Sonic Strategy and Music: A Cost to Investment

Ruth Simmons
June 2, 2020

Sonic strategy – how to move music from a cost to an investment

In Part 3, we explored making Brand Sound Differentiation a key part of a brand’s sonic strategy.

Brands love using music in their advertising and marketing. But for many CFOs and Procurement departments, financial decisions about sound are often based on “what was spent last time” or worse, “what is left in the budget”. Sound strategy is a world away in their thinking.

Whilst this may be commercially viable, it ignores invisibles like customer perception, which is central to an effective sonic strategy. People have sophisticated hearing. Without any musical training they can differentiate programmed instruments from the rich sounds of real instruments. In the same way they may judge a product by its packaging they may be judging your brand values by what they perceive as a cheap sound option.

Sonic identity and RMI – return on music investment

Brands love music. They love its emotive qualities, they love its ability to manipulate and they love the way it brings people together. Several years ago, I told BBH’s John Bartle OBE about my hypothesis that brands have a sonic identity that they could use to differentiate their brand and develop as an asset. He listened patiently and then said, “While this is very interesting, if you can’t measure it then it ain’t any use to me. The ability to apply metrics and measure the value of sound to the brand has to be a critical part of the creative process.”

John called it RMI – Return on Music Investment. He was right then and he is still right. The challenge then was that not only we didn’t have the technology, we didn’t have the motivation.

What can we learn from the new music data available?

Every creative team wants the best music to lift their visuals and messaging. But there are 40 million tracks to choose from and, with a brief that constantly changes and evolves, it can be easy to move from the best track to (almost) any track. Rarely do they investigate previous music usage or integrate data that assesses if or how those previous choices worked for the consumer. But if we do investigate and validate sound decisions with data, the relationship between creative and procurement can become an easier conversation.

By referring to data and documented benchmarks, brands can make informed decisions about the impact of using sound with the same confidence that they assess every other aspect of their promotional and communications activities. This is a key part of an effective sonic strategy. The whole process and conversations between all the departments becomes more fluid, time and cost efficient.

The good news is that today there are disciplines that apply the rigour of science to the art of music. Methodologies that provide statistical evidence, painting clear and scientifically proven pictures of how the music is working for a specific brand. This is an approach that looks at and measures music patterns – causes and effects, cultural bias and directional choices – reflecting the core values and essence of the brand. We can now compare and contrast what the brand is intending consumers to hear with what they are actually hearing. And all this without subtracting from the creativity.

Some brands are investing in sonic strategy and are starting to get down and get dirty. They’re discovering that understanding the brand’s sonic identity isn’t a last-minute budgetary decision, a ‘cool tune’, or a sponsorship opportunity. It’s a carefully thought out process where the value music is bringing to a brand is monitored.

With a valuation of its Sound Equity, a brand can now create intellectual music properties that move beyond the packaging, or the logo, and help to create consumer relevance and consolidate consumer loyalty. And create a Return on their Music Investment.

Thank you for reading our 4-part series on Sound Equity. If you want to hear more from us, check out soundlounge on Instagram, Twitter, Spotify or LinkedIn, and keep your eyes peeled on our blog for other interesting articles (including this one from radio ad man Paul Burke!)

Stay safe everyone.

Ruth Simmons – CEO, soundlounge

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