Misusing music can harm your business.
But when used well, it can result in very positive outcomes.
How do we make sure it does one of these things and not the other?
First, we need to understand that humans only developed written language in 3500 BC, centuries after the first complex Sumerian cities were formed: a good 13 millennia after we began trying to convince others to buy our stuff and give us money in exchange.
It is only in recent history that most of us have become literate and thus vulnerable to the persuasive charms of copywriters and their ilk. Written words are new to us!
For most of our existence on this planet, we have relied on sound to communicate.
But because it is such an entrenched part of our shared histories, most of assume, without information, that we somehow have an accurate understanding of its importance or usefulness.
This can result in an unscientific and ineffective (even harmful) approach to the use of sound in marketing and branding.
Our connection to it is neurological and chemical: sonic vibrations in the air, captured by the nerve endings in our ears, are primarily interpreted by the amygdala, other primitive or "emotional" centers of the human brain, and stimulate our dopaminergic pathways.
We are also connected to it in a primal way. It triggers involuntary limbic system response, determines or heightens our emotional state, affects our decision-making processes, and drives persistent repeat behavior.
These qualities mean that music and sound are often double-edged swords. They sometimes have as much potential to harm your business as they do to help it.
The key, therefore, to using audio well, is to understand exactly what it does, why, and when to use it.
Thankfully, plenty of research and data already exists, and it is easy to broaden our understanding of how audio works to build useful behavior. Let's look at a few examples!
Targeted use of environmental (background) music in product/service experience.
A study of 250 participants (of similar ages) found that consumers' opinions (qualitative assessments) of the product they consumed was susceptible to deliberate influence by environmental music between 35-60% of the time, causing them to later describe the product as having similar qualities to the chosen music (which was tested beforehand to ascertain its character).
So where's the danger in un-targeted background music?
A piece of music can make your product seem "classy" to one demographic, and "stuffy" to another. The associations one person has are not representative of the associations of a person of a different gender, background etc.
For example, in the linked statistic (here it is again), out of 1018 respondents in the USA, 70% of those aged 55 and above believed Country music to be representative of classic Americana, while only 44% of those aged 18-34 believed this to be the case.
That's a difference of 26% (in this case) - if you were to embark on a campaign or a strategy based on what you (your friends, your coworkers, or any anecdotal source of data) might personally understand to be effective, you are at great risk of making a decision that is not grounded in real numbers. That decision is not likely to lead to the results that you desire.
You mean, my opinion isn't enough?
If you fail to sufficiently research your choice of environmental music and apply it effectively in the right context, you risk creating unnecessary and unwanted negative associations with your product or service.
Once these associations become familiar and unconscious they will become emotionally imprinted, near-impossible to change, and certainly a thorn in the side of your business.
However, if you do engage in sufficient and focused research for the audience you hope to reach, those same dangers can be shaped into powerful marketing tools.
So how do I do this the right way?
You can engage audio-focused market research agencies to gather data on the type of music your desired audience associates with the perceived qualities or characteristics you want your product or service to have.
A multitude of options await after that: You can license a song or a playlist from thousands of commercially available tracks on the market, or apply for a yearly blanket license from a performing rights organization that manages the rights-holders of the music tracks you want.
And, if you're feeling fancy, why not get something written just for you?
An Audio Brand that consumers remember.
The fine folks at Veritonic did a study of 1000 participants across the US and UK and compiled data that indicates that the top-performing audio brands (in terms of retention) contained some very specific elements, and that Millenials respond to audio branding 12% more on average than other age groups.
If you're marketing to a young crowd - it's not a topic you can ignore!
So what makes an audio brand more memorable than others?
According to the data in the study, the most successful audio brands contain:
1. A Verbal element (~10% more effective than non-verbal)
2. A Melodic (musical) element (~20% more effective than non-melodic)
3. A Branded Element (~10% more effective than non-branded)
Note that this study does not measure whether or not a person likes an audio brand. It only takes note of whether a person can recall the brand after a 48-hour period.
Even if you have all these elements, it is no guarantee that it will foster the right sort of qualitative associations - it is still absolutely important to test your desired audience for these and solidify one's branding message before leaping into this technical step.
Otherwise, you'd be putting the cart before the horse.
The Importance Of Repetition
Now that your audio brand contains all the right ingredients, people still need to hear it multiple times to familiarize themselves with your identity.
Familiarity triggers the emotional parts of our brain versus those that are more closely associated with our higher reasoning and logical responses.
It is the gateway to unlocking a dopaminergic pathway (dopamine is the neurotransmitter in our brains that is responsible for feelings of pleasure that directly result in persistent repeat behavior).
This is not some form of mind-control.
If you've ever felt pleasure while engaging in a particular activity, you have experienced this. It encourages you to engage in that activity again, and is an important part of our brain chemistry in building useful behaviors and habits. In our primitive past, it was essential to our survival.
So how might this be harmful?
Music can be extremely irritating when written such that it does not excite or "tickle" our brains in a way that makes us want to hear it again. So it is advisable to select or create music that is enjoyable to your chosen audience, non-fatiguing, and that stands up to a great deal of repetition.
These characteristics can be quantitatively measured.
For maximum useful effect, you need to make sure your audience hears it as often as possible without negatively impacting their experience (a negative experience will certainly be tied to the music).
In-store music is a common method that businesses use with great success.
One such company is Japan's "Don Quixote", which has a famously catchy jingle. The highly enjoyable jingle contains the brand name and even employs repetitive devices within itself ("don don don, don qui"), in addition to being repeated in the store endlessly.
It is an excellent example of the use of musical devices in branding.