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Sonic branding for emotional connection, not emotional manipulation

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Sixième Son on why marketers need to understand that creating emotional connections sonically to a brand takes time and effort.

Our mental health, and awareness of it, have never been so essential to our existence. Personal or professional, this past year has challenged many of us to finally understand that emotional well-being is not something to take for granted; that, basically, we cannot function if we are not emotionally connected.

And it is not just Covid-19 that has shed a blinding light on this revelation, but an overwhelmingly charged social and political atmosphere, on a global scale.

For many years, brands have been among the first to take risks in support of diversity and equality, to foster understanding, and even revolutionize societies. The trailblazers of days past will not be forgotten; however, it may not have been so detrimental to their survival to get it right. Consumers can easily see past the bells and whistles, the celebrity endorsements, and the glitz and glamour, to pinpoint the truth. If we don’t feel that the message is authentic, if there is an ounce of doubt, the brand platform will fail.

The right emotional connection must be a brand leader’s number one priority today and they should be looking to sonic branding for accuracy. Just because a script has the words caring, support, joy, fun, and so on, doesn’t mean the message gets across.

A simple example, someone can say “I care about you”, but we register their tone of voice, inflection, enthusiasm, warmth, how it sounds, in order to decide if they mean it. Similarly, your brand could be hitting the mark with visual content that uplifts women, supports minority communities, takes a political stand (or kneel), but the music is expressing something else. If it doesn’t match, you’ve lost the emotional connection. A high price to pay for simply not having been more considerate about music.

Why? Because music is more universally understood on an emotional level than visual assets, and we process sound more quickly than anything seen. So brands must beware of the melodramatic, the saccharine, and the falsely naïve. Some brands may want to reexamine hypermasculine or hyperfeminine stereotypes. And, of course, banal and boring is the worst branding sin of all. If we hear something that rubs us the wrong way, the reaction will be almost instantaneous, and as it’s such an emotional experience, it will be much harder to forget.

Moreover, there are plenty of traps that a brand can fall into when it comes to selecting music. A study conducted by Sixième Son, in partnership with Harris Interactive, provides evidence that the use of an existing, popular commercial track does not predict how successful the content will be. On the contrary, the hit tracks have a tendency to be more attention-getting than the brand itself, so audiences come away with the song or artist in mind, not the brand. On the other end of the spectrum, using generic, free stock music does nothing to build brand recognition. Plenty of times we have heard the same generic track used for content across unrelated industries. Without seeing their brand logos, we would never know who was trying to get our attention.

So how does a brand leader navigate emotional decency, as described by Michaël Boumendil, president at Sixième Son, through sound, music, and voice? Beyond taking a pass on choosing from Billboard’s top 40, work with a sonic branding partner. Just as with a visual branding agency, that’s what they are here for! This is not a digital, PR, or marketing subject, it is a brand initiative. An experienced partner will strategically help select existing music if that is the right method, and an expert partner will guide the development of a custom sonic brand identity. In the same aforementioned study, it was found that 90% of the best performing sonic identities were tailor-made.

Finally, understand that connecting emotionally takes time and work. Sonic brand assets are more than creative elements, they require a profound and strategic approach to develop and to secure brand value. Start with the core values, explore sound and music from a branding, not personal, perspective and be sure to ask provocative questions.

Can your audience recognize and connect with your brand, with their eyes closed?

Ella Duda, international strategy director at Sixième Son.