Monday, December 22, 2008

Why We Love Music

Christmas (er, "The Holidays" -- apologies to my PC friends) came early this year. Five days, to be exact, when the latest issue of The Economist arrived in my mailbox, with a cover feature called Why We Love Music. Imagine my joy! I could not have orchestrated a more timely, thesis-supporting publication -- from such a respected source, no less!!

There have been a number of articles over the last year, most notably in the New York Times and The Sunday Times of London, pointing to the emerging practice of "music branding." But few have delved into the psychological, biological and anthropological drivers behind why music means something to people. Why our brains (and hearts) are hardwired to seek out music from an early age, with the average American teenager spending an eighth of their waking hours listening to it?

Many firms are jumping into the fray, using music as a selling tool -- hell even the Auto Club recently offered me a free iTunes download if I referred a friend. But very few agencies hold their clients' hand and take a step back to analyze, from a 30,000 foot perspective, how a company can authentically incorporate music into its brand. The idea of a "Chevy Music" is interesting, but without context it may come across to the consumer as a mere tactic. More cool stuff to buy, certainly, but very little in terms of a reliable resource. With longevity comes trust. The much-publicized collapse of Starbucks' music initiatives just throws gas on the fire. Consumers shake their head and move on to the next shiny bauble, while longterm questions about Starbucks' brand strategy go unanswered.

Before partnering with music, companies must ask themselves: Who is our customer and is music important to them? What values does our brand project? How does music reinforce those values? Finally, are we prepared to integrate music into our brand roadmap over the long haul?

The Economist article implies that those that do will enjoy a sustainable advantage of Darwinian strength. Companies would do well to read the article, and hopefully take away the insight that music -- and the powerful way it is hardwired to our consciousness -- is not to be applied without discipline and rigor.

The only path to using music to grow the brand asset is to understand first that it is a longterm brand strategy, not an execution to "sell more stuff."

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