We’re all aware of the powerful nature of music in our personal lives. Music instantly conjures up long forgotten memories, and in fact, we can usually complete the melody of any well know tune after hearing only a few notes. As Tolstoy once said: “Music is the shorthand of emotions.” How many brands actually understand and leverage this power in their marketing efforts ?
I recently met with Susan Aminoff, Managing Director at EliasArts, an acoustic identity and branding agency, to talk about the role of acoustic identity in brand building. Susan made the point that there is now a sizable body of research which validates what we all intuitively know–that an acoustic identity can be a key element in your branding and an important means of reminding consumers of your brand. As Susan noted:
“Not taking advantage of audio from a brand (vs. a commercial) level is a huge lost opportunity, on so many different levels. Every brand needs an established and distinguishing voice, so that it can engage in dialogue with its consumers. Sound is the most enduring and sustaining of all our five senses and our brand messaging; it is a powerful transporter of the brand’s emotional values…and it has the ability to unleash the whole brand story — the one that you’re spending millions of dollars telling — in just one note.”
In fact, Martin Lindstrom discusses this phenomenon in some detail in his book “Brand Sense–Build Powerful Brands through Touch, Taste, Smell, Sight, and Sound.” This book and others have documented the growing literature which support the ability of music to powerfully engage humans in a myriad of ways–not the least of which is branding.
Why Acoustic Identity is Becoming More Important to Your Brand
Beyond the science, there are other reasons to be thinking about an acoustic identity for your brand. In particular:
- Media Fragmentation — Fragmentation means complexity. Complexity makes it even more important that there is a simple, common theme–or “red thread”–to your marketing efforts. Your brand promise is the ultimate red thread, but music can augment it.
- Print to Digital — Consumers have been moving on-line and until recently, spending less and less time with off line media. This means there are more opportunities to engage them not just visually–but with sound as well.
- Brand Proliferation — The past decade has seen a blizzard of new products, many of which are not significantly differentiated. Consumers are overwhelmed with sameness. Acoustic identity represents another potential differentiator.
Acoustic Identity — Benefit Focused or Attributed Meaning ?
Just to be clear. I’m not just talking about the use of music in advertising. I’m talking about using an acoustic element as an important part of your brand signature–everywhere the consumer touches it. There are at least two schools of thought on creating an acoustic identity for your brand.
- Benefit Focused — The most obvious approach is to create an acoustic identity which directly supports your brand promise. The idea is to architect the sound or music so that consumers naturally associate it with your brands benefit–even without knowing the product or service. A great example of this is the piano music scored for the UBS “You and Us” TV spots. The music is peaceful, serene and intimate. It directly supports the brand’s promise to understand you and your needs so you have more confidence in your financial decisions. The brand demonstrates it’s value proposition through advisors 1:1 listening (intimacy) and client’s confidence (peace of mind). The music evokes these feelings even when heard without the UBS context.
- Attributed Meaning — The second approach is to create a sound, or leverage an existing one, into an acoustic identity that you attribute meaning to over time via use in your brand building activities. An example of this would be the NBC 3-note ding-ding-ding, which used to signify “station break.” NBC took this instantly identifiable station break ID, and turned it into a real acoustic identity with many variations and themes so that it’s now instantly understood as “NBC.” Other examples include Intel Inside and United Airlines well known use of “Rhapsody in Blue.” Each has come to represent its respective brand through repeated and consistent usage.
Acoustic Identity — Creative or Brand Driven ?
This naturally leads to the question: who or what drives the need for an acoustic identity? Historically, it’s often been driven by the creative process and the development of new advertising. Think of the United Airlines example above. There’s nothing wrong with this approach, but I’d argue that it’s way too narrow.
Given the vast array of potential customer touchpoints in most business models, and the almost limitless ways to utilize sound and music, an acoustic identity should be a key marketing driven activity–and not relegated to the agency creatives. So, who drives it ? Whoever is leading the brand.
Music has the proven ability to remind us of a brand, differentiate it versus competition, appeal to our deepest emotions, and encourage us to engage with and ultimately purchase it. Given the media fragmentation, print to digital trend,and brand proliferation, it’s more important than ever that Marketers begin to think of their branding not just in terms of a visual and logo, but an acoustic identity as well.