Sound has tremendous impact on us, whether we consciously recognize it or not. It can pique our interest and it can drive us nuts.
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 that I’ve become somewhat fixated on how to make life better with sound.
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. I’m creating and seeking out experiences where sound and music sets the right vibe. During my over-crowded, typically-standing-on-the-train 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 around me. 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 to 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, directional accuracy and occasional adorable mispronunciation. I find that the HBO’s feature presentation opening music on HBO is a great palate cleanser to focus my anticipation on what I’m about to watch. I was pleasantly surprised by the stress-minimizing and helpful automated voice persona when I called Amtrak to reschedule a trip. 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 they’ve universally raised the volume level, making it hard to think. There’s a new Mexican restaurant in my home town, where the food is delicious, but I had to ask which days the mariachi band is playing. Great music—but way too loud for the small space, making it hard for my family to talk across the table on those days. I turn off the volume when on the Facebook app because the sounds are more intrusive than pleasing. 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.
It’s why the importance of sonic identity as an experience differentiator is not just a phase. 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 prior article I wrote about the impact on brand identity as we’ve moved from a Communications-Focused world to an Experience-Focused world. Using the visual below, 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.
Since sound is the shortcut to 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: Bringing sound into an experience starts with a plan. You must determine what you’re trying to achieve, where will it be most useful and how should it should sound to 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 shows up in the right way.
2. Deepen Meaning and Emotional Connection: A well-crafted sonic identity is designed to convey information and help people feel more emotionally drawn to the experience. Like a good movie score, the sound tells half the story. It is the emotional thread that sets the scene, builds anticipation and punctuates key moments. Without sound, a lot of the storytelling and emotion-driving opportunity 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/or music to guide the experience, to set the right mood and to provide useful information. Just think about making people happy and take out the sonic trash.
Recently, I was thinking about the prefer-not-to-live-without brand experiences in my life. Some have great sound and some are silent but rest assured, none have bad sound. I’m talking about my Swiss army knife of daily enablers: my iPhone, the Starbucks app, Spotify, Evernote, The Weather Channel app, Uber, Google Maps, TiVo, Amazon and my Garmin GPS running watch. They all have one thing in common that has been the gold standard of experience design for several years. They are intuitive.
Intuitive. It’s become an overused word at this point, don’t you think? Intuitive has gone from aspirational in experience design to a price of entry. It’s true, everything needs to be more intuitive. But now, 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 that 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, automated voices and interface-less digital experiences infiltrating our daily routines. Brands work to hard create these distinct experiences, but over time all are all starting to blend together as tactile differences and space for visual identification minimizes. In our Experience-Focused world, sound can be a primary experience differentiator.
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.”
Photo: Mickey Alexander
Kevin Perlmutter is SVP, Chief Strategist at Man Made Music.
If you would like to share your perspective, please comment or start a conversation on Twitter @kevinperlmutter or in email: firstname.lastname@example.org.