Did you notice how much your LinkedIn feed changed during the pandemic? Beyond the usual humble-bragging and brand spam, people started to actually help one another. Folks were sharing their expertise freely and providing open access to valuable tools and resources. Leaders became more accessible, and some used their platforms to uplift underrepresented voices. When we were up against the unknown, we knew needed to support each other to evolve as a community.

Collective empathy, purpose-driven leadership, and brands taking a stand on social issues are signs of a paradigm shift. We’ve entered an era in which emotional intelligence is key for business success. It’s redefining the way we build our work cultures and relationships and treat consumers.

One headline grabbed my attention recently. Harvard research says emotionally intelligent people have these 12 traits. Which do you have?

The list summarized years of studies to show the correlation between high EQ (Emotional Quotient) and high performance in individuals. But what really struck me was how easily the same list could be applied to modern brands. Self-awareness? Check. Empathy? Check. Inspiration, Adaptability, Influence? Check, check, check.

Audio: the key to cultural impact

As a consumer, you’ve probably noticed how your expectations have changed towards your brands. People want non-sentient companies to behave in more “human” ways these days. You’re more likely to choose a brand that’s established a strong emotional connection through its marketing, values, and behavior.

There are traditional ways to achieve that, through visual identity systems, omnichannel marketing, celebrity endorsements, etc. But one of the most effective ways a brand can express its true self is through its distinct sound and music. That’s because people think about what they see, but feel what they hear.

Research company Veritonic recently showed how effective sound has been for the brand Tostitos. Their new sonic expression increased ad recall, attribution, and brand appeal by double digits. It also boosted the impact of their visual branding across attributes such as fun, playful and exciting; all of the feelings Tostitos wants to convey.

Sound is particularly important for Gen Z, who have adopted audio-first behaviors faster than any other generation. From podcasts to streaming music, to sound-on social platforms like TikTok and Instagram, music is a source of connection in their lives. Brands need their own musical expression to show up in an authentic way and be relevant.

There’s a lot of neuroscience and data behind the effectiveness of sonic branding in particular. A recent Ipsos study showed that ads with a sonic logo increase branded attention by 8.5x! These unique brand sounds encode memories and feelings. They increase mental availability when it matters most – at the moment of purchase.

How global brands are connecting with sound

A long time ago, pioneers like AT&T, Intel, and McDonald’s knew they could connect with consumers on an emotional level with sonic branding. They understood that every purchase decision from buying a house, to a car, or a candy bar involves some degree of emotional impulse. That instinctive feeling of “just right” is driven by subconscious memory triggers and System 1 thinking.

Neuro-research company Sentient Decision Science discovered that sound can influence a person’s desire to engage or avoid a brand by 86%. So across every category – from Tostitos to Lexus, from Panera Bread to HBO – you’re seeing more brands scoring their customer journeys to keep fans hooked and coming back for more.

We might not consciously notice it, but the examples are everywhere. Some brands are using immersive sound design to enhance physical spaces, such as American Express’ Centurion Lounges, which are fitted with bespoke, branded soundscapes. Some have developed voice commerce personalities or UX/UI sounds that make products feel intuitive and more human, like your friendly Roomba vacuum. And of course, you can’t ignore the legacy of brands partnering with music artists like Doja Cat & Taco Bell, Travis Scott & McDonald’s, Tyler the Creator & Coca-Cola. When it’s used strategically, music is an essential brand asset.

The holistic brand experience

A brand is the culmination of everything your customers hear, see, feel and believe about your product or service. People self-identify with brands that are aligned with their values, aspirations, and passions.

As we emerge from the pandemic, we’ve left the dark days of brand-splaining with the loudest megaphone behind us. If you want to reach modern consumers you have to mean something to them. And the fastest way to communicate your brand’s values, personality, and point of view, is through music and sound.

The brands people love – truly love – are constantly improving their emotional connections and using strategically crafted sound at every touchpoint. Which should be music to everyone’s ears. 

Cover image source: Marco Zuppone