Branding the future: The inextricable relationship of music and experience
It is essential to recognise the psychology of music and its commercial evolution to understand the value in the relationship between music and brands.
As we know, music has metamorphosed with consumer behaviour, shifting from a physical product to an experience. The music market has evolved from the traditional commodity format of a ‘good’ to the experiential form of a ‘service’, totally catalysed by the domination of streaming.
To quote Dick Clark, ‘music is the soundtrack of your life’, music has this extraordinary power to influence thoughts, inciting experience and therefore creating memories. One of my favourite cultural theorists, Stuart Hall, emulates this beautifully in his essay Negotiating Caribbean Identities, particularly looking to Jamaica during the sixties:
‘The most powerful instrument or agency of its world propagation was those deeply tribal instruments, the transistor set, the recording studio, the gigantic sound system’.
I want to suggest a consideration that sound should sit above language in the hierarchy of communication when it comes to inciting and experiencing emotion and consciousness. For the people of Jamaica, music was crucial to the growth and nurturing of human consciousness, particularly in terms of black identity and self-expression. Reggae music had an agency to incite global political change for an entire suppressed generation in Jamaica, not only through its lyrics but more importantly through sound. I am getting sidetracked into my university thesis here, but I wanted to use this example to translate the sheer power and influence music has on us.
Music quite literally mobilizes our bodies through something called ‘affective transmission’. Sound creates a particular ambience or atmosphere through introducing, modulating and circulating a whole host of moods, feelings and intensities. We feel these in a solo or shared listening space, but they don’t belong to you or anybody in particular. These moods, feelings and intensities exist as floating, autonomous and available, to be experienced freely by all within the listening space.
This sonic mobilisation of the body is caused by ‘affect’ - a complex psychological term that wonderful scholars, Thompson and Biddle, break down for us:
‘The ‘affective turn’ marks a return to interest in the relationship between bodies and the fluctuations of feeling that shape the experiential in ways that may impact upon but nevertheless evade conscious knowing.’
Explore more on this fascinating psychological concept in their book, Sound, Music, Affect: Theorizing Sonic Experience.
Having explained how music moulds and embodies the human experience, we can thoughtfully recognise the value of the relationship between music and brands. I was lucky enough to speak to Stuart Knight, Commercial Director of Quintessential Brand Experiences to shed some light on this. He reminds us that the modern consumer values experience over tangible ‘things’, COVID-19 proves this as we are all craving human interaction, contact, involvement, encounters, events… experience! Right now, we are left holding onto our memories to feel and share a sense of belonging; these memories transport us straight back to a time where we experienced life together.
Brands love memories, Knight says. The most efficient and economically viable way to sell a product is through memory. Memory is the most powerful tool for consumer retention. There is a plethora of strategies used by brands to connect with their audience, which are focused on refreshing and continually re-engaging with the consumer to retain loyalty. The overlord of all marketing channels is the experiential; the crucial element to produce a story around the brand and build that relationship with the consumer. Knight describes music as a soundtrack that helps brands deliver this message to the consumer in an age where experience matters.
He identifies some crucial anthropology here. In altering the environment, there is a capacity to influence and change a person’s behaviour. By introducing a ‘subliminal message’ (a message potentially remembered even if the person was not aware of it), this creates an opportunity for ‘liminality’ (normal limits to thought, self-understanding, and behaviour are undone). This liminal behaviour must be considered throughout the branding strategy as brand behaviour differs entirely under liminality. Creative marketing acknowledges that consumer behaviour is malleable according to environment and experience.
Understanding that brand experience falls under a much broader global context is the starting point. Knight encourages us to acknowledge the monumental time of change for the industry and the world as a whole. The way that music is consumed and enjoyed is in constant transformation as we progress into an evolving digitalised future. The commoditization of music has urged record companies and artists to explore alternative revenue channels. ‘We are in the midst of an evolutionary step in the relationship with branding and music’, Knight says, ‘music is wrapped around brands forever, this is where the future is’.
We are living in an age where music and brands are more comfortable than they’ve ever been. By placing a product into the hands of a pop star, it can quickly transform from being a product into a lifestyle choice. Rita Ora had us teenage girls smacking on red Rimmel lipstick and rocking excessively black panda eyes on every night out to ‘get the London look’. We all swapped out the daily Diet Cokes for Vita Cocos because of Rihanna. Brand partnerships are no stranger to the music industry and have been supporting musicians’ income for many years, but their potential to evolve is ever-increasing.
Knight introduced the idea of a future with brands invested in the ownership of musicians’ rights; we are looking at branded content more intricately bound to music… a Nike record label? Why should brands pay their way into promotion at music festivals when they could have their own? As the way music is consumed and enjoyed shifts towards the experiential, this possibility is far from an illusion. Tapping into the future of music marketing means familiarising with the ‘experience economy’ (excellent book recommendation from Knight), in short, compelling experiences form unique connections and secure customer affections.
The affective power of music and its beautiful gift of story-telling offers a backbone to experience innovation, which should be nurtured and cultivated for the long-lasting value of artists and the music industry as a whole in the decades ahead.