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The book Buy-ology by Martin Lindstrom should be on the short list of anyone who’s involved in brand-building.  It reads like a good mystery novel, it’s based on very strong science, and it paints a very clear portrait of how physiological and psychological mechanisms in our brains drive brand preference.  In fact, the science is so revealing that it’s ignited an online debate about the ethics of neuro-marketing:  Is the stuff is so powerful that it’s not fair to consumers?

Chapter 8 is particularly fascinating.  Here, we learn why our visual senses – what most of us probably think are the drivers of brand impact – are highly over-rated when it comes to remembering and choosing particular brands.  What works better?  Audio (as well as smell).  Audio has the ability to mentally generate the visual images and, more importantly, powerful emotions associated with it.

While visual marketing tells consumers what something can, or should represent, this type of association is very abstract and doesn’t process well in the consumer brain.  Sound, on the other hand, allows the individual to conjure an association that is already in the brain (i.e., personalizing the idea) which has much more impact.  The research even shows how sound is engineered by companies and institutions to direct people’s behavior using our biological wiring and triggers.  It makes you wonder why marketers spend so much energy trying to reach us through our eyes, instead of our ears…

Some interesting cases of altering behavior with sound:

Classical music can be used to reduce crime. When Mozart or Bach were played over public speakers in the London Underground, crime dropped by 33%.  Why?  We associate these songs with civility.  The same crime-reducing effects were measured in Canadian parks and 7-Eleven parking lots.

Retail sounds drive brand choice.  British researchers found that customers in wine shops were significantly influenced by the type of music that played in the background.   You’re probably familiar with the wine-buying dilemma.  Most stores carry reds and whites of similar tastes and prices from many different regions and countries.  Which do you chose?  Well, if the wine store is playing accordion-heavy, recognizably French music, you’re liable to be 3 to 5 times more likely to buy a French wine.  When they switch to music from a German brass band, the same thing happens to German vintages.

Jingles work.  (Even stupid ones).  From the classics like “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is” and “Meow-meow-meow-meow-meow-meow-meow-meow-meow” and “I’m a Pepper, he’s a Pepper, she’s a Pepper, we’re a Pepper, wouldn’t you like to be a Pepper too?” to the jingles used by small local companies today, these audio devices insidiously lodge themselves in consumer minds – regardless of what they say or mean.  Rhyme and repetition trigger a happy, child-like feeling deeply embedded in our brains.

Signature brand sounds increase attention and appeal.  Tests show that the brand sounds of famous brands, including Microsoft’s Window’s Chime, can increase the retention and long-term mental mapping of a brand identity – and even be more powerful than the visual logo for this purpose.  The sound: 1) increases attention, 2) increases interest, 3) improves positive association, and 4) improves the likelihood of recall.

Sounds can be addicting. Certain sounds trigger incredible emotional reaction.  Many actually make us want to hear more.  A baby’s giggle is the single most powerful sound.  The sound of an ATM machine spitting out twenties also ranked high for obvious reasons.  But among the 50 sounds tested, would you believe that the audio signatures of Intel (#2), National Geographic (#4), MTV (#6), T-Mobile (#7), and McDonalds (#8) filled out the top 10?  Few of us would admit it, if we even understood the power of these sounds, but the neuro scan research showed that these corporate devices have more power in our minds than the sound of a steak sizzling, “The Star Spangled Banner,” “The Wedding March,” or Disney’s “When you wish upon a star.”  Look here for more details.

The Bottom Line:

What’s your sound?

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Here’s a video where Lindstrom explains his neuro research as well as a couple of his major findings.