A Unique Sound Can Brand Your Customer Experience Online and Offline

I've been thinking about sound and how it relates to cross channel marketing. How it connects the online and offline experiences of your customers. We commonly consider things like identity and connecting disparate systems to create a seamless environment that encourages customer loyalty, but sound not usually part of the equation. Grocery stores, bakeries and realtors count on shoppers' sense of smell to close the deal, but sound is the most underutilized of the five senses for marketing.

If you are of a certain age, this is the sound that you associate with getting online. 

Even though it was the sound of the audio handshake of the modems, a technical requirement of connecting to the network, it became the sound of America Online. If AOL had created their own line of stores, the best way to connect to the online experience would have been to play that modem sound as you walked in the door. That would have set your expectations that you were entering the world of AOL. It is hard to imagine what that store experience would be to match the poorly rendered pages and shady chat rooms of the 1990s internet, but nevertheless, your brain would be ready. 

Technology provides another example of a truly branded sound. Every Mac plays a distinctive chord upon start-up. This sound became associated with Macs and the home computer experience for many people. It is still used on Mac start-up, but so few people shut their Macs down, that the sound is so rarely heard these days. You only hear it when your computer crashes and you need to restart. While this sound has not been used in stores, it had been used in advertising to signify the Apple experience. It has also appeared in the movies, Jurassic Park and Wall-E, when systems reboot. This joke only works with a sound that has so much meaning and connection. 

Learn more about the creation of the Mac sound with this interview with the composer of the start-up sound from a Dutch video show. Don’t worry, only the intro is in Dutch. 

The best use of branded sounds that truly connects an online and offline experience is by Southwest Airlines. We all know that 10,000 foot ding on airplanes that means we can take out our laptops. Southwest uses a very distinctive sound. They use the same sound when they scan your boarding pass before you get on the plane. These are both positive associations with the sound. And Southwest is a company known for their quirky brand personality and fun-loving employees. In between those two dings, you might hear a funny version of the safety talk. This helps the association of the sound with positive experiences. 

Southwest has used this distinctive sound in advertising, but they created an online experience that really leveraged the feelings people get when they hear this sound. They created a low fare alert system for people to install on their computers. It was called Ding. And guess what it did every time there was an alert? It made that sound. That feel good sound that people already associated with Southwest now meant even better airline deals. What a way to continue to connect a sound to a brand and create online engagement and sales. 

Sounds can also have a negative feeling, and that really should be avoided for brand associations. Target has recently rolled out chip-card readers in many of their US stores, as US credit cards are updated to the more secure technology. While the retailer is still recovering from last year’s data theft of credit cards numbers, this experience should alleviate some of the wariness of credit card use in their stores. The problem is that the confirmation sound in their chip readers is a very negative-sounding buzz, as if you have made a mistake. It should be a happy chime or positive beep, not the sound that reminds you of the big red X from Family Feud. 

Here are eight things to think about before using sounds that connect your customers both online and offline: 

1. Use positive sounds to convey happy experiences (major chords instead of minor chords). 

2. Make sure the sounds enhance the experience, rather than get used just for the sake of adding sound. 

3. Consider your brand personalty when picking sounds. 

4. Consider your audience and the type of sounds they hear all day long. 

5. Plan how will the sound be played and heard in your store environment. 

6. The quality of sounds you get from a professional will be much better than free downloads from the internet. 

7. Start with something unique. Over time, with brand association, it might become iconic. 

8. Try to go beyond alerts, confirmations and soundtracks for real impact.  

This post originally appeared on the Modern Marketing Blog.

Jeffrey L Cohen

Jeffrey L Cohen