Sound Design is Branding Too18th June 2018
I was watching the first episode of The Affair season 4 last night (sure, series 2 was average and 3 was…not good…but I’m a lifer) and I was met with a new intro graphic.
Nice enough. Part True Detective, part can’t remember. But the point is, it didn’t impair my appreciation for the show. It didn’t cause a jarring or disconnect. Now imagine if they’d changed the soundtrack?
Print assets have defined marketing efforts since marketing became a thing. Digital is now the channel of choice, of course, but this is merely linear progression.
Music has long been a brand partner. We all have a favourite jingle from our childhood (here’s mine, don’t judge). And while sonic branding / audio idents / sound logos / combinations of those 6 words have recently gained greater prominence, they’ve been around in some format or another for generations.
Side note. Here’s a few faves (Cinema, TV & Gaming edition):
Bricks & mortar operations have long relied on their frontage, window displays and exterior signage as marketing tools. Until you really hit scale – and need to fill new or larger venues every day – the best marketing spend is probably whatever is invested into the customer experience.
Now, you might not remember exactly what was on the playlist in the café, hotel, bar or restaurant you just visited, but I bet you can you tell me how it sounded.
"How about you avoid putting the dishwasher on at 10 pm while I’m finishing my mains, making me feel like it’s time to head out before I get kicked out?"
Sound is a complex compound of tones interwoven in mingling air and curated inputs funnelled through your outer ear. Outside of a vacuum, what we hear is in context to the shape of the room we’re in, the device we’re listening on, how many people were listening to it with, even the time of day and level of humidity.
As a result, sound is a key differentiator. No two places sound the same. And, while you might need to speak to someone a fair bit more knowledgeable than me on the subject to figure out how, I can tell you that sound can be designed. So, why isn’t sound considered in the same vein as print and digital design?
Amazon Alexa & Google Home are the transformative devices of the next decade. In 10 years’ time, some adorable 8-year old won’t have a fucking clue how an iPhone works and will look at you quizzically when you explain to them that you used your hands to type things out. You mentalist.
Since the digital revolution, our lives have been defined by what we’ve read and watched. And while light might have an unbeaten record vs. sound, complex communication (anything over AAARGGGGHHHH RUNNNNN basically) has been supported by sound since day 1. Sound design is not the next frontier in marketing. It’s the original.
If the music in your venue is determined by Tina, the bartender’s, latest iPhone playlist, then you’re an idiot. Oh, she uses Spotify? Still idiot.
Let’s say you run a high volume café and struggle to turn tables as quickly as you might like. Well, then you’ll benefit from creating an environment that is welcoming and warm, great for 10-15 minutes, and deteriorates from then on. You could train the waiters to be all elbows-out to the back of table 6, or cut the power to the plug point where all the social media managers seem to hang out with their laptops. Or you could invest in your sound design & strategy and avoid disenchanted guests.
Now imagine that you want to up your spend per head at dinner and, for all the changes your pastry chef has made to the dessert menu, can’t seem to entice the locals into #onemorebite.
"Sound design is not the next frontier in marketing. It’s the original"
Would din-softening acoustic panelling help guests stay in their seats longer? Should the playlist pivot towards a softer, slower paced library? What about A/B testing tracks with or without vocals for the last hour of service? Or adding a 5 second, calming gap between each song? How about you avoid putting the dishwasher on at 10 pm while I’m finishing my mains, making me feel like it’s time to head out before I get kicked out?
Sound triggers emotions through the limbic brain, which is as old as, well, mammals with brains. This is why music has such power over us – we experience it at a subconscious level, bypassing rational thought.
Here’s a famous research piece about French wine. Synopsis: Play French music and more people drink French wine. This shit works.
Succesful branding and marketing make you feel something. Your business makes all sorts of wonderful, rational decisions. So how about making another wonderful, entirely rational decision and invest in sound design and the emotion of your guests?