As an industry, we are often very focused on the visual aspects of telling a story in order to sell a product. However, at the iMedia Commerce Summit in Nashville, Tennessee, one retail giant explained why its focus on sound has transformed their advertising approach, and reshaped its brand.
Gregg Heard, vice president of brand identity and design at AT&T, has been working with Joel Beckerman, founder and lead composer at Man Made Music, for a number of years, while AT&T made mobile their first priority. Beckerman explains that he sees your phone as "a speaker in your pocket," and that there is a science behind why AT&T's strategy is working.
"Sound is visceral -- it's not something we need to learn how to do," Beckerman says. Music and sound trigger the oldest part of our brains, evoking a subconscious response. He describes sonic semiotics, and how particular sounds prompt different emotions, such as string instruments, which can bring about a feeling of warmth and passion. These are keys to determining which sounds should be associated with various functions.
This is important on a global scale. We now carry our world around in our pockets, so the small screen must come first. Heard breaks down the numbers: Today, there are more than 2 billion smartphones, which will increase to more than 6 billion by 2020. Furthermore, retailers are seeing an annual growth of 53 percent in mobile sales. At AT&T, they've seen mobile traffic increase 150,000% from January 2007 to December 2015.
While desktop was not a great platform for auditory, mobile has "given us permission to use sound" in new ways, says Beckerman. Even when a brand logo can't be seen visually, its "sonic identity" can be communicated. This approach has proven successful -- in 2010, just 18 months after its launch, the AT&T sonic logo had 66 percent awareness, only second to its visual logo.
How are these sounds created? Beckerman explains that they take a customer-focused approach, based upon human needs. By putting these needs at the center, they can determine which states of being match with particular sounds. For instance, he showed three examples from AT&T: A sound that ensures that you are connected, one of "possibility," and one that invokes a "welcome home," emotion. This plants the seed for a little memory, says Beckerman.
These sounds are being used across the board. Heard elaborates: They're used in all mobile interactions, such as sending and receiving messages, navigating within the device, and ringtones. Additionally, AT&T has sponsorships with the TV show "American Idol," as well as the NFL's Dallas Cowboys, where sound bites communicate this relationship. Within AT&T brick-and-mortar stores, there are functional sounds as well as ambient sounds. Furthermore, as we move toward a world where your phone is essentially a remote control for your life, sounds for security, alarms, temperature, and functions within your car are all identifiable.
Of course, sound is just one part of the multisensory experience. Your brand identity hinges on the consumers ability to identify its individual look, language, sound, and behavior. Sound that isn't meaningful (as Beckerman calls it, "sonic trash") will hurt this identity. And the lack thereof is significant, too: Beckerman refers to silence as "the white space of sound" -- and, as we know, white space in design can sometimes be more important than the content itself.
Looking to the future, Beckerman explains that it's no longer just about the Internet of Things, but the "Internet of Emotions." People want technology that provides experiences they're going to love. The overwhelming presence of screens in our lives can be overcome with a language of sound, if you're able to communicate the right message.