Sonic Branding: How Sound Sets the Tone for Customer Experiences

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Under Armour x SoundCloud ShifttheCulture New York

Last year, Tinder added a feature that allows you to link your dating profile to your Spotify account, giving potential lovers a sense of your music taste. You can share your favorite artists and what Spotify calls your Anthem—“that one single track that tells your story”.

While sharing Bieber’s new hit single may not keep you from being single, it gives Sally, 26, “avid traveler/coffee connoisseur/SoulCycle addict,” a feel for who you are in a way descriptions and pictures cannot. Music does the same for brands. Just as a verbal or visual identity can communicate a brand’s personality and sway your emotions, so can an effective sonic identity.

“Music can set the tone, the pace, and the energy behind what you stand for,” says Kevin Perlmutter, Chief of Innovation at Man Made Music, a sonic branding company based in New York. With CEO Joel Beckerman and team, Perlmutter helps direct the music for brand experiences like virtual reality, retail stores, apps, commercials, and more. As the foundation for various sonic touchpoints, Man Made creates what it calls “anthems” (not to be confused with Tinder Anthems)—1-2 minute sonic representations of a brand’s personality.

When IMAX recently sought to fill its pre-movie intro with music, Man Made took IMAX’s brand identity—”the world’s most immersive movie experience”—and brought it to life through an anthem. When you hear the anthem in theaters, the bass vibrates your seat. You feel the range of frequencies the theater can deliver, you sit in the massive space the sound has to move, and you surround yourself in the 150-person orchestra that Man Made recorded in the Czech Republic. Before the movie even starts, you’re on the edge of your seat, enveloped in sound, part of the world’s most immersive movie experience.

As a brand encouraging athletes to be “better, stronger, and more powerful,” Under Armour conveys its spirit of motivation and self-empowerment through sound. Check out its commercial (above) from its “Rule Yourself” campaign. The spot sounds like a workout in musical form. There’s repetition, a sense of focus, a natural rise and fall. You warm up slowly, breathe more heavily as the work out picks up. You talk to yourself for encouragement (listen closely as athletes mutter motivational phrases at 0:30), push yourself until the workout ends, and leave feeling disciplined. The sound tells a story that conducts your thoughts, even your emotions. It puts you on a bench in a gym, motivating you to be better, stronger, and more powerful.

Under Armour Brand House Broadway Soho New York

Since Under Armour tells a consistent story with sound across touchpoints, you’ll get that same feeling if you visit the Under Armour store on Broadway in New York’s SoHo district, its first “brand house.” Ray, a Selling Specialist at the store, explained that every brand house has similar music. Motivational playlists like “The Best Never Stop,” “I Will What I Want,” and “Rule Yourself” fill retail stores around the world. To extend beyond the shopping experience and into your next workout, Under Armour shares these playlists on Spotify, 8tracks, and YouTube.

Spencer Manio, a professional DJ and music curator, helped design the sound of Under Armour’s retail stores. “You become invested in knowing that the music represents all these things that you don’t see on a retail level, but rather the whole company, their culture,” Manio explains. “At that point, you stop programming for the customer and program for the brand.” Rather than looping the top 100, Manio sets the tone for the brand in a way that not only motivates consumers, but also inspires employees. Before the SoHo Brand House opens in the morning, Ray and the sales team huddle up. They gossip about life, plan for the day ahead, and pump themselves up with the Under Armour tunes in the background.

SoundCloud and Under Armour also recently co-hosted #ShiftTheCulture, a music-based experience in downtown New York. Taking over legendary New York City barbershop Astor Place Hairstylists, the brands brought together two worlds with obvious connections — music and sneakers — for a night of live performances by Goldlink, Leaf and Reese LAFLARE with a special DJ set by Take A DayTrip.

These tunes evoke emotions, and emotions influence sales. “Emotion is the component of customer experience that has the largest impact on loyalty,” according to Bruce Temkin, Managing Partner of The Temkin Group, a customer experience consultancy. Whether it’s the heroism of a trumpet or the heart-tug of a violin, sound has a unique power to pull you in. “As a strategic music studio, our philosophy is based on the premise that half of storytelling is sound, because it is the strongest conveyer of emotion,” writes Man Made Music Strategist Maya Friedman. With the right sound at the right time, brands can craft a story that’s instrumental in differentiating and improving their customer experience.


Jake Aronson is a verbal identity consultant at Interbrand New York.

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