30 July, 2011
27 July, 2011
The backlash against piped music (with consumer groups like PipeDown to the fore) is partly fuelled by the resentment that arises from being given no choice. Research shows that people’s irritation with noise increases dramatically when they have no control over the sound source. It follows that we must try to give people a choice about any sound we inflict on them. On the web, this means starting with sound off and offering it as an option (with an omnipresent control to toggle sound on/off). Obviously it's more difficult to make sound optional in a physical space – though not impossible. A range of rooms or spaces with different soundscapes is one practical solution, as educational establishments with silent reading rooms have long understood. If we can’t offer soundscape options that way, the next best thing is to target sound as carefully as possible, so that we upset the smallest number of people. For spaces with a very tight demographic and psychographic user profile, this is not too difficult. Some shops, bars, clubs and restaurants know exactly who their customers are and what they like; in many cases the sound (usually music) acts as a filter, attracting the ‘right’ people and warning the ‘wrong’ ones to go elsewhere because this is not for them. Buddha Bar and Abercrombie & Fitch are two good examples. This approach can work in more generalist spaces if music is used as part of an overall zoning policy. For example in a large mall there might be zones for younger and older customers, and sound or music could be a form of signposting to help nudge people in the right direction. The problems arise for generalist spaces that can’t or won’t operate this kind of zoning. One person’s signal is another person’s noise, and nowhere is this truer than with broadcast sound in public. Whatever you play in a mass-market space, you will upset someone. I strongly suggest two actions. First, err on the side of caution: it’s better to inject no sound that the wrong sound. There is nothing at all wrong with the sound of people shopping! Second, research carefully before you deploy. Do not assume that your customers will naturally love smooth jazz and r&b classics, because they just might loathe them. Use focus groups to ascertain attitudes, and create pilot sites where you run proper quantitative tests that measure the effect of the soundscape on people’s behaviour (see Golden Rule 4). 2. Make it congruent
Music is not the only (or even the best) type of sound to deploy in commercial spaces. After all, it is made with the strong intention of being listened to, so when it's played in the background there is a conflict of interest. The visual equivalent would be covering every inch of your walls with works of art.
There are far too many commercial spaces playing music because they do it next door. I suspect that the world would sound rather different if they all asked the question: how can our sound add value to our customers? Sound can be hugely valuable. It can warn us of danger (smoke alarms); it can inform us of events or of opportunities (radio news; in-store announcements of special offers); it can reduce the boredom of mundane tasks (music in factories); it can entertain, move and inspire us (music in films); it can guide us (zoning; travel announcements); most of all, it’s our primary connection with other humans (conversation). When designing your soundscape, start by going into the space, closing your eyes and listening. Ask yourself, how can our sound add value to our customers? That question may lead you to start by removing some noisemakers or installing acoustic treatments to reduce reverberation time and create a calmer ambience.
4. Test it and test it again
When it comes to measuring the effects of sound, it’s what people do that matters, not what they say. This is particularly true when the sound in question is music, because everybody has an opinion about music. In designing soundscapes, we can use both qualitative and quantitative research. Focus groups of customers (or, for larger audiences, customer segments) help us understand what sounds they like, and what they dislike. Auditory ‘mood boards’ and specific sounds and music tracks can be used as stimulus material. Then we can survey large samples with traditional questions or small samples with neurological and physiological measures to check the psycho-physiological effects (what psychologists call 'affect'). In large group research, the questions should be focused on measuring what we’re actually interested in – for example brand affinity, emotional state, general satisfaction or purchasing intentions – and not on what people think about the sound. What people say they like and how they behave due to sound are two very different things. Once we have designed a soundscape or playlist, we can test the effects by alternating our proposed soundscape with no sound, or the old soundscape, again by measuring the differences in KPIs such as sales, dwell time, footfall, brand affinity and customer satisfaction, not asking people if they like it.
22 July, 2011
All businesses are making sound; most just aren’t controlling it – and the effects of this random noise are lost sales, undermined brands and lost customers.
Well over a thousand billion dollars are spent worldwide every year on how brands look: the brand books describing visual identities can be as thick as telephone directories for the world’s most famous and complex brands. They are intended to cover every possible aspect of branding… so it’s strange that I have had the following conversation many times:
Me: “Do you have a brand book?”
Marketing director: “Yes, of course we have a brand book.”
Me: “How many pages are about sound?”
Marketing director: “Er, none.”
Sound is probably the last great unexplored country for the marketing profession. Sound branding is a virtually virgin territory, rich with resources, that’s been behind us the whole time. Of course, sound is not the only sense we’ve been ignoring. The other two primary senses (smell and taste) and the range of touch, or haptic, senses (pressure, texture, temperature, balance and so on) are important too. Using the traditional Aristotelian five-sense model (sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste), marketing guru Martin Lindstrom proposes ‘5D branding’ in his book BRANDsense. His extensive research showed that less than 10 per cent of the world’s top brands have a sensory branding platform (though this is forecast to increase to 35 per cent within five years).
I fully support the 5D approach, and commend Martin’s book to every marketer. However, sight and hearing must be considered the twin major senses for two reasons. First, they can both carry specific messages: we can say exactly what we want in either vision or sound. Smell, touch and taste can convey a large number of moods, feelings and ambiences, but not many specific messages. Second, sight and hearing can both be broadcast, and they are therefore the only two mass communication senses. So far, nobody has found a way of broadcasting smells or tastes.
We know that sound has four profound effects on people: physiological, psychological, cognitive and behavioural. The right sound can increase retail sales by up to 38% – but sound that’s incongruent with visual messaging will undermine impact by over 80%. From this perspective it’s clear that the marketing profession has always given too much weight to sight compared to sound. This may be because the mass communication media were sight-only (press and posters) for much of marketing’s formative history. It may also be that marketing’s whole strategic paradigm has been focused on the brand as promise (‘image’, a purely visual word); brand experience, which natural occurs in all five senses, is a relatively young discipline.
But as we know today, every brand is both a promise and an experience. Sound can play a major a role in both these aspects, though how major depends on the specific product, brand, market, territory and customer base. At its most potent, sound can make or break a brand. It must always be considered.