• Transform magazine
  • February 29, 2024


How can brands use sound and music to better empathise with consumers?

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David Courtier-Dutton is the CEO at British sonic branding testing company SoundOut. He makes the case here that music is the best way for a brand to lift people’s spirits in difficult times.

The mood of a nation is in constant flux, whether influenced by a national sporting success, the death of a monarch, economic hardship, national holidays or something else entirely.   

On the marketing level brands are adept at reading the situation and respond by ramping up the promotion of products that lean into the national mood - but sometimes the national mood is less receptive to hardcore sales activation messaging. In times of national strife, encouraging consumers to simply buy more stuff through classic marketing can be a game of diminishing returns.  When operating in this reality, what can brands do to retain relevance and consumer loyalty until the sunny uplands return?

One approach is to accept the reality and subtly shift the brand/marketing investment in favour of brand and take this opportunity to strengthen the emotional ties with your consumers.  As ever, you need to ensure your consumer interactions are tightly on-brand, but you can also work to either actively improve the consumer’s mood or empathise with their gloom. People will warm to a brand that lifts their spirits or shares their mood. In short, a brand that shows empathy.

And the best (and simplest) way to do this is with music. Hearing is the only sense that is hardwired into the subconscious, so it makes sense to consider using music to spread a little happiness and love! 


"People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."
Maya Angelou


Whether we want to party, concentrate or lift our mood, we turn on the music. It does not matter if we are talking, ironing or working, the music will be hard at work on our subconscious, changing our state of mind. Music is mood altering and, if it can also be on-brand, the positive emotional connection with the brand will be strengthened.

It’s important to remember that moods are not the same as personalities – any given personality can exhibit any mood, so it is entirely possible for a brand personality to communicate through any mood it chooses.

Identifying music that is both on-brand, and delivers on desired attributes, has historically been a subjective exercise. But new breakthroughs in music and emotional measurement mean that this is now achievable.

By way of example we can look at a brand like Dove and hear what this sounds like when it plays with moods:

A pure Dove track would sound something like this.

A ’sad’ Dove track might sound like this.

While an optimistic, happy Dove track would be more like this.

All the above are statistically 50% on-brand and 50% nailing the desired attributes. But when life is tough, the brand can and should consider lifting the consumer spirits or, recognising the harshness of the economic environment, empathise with something more downbeat.

Let’s look at another brand, like Red Bull. A pure Red Bull track would sound something like this.

A ’sad’ Red Bull track might sound like this

While an ‘optimistic’, ‘happy’ Red Bull track might sound like this.

In all the Red Bull (and Dove) examples the music is still rooted to the brand with over 95% personality match to the core brand (as defined by the brand) but the moods they communicate are radically different. A brand does not have to be two-dimensional in its music choices, or stick to a particular genre or era, but the core brand personality must shine through every time. So long as you have that, you can communicate your brand personality via almost any mood overlay. This will enable you to reinforce the core brand personality while also empathising with the target consumer.

By demonstrating consistent empathy – whether in times of national celebration or national depression – a brand can build stronger long-term emotional ties with consumers. By mirroring the national mood consumers will never forget how your brand made them feel.  This could be a subconscious bond that will pay dividends when your brand needs it most.