The Voice of the Underdog®
The sizzle of fajitas or the soundtrack of Jaws evoke distinct and strategic emotions. Will your mouth water or will you hide your eyes? Both are effective, and challenger brands can also leverage sound and music to make a memorable experience with customers.
The book, The Sonic Boom: How Sound Transforms the Way We Think, Feel and Buy by Joel Beckerman offers best practices for sound branding. As challenger brands strive to make their mark, sound is one way
Our Brains and Sound
You may not believe it until you see it, but our brains react to sound first. In fact, the brain reacts faster to sound than all other stimuli in this order:
Even the sound of white noise at 80 decibels (about as loud as a blender or washing machine) has been proven to override our sense of taste, dulling our perception of flavor. In the study, white noise reduced the taste of salt and sugar, but boosted the sound of crunchiness. Maybe airplane food isn’t as bland as we think.
Principles of Sound Branding for Challenger Brands
How do you know if a sound is worth its weight in decibels? Only if it evokes emotion. Avoid thinking that just because your target audience likes a certain genre of music that it’s an effective style or song choice. It may or may not be, depending on how you want them to experience the brand.
You may refer to you brand’s theme song as a jingle and that’s okay, but at its core your jingle should be more. It should be an anthem with all the heart and soul deserving of such a word. A jingle is shallow unless it represents your brand story. Pair your strategy with an anthem to create a sonic-identity that you can use to enhance customers’ experience every time they interact with your brand.
Disney’s, “When You Wish Upon a Star” is a great example of sonic branding. The same seven notes show up at the beginning of movies, the Disney cruise ship horn, and more. It’s instantly recognizable as the brand’s sonic signature and conjures all of the positive experiences associated with spending time with family, childhood, watching movies, going on vacation, and seeing your favorite characters and timeless stories.
As Beckerman explains, “Sound is really the emotional engine for any story.” What emotion do you want your brand to trigger? Use this as a guide for music choice.
Consider how film scores evoke different emotions for the same scenes. The only difference is the music.
Sonic triggers convey a lot of information in an instant and our brains are designed to process stimuli this way. The best sonic triggers surprise the mind by breaking expected patterns and call to mind a positive association or experience. Brands can leverage the recognition of everyday sounds and transform them into something unique and unexpected. These brand navigation sounds are both functional and emotionally satisfying.
You may think it’s quiet, but isn’t. Birds are chirping, people are chatting, or your computer is humming. Fortunately, our brain effectively filters out much of the distractions to keep us focused on the task at hand. The lack of sound can also be effective at awakening the senses. Just as the right sound at the right time can produce significant emotional connections to your brand, the absence of sound at the right time can also be very effective for this purpose.
A good final test for sonic branding is to test the brand experience with and without sound. If you don’t miss the sound, it never should have been there.
Some things just shouldn’t make too much noise. As Frito Lay discovered with its biodegradable Sun Chips bag. The noisy bag gained so much negative attention that a CBS report investigated and found that shaking the bag was louder than a lawn mower or motorcycle. Sound is never neutral; it either adds to or detracts from the brand experience.
Inappropriate song choice can also do more harm than good. Check alignment with the audience, the brand story, the song story, and the performer before settling on a tune. Bad accents are also an annoyance and can remind customers that they are experiencing something inauthentic or at the very least un-relatable.
Cha-ching! That’s the sound of customers flocking to your challenger brand.
We challenge underdog brands to think differently. We help them find their voice, and urge them to blaze new trails to make sure they stand out from the pack. Whether you need an agency of record or support on a project, we are here to help you win.