When a retailer asks me to select instore background music that will help keep customers in his shop for longer we are dealing with something measurable and exact. I know that if I change certain musical parameters people’s time perception will change and they will adjust their behavior accordingly. The outcome can be measured and is therefore very tangible for any business I am consulting.
On the other end of the scale we find sonic branding. Matching music (or sound for that matter) to a brand in such a manner that it will reinforce the brand and help get its message across. Also a vital part of my job since any music I select must fit the brand it is supposed to help perfectly. How on earth do you know which song or tune or voice will fit a brand?
Here we enter the world of gurus and magicians. If you hire an agency to help you out you will most likely get an individual in brightly colored shoes wearing fancy glasses telling you about ‘experience’, ‘feel’ and some more ‘experience’. Impressive, but it basically comes down to an individual’s gut feeling and opinion.
That is not necessarily a bad thing. Some of these people are very experienced and have a natural feel for what will work with the greater public and what will not. The problem is that you can’t tell whether you are dealing with such an expert or a clown. And even if you have the greatest guru working for you, the method is still hit and miss.
So what if you want something more tangible? Something more surefire?
One approach you can choose is matching attributes. What attributes make up your brand? How is your brand DNA (Distinctiveness, Novelty, Attributes) built up? Try and capture this in single keywords. Maybe your brand is trendy, young, dynamic, fresh and accessible. Or perhaps more luxurious, lush, traditional and exclusive. Every brand will deliver its own unique selection of key attributes that build up its overall appearance and experience.
Next we have to match these attributes to music. You could do this by working with a research panel. Let a substantial group of listeners hear a shortlist of music you are considering and let them fill out to what degree they would ascribe certain attributes to it. “Would you describe this music as trendy?” Let them answer on a five-step scale from “not at all” to “very”. By testing a large number of attributes you will gain insight into which tunes might fit your brand.
Keep in mind that you should always test on your specific target audience. If you aim at urban youth and you question middle aged men and women your data will be useless. They might describe Britney Spears as trendy whereas your target audience probably stopped listening to hear years ago. Sounds obvious, but I see huge mistakes being made here by large companies investing massive amounts of money in research that delivers useless data.
This method will work particularly well for instore background music to get an idea of what kind of music will work. When it comes to a commercial different rules apply. You could take this approach but then again sometimes something completely unexpected and non-matching will work best.
Studies have shown though, that message reception is supported best when congruent music is chosen. When asking people what the commercial was about the answer is most likely to be correct if the music in the commercial was subtle and in line with the brand/message.
So it is important to decide what your goals are. If you are trying to inform people about a product or service (cosmetics or detergent commercials for instance), subtle, brand-matching music will work best. If you are trying to communicate a lifestyle or mood (fashion or perfume commercials for instance) you can choose a more radical and unexpected musical backdrop.
My advice is to take a best-of-both-worlds approach. Make sure your choices are founded on a strong rational (maybe even science-based) strategy and then let a creative mind go mad with it. This will ensure your music is working for you instead of against you.