms of communication, according to Kit Yarrow, author of Decoding the New Consumer Mind.”

By tapping into a bit of science, marketers and brand experience designers can create more effective ways to connect with desired audiences.  An understanding of how split-second decisions are being made and what has the power to spark emotions can ultimately lead to more successful brand experiences.

In his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman explains the two systems that drive the way we think and make decisions. We are ruled by System 1 — fast, intuitive and emotional. It operates impulsively, with little or no effort. System 2 — slower, more deliberate, more logical — is called into action far less often to rationally solve complex situations that require attention and concentration. As much as 95% of decision-making happens in the subconscious System 1.

Now it starts to make more sense. As technology fuels our ability to move quickly through life, scrolling our way through information at a blistering pace, decisions that used to be controlled by System 2 (like ‘who do I want to go out with?’ or ‘which product should I buy?’) are now influenced more and more by our subconscious, emotionally-guided, System 1.

To emphasize the point, Kahneman, who was awarded a Nobel Prize for his work, quoted psychologist Jonathan Haidt, who said, “The emotional tail wags the rational dog.”

The brand community is catching on. 2016 has been declared “The Year of Emotion” as this year’s theme overarching the Temkin Group’s Top 11 Customer Experience Trends for 2016.  Temkin says, “Our research shows that emotion is the component of customer experience that has the largest impact on loyalty, but it is also the area where companies are least adept and often seemingly ignore… In 2016, we expect to see a major jump in the number of companies that discuss, measure, and design for emotion.”

Connecting Emotionally with Sound & Music

We must do a better job at appealing to people’s subconscious to trigger emotions and evoke desired behaviors. Bob Liodice, at the 2015 Association of National Advertiser’s conference, said “…marketers are no longer getting the expected results from their advertising and promotion. Old-fashioned brand-building is becoming a relic of a bygone era.”

In Landor’s 2016 trend forecast, #3 is that “Audio Branding Will Make Waves …brands will look to take advantage of consumers’ inherent ability to identify sound, using audio branding to cut through the clutter, and increase consumer awareness while subtly relaying brand and product attributes to the consumer.”

As we’ve moved from a communications-focused world to an experience-focused world, the strategic use of sound is the missing ingredient to drive instant brand recognition, convey meaning and make experiences more interactive. It’s fundamentally effective and efficient. It’s a way to be distinct. And it sparks emotional connection.

Simply stated by Leo Tolstoy, “Music is the shorthand of emotion.” But we don’t need one of the greatest writers of all time to tell us what we already know in our gut. We know that music has the power to change our mood on demand, to dig up a long forgotten memory, to bring us back to a place and time, and to propel us forward. Everyone has their own unique music taste, but one thing is the same for all: music makes us feel something, instantaneously.

Again, the neurological and behavioral science behind this is compelling. We know that music and sound travel through the brain, bypassing the rational areas and shooting directly into the emotional areas. From The Universal Sense by Seth Horowitz, PHD, “In less than fifty milliseconds—still six times faster than the blink of an eye—you’ve already identified the sound and where it’s coming from. In the actual time it takes for you to blink, sonic input gets directed through your auditory cortex to other parts of your brain that control memories and emotions.”

Next-Level Intuitive Sound in our Lives

Think about the instantaneous impact that branded audio has on you. When you’re in the kitchen, you recognize a commercial or a show as soon as the music starts. You get alerts on your phone that instantly convey information. When you’re on hold or in a retail store, the right music improves the experience whether you realize it or not, and the wrong music is disturbing. You start up your Mac to its distinctive and refreshing power up sound. The list goes on.

Here are just a few examples of emerging every day experiences where Next-Level Intuitive uses of sound will help make brand experiences more meaningful, instinctive and differentiating.

Streaming Entertainment:  The world of content delivery is going through a major overhaul. Content distributors are becoming creators. Content creators are becoming distributors. Cable TV bundles are unbundling. The choices are exponentially expanding. And re-bundling will begin to sort out the confusion. Next-Level Intuitive, with the strategic use of sound will make aggregated entertainment platforms more desirable to navigate and provide brand-differentiating distinction for both distributors and original content.

Home Security & Automation:  I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to ditch my analog home security system for a more comprehensive set up like Nest, Blink or (wait for it) Apple Home Kit. The price of entry for my consideration is intuitive. But Next-Level Intuitive will ultimately win the day. I want the system that is instinctive to use, with sounds and automated voice that don’t just alarm me, but welcome me home, provide alerts that correspond to the situation and give me audible assurance the doors are locked and that alarm is on.

Personal Healthcare:  Going to the doctor is beginning to change. In fact, for many people and certain ailments, it will soon be a virtual experience. One where you can have a video consult with a doctor, stream vital statistics, get a diagnosis and a prescription order, all from your home or office. However, it will take Next-Level Intuitive with experience-appropriate sounds to signify connection, confirmation and important alerts for people to truly get comfortable transitioning from the live doctor’s office to a humanized online healthcare experience.

Retail:  Retail will increasingly become more omni-channel, with the seamless integration of physical spaces and digital stores. There will be new forms of digital signage and emerging ways to try before you buy, like augmented and virtual reality. The common thread that will distinctively weave together all of a brand’s retail touchpoints… the thing that will make it Next-Level Intuitive, is sound.

Tap into the Power of Music and Sound

The time is now for Next-Level Intuitive with the strategic use of sound in brand experiences. It can be brand differentiating. It has tremendous power to reach our subconscious. It can instantly and simultaneously connect with memories and emotions. And it can take brands experiences to the next level.

I’d love to hear your thoughts – comment here, on twitter @KevinPerlmutter or  And if you’d like to hear branded audio that you may instantly recognize, check out Made Music Studio.

Originally published on PSFK as part of The Future of Advertising op-ed section on April 29, 2016.

Kevin Perlmutter is SVP, Chief Strategist at Made Music Studio.
If you would like to share your perspective, please comment or start a conversation on Twitter @kevinperlmutter or in email:

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