best way to feel a brand is to hear it.
As we’re all shopping (or perhaps “auditing”)
stores filled with the sounds of the season, it’s a good time
to talk sound. Believe me when I tell you - sound is the
greatest missed opportunity in creating a branded shopping
experience. If you doubt me, just imagine the sound of those
Salvation Army bells above the hustle of shoppers and the
occasional coins clanking in those red kettles. Feels good
doesn’t it? I also smell chestnuts but that’s for a future
Since I’m in a holiday mood, I won’t drag out the research to
suggest longer stays, bigger tickets and more frequent
visits. It’s all there if you need it to get things started
in your company. So don’t cry on Santa’s lap, I’m here to let
you know there’s a painless solution. In fact, it just might
be the most revealing journey into your brand to date. It was
The first thing to realize when venturing into sonic branding
is you’ve entered the world of buying an “original”.
Retail loves to issue purchase orders for items we
competitively bid, understand and prototyped. For us, Talent
Acquisition is Human Resources. In the world of sonic
branding you’re actually “Acquiring Talent” - commissioning
composers, musicians and the producers you’ve chosen to
create the sound for your brand and shopping experience. It’s
personal, emotional and you can’t help but develop a special
relationship with the people that give your brand “voice”.
I was fortunate to find the person and company that was more
than deserving of the challenge. Her name is Audrey Arbeeny
and the company is Audiobrain. Well I say fortunate - it
wasn’t a hard choice once you learn of their NBC Olympics
Emmy™ and the host of blue chip clients that range from an
X-Box 360 to a global cruise line.
Ms Arbeeny is demanding, uncompromising, persistent and
totally consumed with the challenge of translating words on a
page into the perfect melody, instrumentation and
arrangements. It’s also what she demands of her team.
What she asks of you is a truly refined list of brand
qualities, personality and tremendous detail on how you want
the customer to feel as they move through your stores. It’s a
great sense of collaboration. At the same time, it’s a
constant comfort to know that it’s her responsibility (not
yours) to determine what words like “savvy” and “inspiring”
Throughout the process you’re reminded of the difference
between buying something and truly creating something. For
me, it was therapeutic, exhausting and fulfilling at the same
time. You also come to realize that a “retail channel” of top
forty songs spanning decades or a techno dance mix is at best
a sloppy interpretation of what sound can be in a shopper
experience – essentially, what sound can do to make you as
distinctive as you hope to be in the minds of your customers.
Here’s a quick tour to let you know how fast and easy the
folks at Audiobrain make it:
1. Moodboards: Audiobrain producers and composers take you
through a series of musical selections based on the specific
brand attributes you provided. You’re asked to rank them.
It’s like a day on the examining table with the Audiobrain
team of doctors nodding, raising eyebrows and asking an
2. Exlporatories: Soon after you’re presented several
“exploratories” - 2 to 3 minutes each. Before hearing each
exploratory Audrey reads an excruciatingly detail description
of each instrument, phrase and it’s reference to your
Moodboard selections. It’s nothing less than a ceremony and
your first realization that “art” and “science” can live on
more than a college diploma.
3. Versioning: Having selected a hero direction, we get into
the time, space and feeling for each zone in the store. Now
it’s time to let the fun begin. We determine timing,
transitions and placement. In addition, they’re able to
tackle the usual obstacles of overlapping spaces, staff
repetition and a range of tastes based on shopper demography.
As you continue through the process, you can’t help but
wonder why every retailer with a store and/or website doesn’t
embark on sonic branding. The cost is small compared to
visual merchandising and digital investments. The power of
music and its effect on our emotions cannot be over-stated.
And last but not least, you already have a sound system just
waiting for something powerful to play.
So, at this time of giving I would suggest your stores,
shoppers, staff and brand deserve it’s own sound for 2012?
You can make a quick call to your music provider and see if
they have a sonic branding group. Or, explore the handful of
audio branding firms that work with environments (not a
jingle company). But do it before Dean Martin sings White
Christmas one more (please God no) time.