Julian's blog: BrandSound™

May 31st, 2011
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The publication of Martin Lindstrom’s book BRAND sense in 2007 opened the door to a whole new world for many marketers, producing a genuine paradigm shift from one sense to five and confirming the beginning of a whole new approach which we now know as sensory branding.

Lindstrom reported that a massive 83% of all marketing expenditure globally has been focused on the eyes alone – which is way out of proportion compared to the integrated multisensory way we form our opinions and attachments. Marketers have been largely ignoring the power of the other four senses!

Millward Brown, who carried out the BRAND sense research, summarise their findings thus:

The study confirmed that the brands with sensory depth were particularly strong, with clearly defined, globally understood and distinctive brand identities, and with relevant and aspirational brand values. In some respects at least, these brands had deliberately built their sensory values and are now benefiting from owning such associations.

Sound is potentially the largest unexplored territory in this new marketing world. It’s the second major sense after sight, because only through video and audio can marketers broadcast to large audiences – and only in these two senses can they deliver specific messages. Smell, touch and taste are powerful and should never be ignored, but they are either atmospheric and supportive or entirely specific to one experience, so they are rarely primary communicators.

According to Lindstrom and Millward Brown, sound is rated as a key element of brand communication by 41% of consumers – and yet just 12% of the world’s marketing communication budgets are spent on it.

The opportunity is emphasised by the work of Oxford University’s Professor Charles Spence, who specialises in analysing ‘cross-modal’ effects – the inter-relational effects of combinations of senses. Spence has found that congruent sound increases the impact of visual communication by 1107%, while incongruent sound reduces that impact by 86%. That’s an entire order of magnitude up or down! It’s a shocking thought that so much of the trillions spent each year globally on visual branding is being diluted in this way by incongruent sound.

At The Sound Agency we have identified eight expressions of a brand in sound. We call them collectively BrandSound™.

The eight expressions are:

Brand Voice – how a brand would sound if you spoke to it. Is it old or young? Male or female? Lively and bubbly or laid back and professional? These and many more questions are vital in defining a default Brand Voice, which should inform every vocal interaction with the brand – call centre staff, receptionists, operators, recorded announcements, live PA announcements, advertising voice overs and so on.

Brand Music – licensed commercial music or specially composed music that’s strongly associated with the brand. This can be a huge, high profile commitment like Microsoft using Start Me Up by The Rolling Stones for the launch of Windows, or it can be a long term theme like the famous UK ads for Hamlet cigars using Bach’s Air On a G String or British Airways’ use of the Flower Duet from Delibes’ opera Lakmé.

Sonic Logo – a short sound that resonates the brand’s values or essence and is highly memorable. Intel is possibly the most famous example, though Nokia’s default ring tone Nokiatune is now the world’s most-played melody: with a billion Nokia handsets in the world, 20% of people not bothering or knowing how to change the default ringtone, and the average mobile phone ringing nine times a day, that’s a staggering 1.8 billion plays every day – so Nokiatune is played somewhere in the world over 20,000 times every second!

Advertising Sound – the film and advertising industries know how important sound is and they use it well, but all too often advertising sound (which powerfully combines voice art, music and effects) is designed campaign by campaign, or even ad by ad, undermining the consistency of a brand.

Branded Audio – a vibrant new category, this includes sponsored podcasts and streaming or downloadable websound such as teleseminars. Some brands are already using podcasts very well: examples are Nike (downloadable workouts for your iPod where top sports stars’ voices direct and encourage you) and Mercedes (regular compilations of the best of cool new music to play in your cool new Mercedes). Many more brands could be using this new expression to add value to their existing and potential customers and to develop lasting, loyal relationships.

Soundscapes – most commercial spaces are fully designed for the eyes but the soundscapes in them are accidental, incongruous and often downright hostile. If marketers think about this at all, they tend to install mindless music, which is like putting tasteless icing on mud; it may be superficially attractive but it is absolutely not a good cake. I believe the future of commercial soundscapes in places like shops, offices, transport termini and corporate receptions is generative sound – carefully designed to be effective and appropriate using psychoacoustic principles, and performed live by computer according to probability-driven rules so that it is ever-changing and never repeats itself. It’s living BrandSound™. This is an area we enjoy specialising in at The Sound Agency.

Telephone Sound – plenty of brands interact almost exclusively in this modality: when did you last see someone from your utility company? And yet the accountants have inverted the whole approach to customer phone calls. Instead of being the life blood of an enterprise, they are seen as a cost to be minimised – hence call centres are tasked with reducing ‘time to clear’. This is madness! Telephone sound is an increasingly critical element of brand experience, and those brands that rediscover the gold in this mountain of consumer pain will reap huge benefits.

Product Sound – this is everything for some brands (for example music or instruments), vital for many (car doors and engines, domestic electrical appliances, mobile phones) and always worth considering, even where it’s indirect and not obvious. We have done workshops for shampoos where great richness has come from the question: what sound is associated with using this brand?

Every brand should consider all eight expressions, mapping its strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats in each, and then producing a set of BrandSound™ Guidelines, which will usually also act as a solid brief for creating a whole new set of powerful tools to use.

Thus properly equipped, the brand can venture out into the new world of sensory marketing as a leader, making that those competitors who continue in just one dimension look (and sound and smell and taste and feel) like the dinosaurs they are.

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