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Sound provides a massive opportunity for brands to get between someone’s ears!

Recent posts in our expert series have looked closely at the psychology of sound and music and its application with sonic branding agencies. This post discusses the power of sound for brands in marketing, particularly on radio. It captures the thoughts of Jo McCrostie, creative director at Global, Europe's largest radio company. Global is home to the UK's best-loved radio stations including Heart, Capital, LBC and Classic FM. Jo is an expert in how brands can use sound to develop a powerful marketing advantage and, together with her award winning team of audio specialists, she has helped develop audio identities for brands such as TalkTalk and ABTA.

How did you get into radio?

“I went to both art and drama school with plans to be an actor and director. But when I turned down an acting job, I decided I needed to move into the commercial world and put my copywriting and art directing skills to work. I went to the inaugural Radio Advertising Bureau conference and fell in love with the medium of sound and radio. One of the things I love about audio is - you can’t write a line of a radio ad without it creating a picture in someone’s mind. That’s the power of sound. The mind is the medium.

“My love for the medium has grown richer as the years have passed. The more you work with neuroscientists and music psychologists, the more you realise how powerful and underexploited audio is. And because sound exists only in your mind, you can’t see it, so it’s all about how your mind ‘interprets’ it.

“I started at Capital Radio as a ‘runner’ and had my first ad on air within a week. It was a recording with the iconic Ian Drury – an amazing way to start. It was a really simple, but cool, ad for a café on the Kings Road. The more I worked with sound, the more I could see the impact it was having on businesses. This was a really exciting time. Radio was emerging as a category. It’s hard to believe now, but 2005 was the first year radio was a category at Cannes! People started to talk about sonic branding and sonic identities. But what really excited me was seeing the business impact a good piece of creative could have. It made me realise how potent audio could be.

“Today we work with brands large and small – the big, established, national brands and the emerging start-ups. And the great thing is you can see how the right radio ad can transform the success of a start-up because sound does get into people’s minds. It makes audiences think about something and behave in a certain way. The fact that people can’t see sound is such a great strength because it drives intrigue. People will go online to look at the company because their curiosity is provoked by the sound, and it can lead people to somewhere surprising – it’s very playful.

Own your brand with music – don’t rent it

“There has been a big move towards sonic branding. I think this is being led by finance and insurance companies because they don’t have a physical asset, so they use music to engage with consumers on an emotional level. Music is the shorthand to emotion and will very quickly communicate brand attributes and characteristics.

“Really smart brands like Mastercard are making a strategic investment in music. They are building their own brand audio catalogue which means they don’t rent their brand sound, they own it. Music for brands needs to be flexible and dynamic so it can be adapted to suit the audience and the platform. The key thing is to ensure the same attributes are conveyed at every touchpoint and for every use.

“A lot of brands don’t yet have a sonic strategy. They may prefer to select a popular track so they can be part of a ‘current’ trend and that may work on a campaign level. But on a brand level, if you want sustained impact, it’s worth investing in a sonic strategy. Then a brand has ‘ownership’ of its brand sound and nobody else can use it.

If a brand is going to invest in sound, what would you advise they do?

1. First, I'd identify the goal. What is the role the music has to play, and how is it going to be used?

2. The choice of music is really important. So, it's essential you ‘brandmatch it’.

3. You need to decide what the music has to do mechanically for the brand. Does it have a start middle and end? Does it need to frame an advert? Does it need to mark the brand territory? What I mean by that is, do you need to signal at the beginning this is my brand territory and then have a clear sign-off, so the listener knows the brand sound has come to an end?

4. Then you need to decide what it needs to do emotionally for the brand in a way that words alone cannot convey i.e., what are the attributes or characteristics that you need to match?

5. Finally, you need to use your brand sound with complete consistency. This means you must have very clear brand themes that can appear in longer pieces of music to demonstrate the presence of the brand. The Bond theme is a great example of creating that kind of brand resonance at key moments in a movie. In a perfect world you would have your own suite of music as this would give you complete control over the consistency with which the brand is represented every time you use music.

6. Brands ore often relatively new to using sound strategically, and here at Global we often help them with the briefing, commissioning, production and licencing of bespoke musical compositions and brand identities, offering completely impartial and well researched guidance

Driving recall is the standout requirement for me

“If you match music to the brand, it is brilliant at driving recall. SoundOut’s research[CM1] shows that recall is essential to effectiveness. If a current or potential new customer cannot recall your brand, there can be no recognition and therefore no action or positive association. If you think about the thousands of messages that we’re all bombarded with every day, then it's amazingly powerful to have a sound that recalls your brand even when people aren't listening out for it. Once a brand is remembered you have a good chance of influencing personal preference or brand choice.

What do you like about collaborating with SoundOut?

“SoundOut has created some great tools for enabling a brand to hear how a brand might ‘sound’. The fact that you can identify a great brand match by using just 14 core attributes is very powerful. When I’ve been involved is sessions like that, it’s amazing how a good brand match just sounds right. You see the client just sit back and smile when they hear it.

“I like the fact that SoundOut brings proven science to music selection for brands. It removes the guesswork and the subjectivity that’s been involved up to this point. It enables brand owners and marketers to see how a non-visual medium can convey the attributes of the brand.

When music is brandmatched correctly it can often convey the essence of the brand much more eloquently than language, a strapline, or a logo ever could.

What difference will the latest implicit research study make to the way brand owners think about using music?

“I think there are a number of benefits:

  • It will give brands confidence in their choice of music because it eliminates the guesswork about the impact the music choice will make on their brand.

  • It will de-risk the investment in music because it shows that it is possible to measure, and test, the subconscious impact a music choice will have on someone’s brand choice. Subjective choices are just too risky.

  • It might enable brands to choose music they would never have associated with their brand. This could highlight brand nuances that might not have featured in the brief, but which bring the brand to life in a truly memorable way. This could be very refreshing for brands.

Which is your favourite music track and why?

“That’s too hard a question. Songs all do different things and take you to different places. But one track that’s never been far from the top of my playlist is Feeling Good by Muse. It just takes you through everything. But I have different go-to music depending on my mood.

It’s a very exciting time for sound. We have more listeners than ever. Our audiences are growing because you can listen to audio while you are doing something else. Our eyes are suffering from ‘screen fatigue’. People want to close their eyes and go to a different place. Sound will do that for you – which offers brands a massive opportunity to get right between the ears of their consumers!

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