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Brands, Bands & the Importance of Authenticity

Updated: Mar 19, 2021

As music moves from tactical marketing to becoming a core brand asset there is a pressing need for many brands to formulate an overarching music brand strategy. One that underpins the core brand positioning and brand personality rather than simply being an afterthought for creative types on the marketing floor.

Right now there is not a huge pool of expertise in sonic strategy – evidenced from discussions with brand strategy leaders that we speak to in many organizations worldwide. The reality is that it’s a comparatively new frontier for most brands.

The creation of a sonic brand identity (logo/anthem) is not in itself a strategy in the same way as creating a corporate visual logo is not a strategy. Both are essential first steps but neither take you closer to delivering increased brand value.

So how should brands go about creating a holistic sonic strategy when so few have even thought about it - let alone practiced it? I’ve tried to provide a few answers in this post and one to follow.

At least part of the answer is staring us in the face. One category of brand has been nailing sonic brand identity for decades and many lessons can be learnt from understanding how they do it and why it works. This provides a context and a roadmap that can and could be followed by brands worldwide to harness the unique emotional power and impact of music.

Bands are brands

People have been talking about bands as brands for decades. But, as sonic strategy enters the mainstream, it is the way in which iconic bands/artists use their music to build their brands that is acutely relevant. Their core brand asset is their music. Many have mastered how to use music to drive consumer engagement, and loyalty, at a scale and intensity rarely matched by all but a few corporate brands.

It’s not just about the music

A band is not formed with an adoring fan base. It builds over time and the fuel that powers fan engagement and loyalty is the music. In the same way as a brand needs to have an appealing and differentiated product, a band needs appealing music, and that music must have an emotional impact. That impact has two core components – appeal and emotional authenticity. In other words, for maximum effect, it needs to be both enjoyable and honest.

Music is the catnip of emotional connection. It has an extraordinary power to universally connect far more deeply than sight, smell and taste. Brands have to appeal to the senses to surpass the rational level, and music does this in spades. Music digs deep into the subconscious. It makes people feel and, if this connection is made, it creates a near unbreakable bond that often lasts for life.

And now the killer punch - if the music is also delivered with true authenticity this emotional bond is effortlessly transferred to the artist. Watch Sinead O'Connor singing - Nothing compares 2U. She grabs you from the first lyric, but it’s at four minutes in that gouges into the subconscious. This particularly video has been viewed over 240 million times on YouTube alone and is growing at about two million a week. The emotional bond that this song has fostered with consumers is immensely strong – even 30 years after it was released.

Answer #1 - Appeal + Authenticity = Brand uplift.

Artists that nail this can benefit from a depth of relationship with their fans that is rarely, if ever, achieved by brands. When bands reach iconic status, their fans are borderline psychotic. They worship them with lighters in the air and follow their every tweet, interview, image and utterance. They spend $100’s just to be in the same venue, to feel the proximity of an emotional connection – sight and sound. And all of this is because of the music, music that people love. Music that generates an overpowering emotional connection with the band. It also generates appeal and recall for the music. If they split up their fans suffer extreme emotional distress as breaking this connection is intensely painful.

To accentuate the point, ask why a cover band is never as successful as the original. Often the live aural experience is better than the original, but authenticity (the emotional connection with the creator) is missing and this hugely diminishes the experience for the fan. The musical enjoyment is there but the emotional connection is not. This is backed up by music psychology studies that show that there is a sophisticated brain network that lights up when attributing a mental state to the creator of a piece of music. However, if they think that the music is composed by an algorithm, or it is not being performed by the creator, this is not triggered, and this emotional dopamine hit is significantly diminished or does not occur at all.

Authenticity is the primary driver for your music strategy

So, when you think about your music strategy, authenticity should be the primary driver. In a brand context there is one overriding factor that drives authenticity - the music must closely align with and match the brand’s personality (perceived or aspirational - or ideally somewhere in between). Anything less will be incapable of landing the subconscious emotional punch required to build consumer engagement and brand equity.

In my second post in this series, I will continue to explore the role of authenticity as well as band/brand partnerships and offer some thoughts on how to build your music strategy.

In the meantime, I’d love you to share examples of brands you think have broken through the sound barrier to create authentic connections with consumers.

* Image courtesy of Sinead O’Connor official music video

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