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19 Dec 2013

The Sound of Music

What does your brand sound like? Sound is a central part of people's experience with a product or service. It can fulfil the same role as a national anthem to a country or a hymn to a religion. And sound tends to transcend language and cultural barriers, which is one reason why the airline industry uses sound to welcome passengers at the beginning of their journey in a consistent and distinctive manner.
Next time you're boarding a plane, and trying to block out the sounds of the muzak, spare a thought for the cabin crew with their fixed smiles as they welcome another 5000 passengers that month.
Yet, research suggests that sound plays an important role in purchase decisions. Neuromarketing magazine reported a 1998 experiment in a British wine shop where they alternated piping in French and German music. On French music days, the French wine outsold German wine on a ratio of four to one. On German music days, German wine outsold the French by a ratio of three to one. 
Similarly, Heston Blumenthal's Fat Duck restaurant in Bray has discovered that people's perception of the intensity of bitterness and sweetness present in a toffee was modified significantly by varying the pitch of a soundtrack that was playing over headphones. 
Airlines pipe music into the aircraft as passengers board, welcoming them back, reassuring them with familiarity. The soundtrack may symbolise the airline's cultural heritage such as Pakistan International or Gulf Airlines or reflect a well-established brand cue already present in advertising such as British Airway's Flower Duet from Lakme or United Airlines' adoption of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. Delta Airlines rotates its music depending on the season. In December, it's a host of festive favourites from 'Jingle Bell Rock' to 'Baby, It's Cold Outside'. 
Lufthansa developed a four-note sonic logo that is embedded into the airline's welcome 'anthem' Symphony of Angels.  The sonic logo also precedes Lufthansa announcements in airports and welcomes callers who contact Lufthansa by phone. 
When airline music strikes the right note, it's an important touchpoint alongside other brand experience - from the lounge to the in-flight experience, menu and cabin staff. And Singapore Airlines has taken the sensory experience of flying a step further, developing its own patented smell - in the flight attendants' perfume, blended in the hot towels before take-off and permeating the entire fleet of planes. 
Sound plays an important part in triggering memory and feelings, and this impact on emotions can prime people for their next brand experience.