LONDON: Music is the least understood element of branding strategy, and yet it is one of the most powerful markers of a brand, fundamental to the experience that customers remember, an industry figure has argued.

Writing in a new WARC Best Practice article, How to choose the right music for your brand, David Meerman Scott said that music is often the least understood asset under the control of the marketing department, despite its use across TVCs, trade shows, walk-on music at key note speeches, and in company telephone systems.

There is a multitude of ways in which marketers can obtain music. The cheapest ways are licence-free music, or for a small fee, stock music. As budget-friendly as these methods might be, this music is accessible and usable by any brand.

Yet for many brands, the best way to incorporate music into branding is by commissioning an entire suite of music. Scott suggests its use for airlines, which often play music as passengers board, and then re-purpose the tracks for telephone on-hold music.

“The best way to ensure you are in compliance with the law and to have music that is perfectly aligned to your organizational culture and your brand is to commission custom sound,” Scott writes.

For bigger brands, it may be feasible to licence a famous song. This can be very expensive, he writes. According to some reports, Scott says, “Microsoft paid the Rolling Stones about USD $3 million to use the song Start Me Up as the soundtrack to the branding of Windows 95.” The process is often convoluted and costly in itself, he adds.

Yet the original “sonic logo” has been incredibly useful for many brands, many in tech: Skype’s ringtone, Apple’s startup chime, and Intel’s Leap Ahead sounds are key examples.

To create a sonic brand, the composer must understand the organizational goals, and the kind of customer that the brand is talking to.

Meanwhile, Scott writes, “When you are given music samples to review, think of listening to them like a wine tasting … cleanse your (listening) palette between each sample.” Following revision, the music should feel “right” for the brand.

From consumer brands, such as Nokia, whose ringtone has become one of the most played songs of all time, to B2B brands, such as solar company Inovateus Solar, music provides a crucial point of differentiation, especially if it surprises and delights.

Data sourced from WARC