Now that I run a music and audio-identity company, "brand harmony" is no longer just an analogy: In this hyper-multimedia age of limitless touch points and relentless clutter, I've learned that the intelligent, strategic, brand-informed use of music and sound can create a more harmonious brand experience, which, in turn, drives sales.
Equal aural plane
Because clutter and a better return on marketing dollars have become such omnipresent issues, it is essential that CMOs and their teams recognize the full potential of music and sound and their power as a branding tool. Indeed, music and sound should be put on equal terms with visual and copy, if not a logo, in the creation of marketing communications.
A few smart marketers are doing this now, and because of it, their advertising and their marketplace results are stronger than their competitors'.
Alas, too many marketers treat music and sound like an afterthought. Too many think of sound as a literal reproduction of what is being seen rather than an opportunity to enhance recall or create differentiation.
It's the CMO's responsibility to orchestrate a strategy for music that elevates it to the level of picture and copy in the creative process.
Music can be more powerful than words and pictures, and it can achieve deep levels of communication and connection that words and pictures cannot. Music is also a powerful mnemonic device. And music can be endlessly refreshed with different arrangements, styles and tempos, and it crosses cultures, borders and language barriers.
Historically, advertising and branding have been dominated by the visual. But the marketing discipline is evolving past branding to creating brand experiences as people's expectation for more interesting experiences grows. The marketers that can match and exceed expectations are going to get ahead. Music can turn advertising into a much more powerful brand experience.
But before you run out and spend millions on a song by Lennon and McCartney or try to discover the next Coldplay, take a step back and ask yourself if you are trying to entertain your consumers (or be in the entertainment business yourself) or if you are trying to build a consistent, differentiated, own-able and emotionally powerful brand experience.
Often, a licensed track is a compromise for the brand, because music created to entertain and sell an artist's CDs does not fit your brand well enough, distracts from the brand or adds unneeded baggage.
Licensed music does have a role in advertising, but relying on licensed music for long-term brand building is chancy and unreliable: It's borrowed equity.
And the reality is, sooner or later you are going to burn out that famous track or not be able to afford to renew the license in perpetuity (you're only renting a licensed track, not buying it). Either way, you are giving up any equity you may have built up, replacing it with something else, which creates a cycle of repeatedly starting over and disrupting a potentially critical part of your brand equity.
The strategic use of original, custom-designed music turns what is usually treated as an executional tool into a legitimate and powerful branding tool. Marketers need to view music as something they can craft to be original, unique, differentiated and own-able, and thus a brand asset that creates equity.
Properly designed music has the ability to heighten the experience of a brand's emotional and aspirational values. Original composition also provides opportunity to address distinct constituencies, ethnicities and/or demographics while maintaining the integrity of the core thematic. Only original music can evolve with a brand over time and build brand equity.
Orchestrating musical strategy
To get to this new, more powerful way to use music, the first step is to start thinking strategically about it, asking yourself these questions: Have you done an objective, comprehensive and multi-touch-point audit of your brand's audio assets?
Do you have audio-identity guidelines that cover all the points of contact your customers have with your brand?
Do these audio-identity guidelines make their way into the creative briefs used to inform the development of marketing communications?
Most brands don't have satisfactory answers to these questions. As a result, they are missing the opportunity to build the significantly better brand experiences consumers are demanding.
Those who get it -- and those who just don'tSuccessful marketers repeatedly use music to a high standard and understand the strategic role music plays in creating brand harmony. On the flip side, at least half of the music created or chosen for advertising is ill-conceived, woefully generic and bland.
When CMO Mary Dillon says "marketers who do not understand the power of music will quickly be left behind," it sets high expectations, and McDonald's delivers-big time. Beyond the golden arches, the "I'm Lovin' It" tagline and an audio logo has become a powerful mnemonic device for brand recognition.
TBWA/Chiat/Day has evolved to an interesting place with the use of audio on this brand. The agency has created a unique and distinctive sonic personality that perfectly matches the cars themselves. Original music and sound that is unlike any other brand's creates a very contemporary feel.
Nike must be mentioned because of the way it uses music in TV ads and its presence on iTunes. It manages to consistently reinforce its brand values and generate powerful emotions through careful creation of original music, with the occasional "just right" licensed track that exudes brand values.
A few years ago, Chrysler relied on Celine Dion to make a splash with the then-new PT Cruiser and a few other new products. Predictably, the visual presence of a celebrity plus her music totally overwhelmed the Chrysler brand, and while I'm sure it sold a lot of CDs, it failed to sell Chryslers.
The Human League's "Don't You Want Me Baby?" applied to singing Chips Ahoy cookies. It's crumbelievable. Oh wait, that tune is in a Kraft ad also. I would truly love to hear the strategic rationale for taking a minor club hit from 1992 (EMF's "Unbelievable") and perverting it into "Crumbelievable" for Kraft Crumbles.
My old pal Ian Beavis, CMO at Kia, is going to be really angry with me for saying this, but I think the seeming randomness of the music across the range of Kia advertising is diminishing brand clarity and recognition at a time in this brand's life when it should be advancing.