Sound is often the most neglected of the senses when it comes to branding, although it is only second to the visual senses in terms of its importance and has a very specific role that helps the brain to create stories from cause and effect.
There is more to using sound in branding than music and song, important as they are. Of course, music and song are particularly powerful in creating links to specific emotions. However, in the esSense® framework outlined in Brand esSense, other aspects of sound can also contribute to building a brand through the senses, symbols and stories.
The overall sound of a brand is important in our overall sensory experience. Our sense of hearing has more “bandwidth” in the brain than any other sense apart from vision, relating to its important role in helping the brain organize the world and our experiences into a sequence of events in time. Hearing helps us understand the rhythm of the world, and to pinpoint “when” events happen (while vision helps us understand “where” they occur).
Sound both shapes our mood and physical state, but also is an important component of the intensity of our experience. Can you imagine watching your favorite film (assuming it’s not a silent movie) with the sound turned off? Just as what we see influences what he hear, our hearing also shapes our vision. This is why car manufacturers have had to make electrical car engines less silent, as too many pedestrians were not “seeing” them on the road. Abercrombie & Fitch are known for the “intensity” of their brand experience, which is why the lights are low and the music volume is high in their stores (or at least it was as they are in the process of rebranding as I write this).
Sound can also contribute to the symbolism of a brand, through the brand name, the language the brand uses and sonic icons. Sonic icons have been used very successfully by Intel, increasing their awareness from 24% to 94% in the first year it was introduced. Nokia were also very successful in creating a sound signature, although less successful in keeping their product line as innovative. Many car manufacturers are now creating sound signatures for their brands and the Harley-Davidson engine roar has long been a key signature of its rebellious personality (so why did they ever consider a silent electric powered bike?).
Names and language are particularly important for what they mean and also for how they sound (in Western languages the sound of a name is particularly important, whereas visual symbolism is more important in Asia). The sound of ‘Cracker Jack’, a brand of popcorn candy, invokes the product itself. In a similar vein, the shortening of Federal Express to FedEx makes the business sound faster, reinforcing ideas of speed that are also symbolized by the typeface of the logo and use of an arrow symbol between the last two letters.
Because of sound’s role in helping us understand the relationship between events and time, and therefore cause and effect, sound’s biggest role is in telling a brand’s story. That is also why music can often have such a direct physiological effect on the body. Our body will speed up to match a fast rhythm and slow down (and even physically droop) when it slows. We can feel happy or sad depending on the tempo too, and also the key of music.
Songs and music tell stories by themselves, a topic well covered in this book. Songs are often part of rituals that are linked to a brand’s story (think of communal singing at a rugby or football game or the New Zealand All Black’s ‘Haka’). Music and song has often been used by drinks brands, most famously Coca-Cola, as an integral part of their branding, and this is also true of many alcohol brands, be they Heineken and their music festivals or Stella Artois using classical music to communicate its class and heritage as a brand.
People are more likely to buy brands and products that are associated with music that they like, and song has a particularly strong role in linking to the identity of the consumer and the brand. Thus music and song can help you link your brand to the right emotion and the right audience.
Ambience in retail is important to creating a mood, and music plays an important part in this along with the talent that work for you and the way they behave and interact with customers. As mentioned earlier, Abercrombie & Fitch create a very specific mood and ambience with their talent, behavior and audio environment, and Virgin Atlantic (and their other airlines) are another example of creating an ambience using people and sound.
In summary, TapestryWorks’ esSense framework contains a total of 30 elements that contribute to the sense, symbols and story of a brand. Sound comprises a major part of more than one-third of these elements, reflecting its huge potential contribution to brand identity. Sadly, many brands are not yet making the most of the potential of audio branding, and this offers a huge opportunity to leverage our sense of sound to strengthen brands.
[This is a version of a short piece for the book Audio Branding: Using sound to build your brand by Laurence Minsky and Colleen Fahey, to be published in 2017 by Kogan Page.]
Brand esSense: Using sense, symbol and story to design brand identity by Neil Gains
“The Effects of Music in Advertising on Choice Behaviour: A Classical Conditioning Approach” by Gerald J. Gorn in Journal of Marketing, 46 (Winter 1982): 94-101
Emotional Branding by Marc Gobe
Audio Branding: Using sound to build your brand by Minsky & Fahey