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“There is no feeling, except the extremes of fear and grief that does not find relief in music. “ George Eliot

In the third of our series prepared by the Added Value team in Paris, exploring the marketing opportunities offered by each of the five senses, we tune into those provided by hearing…

How does it sound?
Sound comes from the vibration or motion of an object and these vibrations send out waves through the air, which are then captured by our ears. It is a highly adaptable tool for influencing emotions: sequential, it can range from a single punctual note to a lengthy partition, or even music.

Although we think of many sounds as having universal meanings (the pop of a champagne cork signals celebration, the sound of a V12 motor revving up signals power, excitement and speed), these meanings are learnt and sound sensitivity varies across cultures. At a macro level, the world’s ears are split in two schools. In the Western World, the diatonic scale (Do–Re–Mi–Fa–Sol–La–Ti–Do) has been the foundation of the European musical tradition since the Renaissance; it sounds like the only logical and harmonious sound scale for many of us. In Asian cultures (but also in Celtic, Hungarian and West African music), however, the pentatonic scale (with five notes per octave) is more familiar, but can sound chaotic and unsettling to a Western ear.

Age is also a factor in sound sensitivity, with children being more sensitive to a greater range of sounds than adults. They have the capacity to recognize and memorize a greater variety of sounds, as shown by their increased capacity for language learning or the assimilation of foreign accents. But this sensitivity can also be turned into a disadvantage… In the UK, some town centers have tried diffusing unpleasant, sharp sounds, only audible to teenagers, after 10pm to act as a curfew and make them leave the area!

The impact of sound
Sounds affect us on three macro levels. First of all, they can influence us physiologically, actually increasing or decreasing our heart rate, literally giving us the shivers. The healing powers of sound are of increasing interest to scientists and sound therapy leverages sound and music to rebalance the inner vibrations of the human body, a state believed to prevent illness.

Secondly, sound is capable of triggering an array of emotional responses, for example trust or suspicion. You may have heard of the test that showed that when negative news was read with a happy voice, or positive news with a sad voice, the voice was not perceived as reliable. This might be explained by an innate ability in humans to uncover personalities and feelings and on a practical level for brands, it notably shows the importance of co-coordinating sound with brand image, context or time of day.

Finally, sound can influence us mentally, leading to conscious or unconscious associations with ideas and concepts. It can distort our perception of a price, of a place or of time. For example, music with a slow-tempo has been shown to make us perceive waiting times to be shorter. Fast music may decrease spending in a retail environment, but for restaurants, more concerned with increasing the spend-per-customer ratio, slower music creates longer dining times. Essentially, sound therefore has the powerful capability to deeply influence our behaviors, impacting the pace at which we walk, consume or even how long we’ll stay in a store or restaurant.

There are many easy-to-implement ways of deploying sound
So what are the brand opportunities that lie within our sense of hearing? It is a sense that can either be effective for very short term stimulation or one that can install deeply-rooted emotions: while a repeated jingle can effectively work on awareness (think of the Windows’ signature sound, the 4 chords of which mirror the 4-color logo, something you hear every time you switch on your PC), a proprietary piece of music can help associate deeply-rooted emotions with a brand or a brand experience.

Studies have shown that brands that incorporate sound onto the home pages of their websites are 76% more likely to obtain repeat Internet traffic – and that brands with music that “fit” their brand identity are 96% likelier to prompt memory recall.

Sound allows for easy, immediate and tactical usage, since it can be activated almost surgically at specific touch points. This is because sound can be easily and consistently reproduced: unlike other senses that demand more effort to be deployed in a uniform way across touch points (touch, smell), sound travels easily through time and across places.

Finally, it’s interesting to note that hearing is a sense that can also be deployed “negatively”: for example in-store silence is a key way to disrupt sound conventions in a world constantly polluted by sound nuisance

But few brands are exploiting sound effectively
If sound is an awareness champion, helping consumers to memorize a brand, a product or a place, it is also an under-exploited sense: we are exposed to sounds everywhere but, globally, it has been estimated that less than one in ten brands have a clearly-defined sound identity.

French underwear brand DIM is often cited as an example of the perfect use of sound equity. It features a core musical gimmick of a few proprietary notes inspired by the movie The Fox (1967), but one which has been consistently leveraged over time and constantly refreshed with different variations. The brand used this to build very high top of mind awareness, while maintaining a very low saturation point. (you can sing and dance along here… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rDuiU2R33NQ).

Even if sound is only used tactically, it seems so easy to do, with immediate returns on investment. Take this example from IKEA in building in-store satisfaction. Despite its clear visual signage, IKEA repeatedly saw its customers ask their staff where shopping carts were located in the store. To solve this issue, they played the sound of the shopping carts hitting each other close to the “pick it yourself” area to help consumers better navigate the store.

So how can your brand take advantage of the opportunities that sound provides? The first question to ask is certainly how you can determine what kind of sound is appropriate for your brand (that ticks the usual criteria in terms of being relevant, unique and engaging) and how you are going to deploy the sound and its declinations in support of your brand architecture: what’s the link between your master brand and sub-brands and how can you reinforce this link with your sound signature?

Then, in terms of activating sound to support your brand, we need to ask when and where (i.e. in which parts of the consumer experience of your brand) is sound most relevant and how does sound fit into your broader marketing mix and in combination with the other senses.

And critically, we mustn’t fall into the gap that often exists between strategy and execution, so we need to think how we can inform a brief to sound developers in such a way that they get what we are trying to achieve, yet without being overly prescriptive and restricting their creative talent. For more insight into filling the briefing gap, have a read of our colleague Helen Firth’s excellent article here.

If of this sounds like a topic which is of interest to you, please don’t hesitate to give the team here at Added Value a call.

Written by Mark Whiting, Sandrine McClure, Directors, Alexandre Richard, Project Director, James Horton, Intern, Marina Cozzika, Public Relations.

Image credits: Added Value

Read more about how to use the other senses in market research:

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