Colors. Fonts. Art style. Maybe some keywords. These are the sorts of things that businesses generally think of when they’re defining their brand, and understandably so. Marketing is still an intensely visual medium so “how should it look?” is one of the questions asked first. But given the expanding multimedia possibilities available to really any brand, we need to start spending more time asking “how should it sound?”

Why should you use music for your brand?

While it is true that more and more “non-traditional” media (by marketing standards) is coming into play because of how simply ubiquitous it is, and by extension how ineffective something like a static webpage can be in some instances, the case for incorporating music into your branding goes much deeper than that. Music, more than any other medium, is capable of having an intense impact on our brains. On a neurological level, music is highly associated with both emotion and memory, two key things for any marketer to impact. And even for those of us who aren’t PhDs in neuroscience, we can understand how quickly we can be reminded of a certain feeling or time and place when hearing a particular song. Whether it’s something significant like the first song we danced to with our spouse or something as relatively mundane as a song that was popular on the radio the summer you took a road trip to the beach, our brains are hard wired to form those connections with music. For a business, the right choice in music not only aids in your ability to make an emotional connection with your customers, but it helps to fix your brand in their memory.

So how do we do it?

It’s not a throw away– Because research suggests that more and more we function in a state of “continuous partial attention”, wherein we are at least somewhat aware of allof the stimuli around us at any moment, music is not a throw away choice like the elevator music or muzak you may be thinking of. We’re not talking about inoffensive, interchangeable background music. The music doesn’t need to make a screaming statement, it can be mellow and low key and it should never be a distraction, but it still needs to be carefully thought out.

Are there existing useful associations with an artist – Choosing an existing artist can allow you to associate your brand with the things that artist is already connected with in the minds of consumers, whether their personal image or associations with other brands, because of the power of music and memory. This helps to reinforce a general picture of your brand beyond just the song, and can also be a key to reinforcing a cross-branding effort with another company, if there is an artist that is already closely associated with the other brand.

And possible negative associations – Of course the wrong choice can tank you, for the same reasons of memory and close associations that a good one can do wonders. Avoid controversial artists (unless they’re controversial in a way that your brand potentially ais as well) and be aware of what artists are already associated with any companies that are close rivals. While their music may be a good fit in many ways, it’s likely not worth muddying the waters if someone is already linked to a competitor. It’s also good to avoid dissonant or jarring music, even if your brand wants a tough or brash image and you think it fits, as it causes reactions in the brain related to anger or displeasure.

Bespoke or undiscovered artists – If you want to start with a clean slate, consider either bespoke compositions (which will have no existing associations outside your control, but will also have no existing positive associations for you to take advantage of) or try sussing out independent and up and coming artists. Apple and Starbucks have done extremely well with finding relatively undiscovered artists and as a result have an entire audio brand associated with them and their stores and commercials now. There are entire playlists on streaming music services dedicated to songs from Apple commercials, and the Starbucks free download song of the week and their in-store CD sales have helped to launch a number of artists into mainstream popularity. Independent or new artists are particularly good choices in many instances because of the potential for a song first introduced to many consumers through your brand to become popular. If that song then starts to get heavy radio airplay or show up on social media frequently, people will potentially find themselves thinking of your brand more often and looking up your commercials or in-store playlists. The power of the neurological effects of music at work!

Identify key descriptors – Ideally you already have some keywords on hand from your mission statement or other branding efforts, and you can use those to help focus your music selection. If you find that your existing keywords are difficult to match to music, that’s fine, you can always adjust. The important thing is to remember to focus on just a small number of key descriptors. Whether you want customers to think of you as elegant, upbeat, friendly, introspective, energetic, or whatever else, you have to keep it narrowed down enough that the message is clear.

Consistency is key – To really tap into the power of the emotional and memory impact of music, the same or similar music has to be played frequently, whether it’s in stores, for hold music, in commercials, in the lobbies of your offices, at company events, etc. This is where those keywords from the previous point become so important. All your music needs to tie back to those keywords, regardless of what the music is for. Eventually, ideally, people will have a sense of what your brand “sounds” like as much as they have an idea of what your brand looks like.

Music has such amazing power to influence our brains, isn’t it about time more companies really tapped into that? If you had to pick three songs to start out with as the representatives of your brand, what would you pick? Share with us in the comments, and maybe we’ll make an amazing playlist!