Brandspeak: Three Ways Brands Can Use Sound to Improve Their Customers’ Lives

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Kevin Perlmutter Sound

The following is a guest post by Kevin Perlmutter, SVP, Chief Strategist at Man Made Music:

Sound has a tremendous impact on us, whether we consciously recognize it or not. It can pique our interest or it can drive us nuts.

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I’ve become increasingly aware of sound since becoming chief strategist of a strategic music company. It’s given me more appreciation for good sonic experiences, but on the downside I get more annoyed by sonic trash. Let’s just say I’ve become somewhat fixated on how to make life better with sound.

Good Vibrations

There’s one great quote that I keep coming back to: “Music not only can change your mood, it can alter the way you perceive the world.”

Lately I’ve been living this out in my daily life. During my over-crowded commute home, I slip into my own world and thoughts by listening to music—drowning out the cacophony of noise and lack of personal space. At work, I have the luxury of good speakers. Combine that with being in the office incredibly early, Spotify, and a jolt of caffeine, and I’m discovering different music every morning to inspire my best thinking.

I’ve also taken a “love-it or leave-it” approach to everyday experiences. I’m always happy to hear the voice of my Google Maps app with all of her charm, and I find HBO’s feature presentation music to be a great palate cleanser to focus my anticipation on what I’m about to watch. And it’s always great to walk into a retail store where the overhead music makes me want to stay longer and buy more. These soundscapes improve my experiences and I feel more emotionally connected to the brands that make them possible.

On the other hand, I’ve reduced my time at Starbucks because it has universally raised the volume level, making it hard to think. There’s a new Mexican restaurant where the food is delicious, but I had to stop going when the mariachi band was playing. I shudder at the sound of my microwave badgering me that something is done. And if you want a good laugh, check YouTube for videos about the ill-fated Sun Chips bag, that for all of its good intentions was replaced after 18 months with a corresponding 11% drop in sales.

Rising Above the Noise

For decades, brands have been striving to create an emotional connection with audiences. What if more marketers and experience designers tapped into the power of sound? Sonic identity is an opportunity to make people’s lives better. All it takes is a commitment and a plan to make people happier.

The importance of sonic identity as an experience differentiator is not just a phrase. In fact, momentum toward a focus on sound is getting stronger, especially as live and digital experiences are becoming more central to holistic brand experiences. In a previous article I wrote about the impact on brand identity as we’ve moved from a communications-focused world to an experience-focused world, I put forth that sonic identity becomes more essential because it goes beyond visual, which is a one-way identification tool. Sonic identity is an experience tool because it enables a two-way information exchange and it conveys personality and inflection.

Visual Verbal Sonic Chart

Since sound is the shortcut to an emotional connection, it’s important to ensure that the visceral response it elicits is what you were striving for.

Here are three things to consider when designing sound for an experience.

  1. Be Purposeful. Start with a plan to determine what you’re trying to achieve, where will it be most useful and how it should be brand-appropriate and culturally relevant. From experience audit to sonic strategy brief, there’s a lot to consider so that the right sound and music show up in the right way.
  2. Deepen Meaning and Emotional Connection. A well-crafted sonic identity conveys information and helps people feel more emotionally drawn to the experience. Like a good movie score, the sound tells half the story—it’s the emotional thread that sets the scene, builds anticipation and punctuates key moments. Without sound, a lot of the storytelling and emotional connection is lost.
  3. Take Out Sonic Trash. The goal is not to flood the experience with sound. In fact, sound will have more impact when it is sparse. You want just the right sounds and music to guide the experience, set the right mood and provide useful information. Just think about making people happy and take out the sonic trash.

Next-Level Intuitive

Recently, I was thinking about the important devices in my life: my iPhone, the Starbucks app, Spotify, Evernote, The Weather Channel app, Uber, Google Maps, TiVo, Amazon and my Garmin GPS running watch. Some have great sound and some are silent but rest assured, none have bad sound. They all have one thing in common that has been the gold standard of experience design for several years: They are intuitive.

But intuitive has become an overused word—it’s gone from aspirational to price of entry. The more intuitive things become, the more our brains yearn for it. In fact, according to Kit Yarrow, author of Decoding the New Consumer Mind, our short attention spans are craving more intuitive forms of communication because we just don’t have the patience for anything less.

So, once everything is intuitive, what’s next? How will experiences be distinct? I suggest there is a new plateau to reach in experience design: next-level intuitive. Next-level intuitive is creating more instinctive interactions and brand-differentiating experiences with sound.

Our lives are now hyper-connected with an increasing amount of tapping, swiping and automated voices infiltrating our daily routines. Brands work to hard create these distinct experiences but over time, they all start blending together as tactile differences and space for visual identification minimizes. In our experience-focused world, sound can be a primary experience differentiator.

Sounding Off

Good sound makes life better. It’s the shortcut to emotion. It instantly moves through our brains to impact how we feel and elicit instinctive reactions. Marketers and experience designers have a big opportunity to tap into the power of sound to create next-level intuitive experiences—experiences that people feel connected to and that make their lives better. In my view, a well-designed experience without specific consideration for seamlessly integrating sound is not a well-designed experience.

Another way to think about this is the way it was written in The Sonic Boom by Joel Beckerman, author, and founder/lead composer of Man Made Music: “Sound, I believe, is the next frontier in business, storytelling and movements. It’s an untapped layer of opportunity… But sound hasn’t been harnessed at scale—as a tool for human connection. The people who realize this will benefit tremendously.”


Kevin Perlmutter is SVP, Chief Strategist at Man Made Music, a music company that specializes in Sonic Branding.  He leads Man Made’s strategic approach to how sound and music transforms experiences and improves business metrics. You can comment, follow him or start a conversation on Twitter: @KevinPerlmutter

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