Steve Martin did a bit in his early stand-up routines where he talked about buying a new stereo system to play his vinyl albums. He bought a two-speaker system, but it didn’t sound good, so he upgraded to a quadraphonic four-speaker system, then to a dodecaphonic twelve-speaker system, then a milliphonic system with one-thousand speakers, then a googlephonic system – “the highest number of speakers before infinity.” Still terrible, so he says, “maybe it’s the needle”.1

There’s a lesson in there about going down traditional paths to solve a problem, but overlooking other, not-so-obvious solutions.

At the ANA’s 2014 Masters of Marketing Conference, industry leaders focused on a core set of brand challenges. Brands must be authentic and convey a clear purpose. Relevance to Millennial and Hispanic audiences is crucial. Mobile-first has become a primary way to engage with people. Innovation and experience transformation is rooted in human-centric design.

Back to Steve Martin, perhaps there’s one solution that many are overlooking. That is, the sound of their brand. When developed strategically, a brand’s sonic identity can be one of the most powerful and effective ways for a brand to communicate and engage.

Wild and crazy? Not so fast… According to the Harvard Business Review, “There’s one powerful branding tool that has been generally overlooked or perhaps undervalued by most marketers: sound. The strategic use of sound can play an important role in positively differentiating a product or service, enhancing recall, creating preference, building trust, and even increasing sales… cognitive studies show that relevant sounds and musical cues can truly influence people in ways marketers want.”2

Here’s why…

Sound and music is visceral – it gets you in the gut, sparks emotions, motivates and conveys meaning. Music can change your mood in an instant. Research has shown that “brands with music that fit their identity are 96% more likely to be recalled than those with non-fit music or no music at all, and respondents are 24% more likely to buy a product with music that they recall, like and understand.”3

Sound and music is experiential – it sets the tone, provides context, give you cues on what to feel and helps you navigate. One study explored the impact of changes to the music score of a movie scene, and found that it causes people to have a different perception of what’s happening, the characters’ backstory and different predictions about what will happen next.4 The same can be applied to the impact of sound and music on how well a brand is understood or perceived.

Sound and music is efficient – it bypasses the rational part of the brain and reaches us at the most instinctual level, and you react even when you are not fully paying attention. Scientifically, reaction time to what you hear is faster than reaction time to any other sense.5 The right sounds can be the fastest and often least-expensive way to instantaneously heighten engagement.

In other words, a brand’s identity is incomplete without incorporating the strategic use of sound and music. While many have a strategically defined brand identity that includes usage principles for core visual and verbal components, the sonic identity is not yet dimensionalized or well managed. It’s potentially damaging, and certainly a missed opportunity.

Here are 5 specific opportunities where a sonic identity can be used to address some of today’s top brand challenges:

1. Conveying Purpose and Values
People gravitate toward brands that stand for something, ones that have a role and contribution in the world, that go beyond what they’re selling, and rally employees to exceed the expectations of customers. A strategically designed piece of music can be the anthem and emotional engine to convey your brand’s purpose and values, the types of products you design or the genre of entertainment you showcase. Music can set the tone, the pace and the energy behind what you stand for.

2. Communicating Across Cultures
When used strategically and thoughtfully, music can be an incredible cross-cultural language. It has the ability to bridge borders and unite demographics under a shared psychographic. Whether the goal is bringing disparate employees together around one mission or extending appeal to multicultural and generationally diverse audiences, music can be the answer. By using the right set of instruments, mix of genres, or enlisting the influence of certain artists, your brand can authentically and efficiently connect with multiple groups of people simultaneously.

3. Connecting Disparate Touchpoints
The strategic use of music and sound can score the brand experience seamlessly across all touchpoints. It has the ability to consistently convey meaning and personality in both physical and digital environments. It can help your brand be noticed even when there is no room for visual or verbal storytelling, and over time, a sonic logo/identity can reach similar levels of attribution as your visual logo/identity, enabling presence where you were once invisible.

