Cue a Tuesday afternoon as I trudge through the sudden downpour a mere few blocks away to Broad Street, but my boots are already filled with the puddles on the cobblestone streets. I find my way to Number 50, and to the penthouse on the 20th floor to the offices of Man Made Music. The office is cool (literally, it was a little bit chilly for someone caught in the rain) and modern with soundproof studios, and a wrap-around wall covered in moss, and the welcome was warm and friendly.
After everyone grabs some coffee, a bottle of water, chips or pretzels, we all sit down as our hosts from Man Made Music get into what they call “Sonic Humanism”, taking the idea that sound shapes the way we interact with the world around us and shaping that sound to craft better human experiences and brand value for clients. They measure emotional responses to naturally occurring (baby laughing, nails on chalkboard) to crafted sounds (the buzz of the flash flood warning your phone makes, or the whoosh of an email being sent). Ultimately, they’ve discovered that there is a whopping 86% correlation between an emotional response to a sound—whether it’s positive or negative—and the desire to engage or avoid something.
All attendees were divided into 3 groups, and each group got to experience each of the presentations in alternating order.
Lesson One: Throw Out the Sonic Trash
Fundamentally sound design follows three principles: remove excess sounds, design for desired emotional response per the specific moment in a journey, and to score the experience. Say you’re in a public museum. How do you design for the individual user experience? Remove the din of other attendees. What does the museum-goer hear in the Egyptian area of The Met vs the Tibetan area? How is their experience affected by sound from buying a ticket, to looking at a map, to purchasing stuff at the gift shop?
Lesson Two: The Invisible Brand
Sound, and more specifically a Brand Sound System, is the invisible logo of a brand. When you hear the iconic “dun dun” of Law & Order you exactly what you’re about to encounter (and you know you just heard it in your head). Sound is our quickest sense. When Man Made Music did a study about Alexa responding to its owner with voice reply only vs with simple sounds added to the same voice reply, the overall response was that her reply felt quicker. What does this mean? Simply, in our long evolution of listening to rustling bushes to decipher if we were about to hide or hunt, sound is our quickest emotional response trigger. Just make sure you don’t craft a sound that collides into another brand (looking at you Apple Pay and Facebook Messenger).
Lesson Three: Beyond the Sonic Logo
Man Made Music showed us some of their favorite examples, most notably AT&T and the AT&T stadium in Dallas, TX. Start with the four-beat AT&T logo sound. Craft it into a 2 minute fully composed track. Now take that track and divide it into user experience. When they walk in the stadium, when the game begins, when they activate their stadium apps to play along and interact with the giant monitors in the middle of the stadium, hell even the wrap around monitors that line the spaces between seating sections. When their team wins. When their team loses. Take this logo sound as a first step and blow it out into an entire world of experience. Curate playlists and small catalogues of music that follow the sound brand guidelines so that the client doesn’t just grab the cheapest stock music for a commercial or even just their hold music for their helplines.
In other words, sound is everywhere. Every brand worth their salt is going to have their own suite of auditory cues as people shop and stream through their Alexa or Google Home devices. We’re in what Man Mad Music referred to as the forgiveness period of voice/sound command and response, where consumers know it’s not perfect yet, but this will only last about 2 years before they run out of patience and anyone not up to snuff is going to lose their customers.
I challenge each of us to think on how we can bring these elements to our work. How can we make robust experiences that lodge into consumers hearts and minds? How can we use sounds to improve patient life for our health care clients? Sound branding has been around since the invention of the radio, but it’s also the future.