4. Supercharging Sponsorships and Spaces
Gone are the days of spending millions of dollars on a sponsorship with just a logo on the building to show for it. Brands are now looking for new ways to be seen and add value by improving the experiences they are a part of. Whether it’s a stadium sponsorship, retail store or another immersive environment, appropriately weaving in your proprietary music and sounds will increase attribution and heighten emotional engagement, as well as improve ROI.

5. Humanizing Digital Interactions
Digital is fast becoming the way many brands communicate with customers. For all of its usefulness and efficiency, digital has the challenge of being devoid of personality and ultimately leads to an undifferentiated and seemingly uncaring experience. The strategic use of music and sound can dramatically improve a digital interaction by placing a brand’s unique identity and personality front-and-center to provide clear navigation with proprietary sounds that are simultaneously functional and emotional.

A brand’s sonic identity can go a long way to address many of today’s top brand challenges. It begins with a strategic foundation. Ultimately it’s not about creating sound, it’s about creating powerful emotional impact that transforms brand experiences.

Kevin Perlmutter is SVP, Chief Strategist at Man Made Music, a strategic music company that specializes in Sonic Branding.

1. Steve Martin “Googlephonics”
2. Harvard Business Review “What does your brand sound like?”
3. Dr. Adrian North and Dr. Hargreaves at Leicester University
4. Aniruddh Patel, Associate Professor of Psychology at Tufts University
5. B.J. Kemp, Developmental Psychology Vol. 8

You know instinctively when it happens. You hear a sound or music that evokes a memory, makes you feel good, gets your heart racing or transports your mind to another place. These are Boom Moments.

A classic example referenced by Joel Beckerman in his book The Sonic Boom is the Chili’s Sizzling Fajita. As Joel describes the scene, the first one comes out of the kitchen and makes its way across the dining room to someone’s table, everyone’s senses are awakened. The smell and the sound of the sizzle create a mouthwatering gotta-have-it sensation. Despite every other option you were considering, your desires were just taken over by the sizzling fajita. A Boom Moment has occurred.

My personal favorite Boom Moment experience goes way back to the mid-80s and Risky Business. Joel (Tom Cruise) is driving and Barry (Bronson Pinchot) is in the passenger seat of the Porsche 928, cruising around town late at night. They stop at a red light. Another car pulls along side. The taunting from the second car begins “A couple of boys in daddy’s car… you wanna race…?” The music is pulsing throughout. The light turns green. The second car takes off. You can barely hear the engine sputter forward and there’s not enough power to make the spinning tires sound anything but weak. The 928 doesn’t move. Barry slowly turns his head toward Joel and says “Hit it.” Immediately you hear that sound. The 928 takes off, wheels spin, the engine roars, and they easily pass the other car, despite its head start. Cut to the 928 doing backwards donuts in an empty parking lot, making the engine-revving sound that I’ve been in love with ever since.

Truth is, I’d never actually driven a Porsche, but the desire to hear and control that sound was still on my mind nearly 20 years later. So, it was time. My options and budget had me exploring a new Honda or an old Porsche. The choice was clear, and this time there would be no substitute. Cut to a dark February evening. I’m at a dealership after hours, alone in the repair bay in the back of the building. Standing. Waiting. Hoping that when the sales guy and my auto mechanic friend get back from a test drive of the 1986 911, that the car checks out so I can finalize the deal.

After a few moments, not even expecting my anxiousness to turn into exhilaration, I start to hear it. Woooon, wont woooon, wont wooooo. That visceral Porsche sound coming down the road, around the bend, toward the back of the dealership and into the garage. The Boom Moment has returned and this time I’m driving it home!

Risky Business is known for Tom Cruise dancing to “Old Time Rock & Roll,” revitalizing Ray-Ban’s and, I’m sure, selling Porsches. All I know is that it emblazed my passion and desire for a car, an experience and a sound that keeps my heart racing to this day.

Porsche has managed to use sound to score the driving experience and forges a deep emotional connection with aficionados and wannabes.

You can check out more Porsche sounds on their website. Just beware, because it just may change how you want to drive forever.,,,487312.html

That’s my favorite Boom Moment. What’s yours?