By Dan Lafferty, Head of Voice and Music at PH Media Group,

Hearing is one of our most powerful emotional senses but its potential is too infrequently harnessed by businesses when it comes to marketing.

The importance of visual branding is fully understood and company owners will usually give careful consideration to how their organisation looks, from signage and letterheads to websites and advertising.

But what about how it sounds?

Primarily this means the voice and music heard by customers over the telephone but could equally apply to radio and television advertising or the sounds heard by customers on an organisation's premises.

Inappropriate voice or music will immediately communicate the wrong image, creating a perception in the customer's mind that becomes difficult to shake.

On the other hand, by carefully selecting an audio brand that is congruent with visual branding it is possible to reinforce company values, create a positive impression and provide a subtle sell on products and services.

Finding your voice
Choosing a voice to suit a particular company might seem a daunting task at first, given the number of variables to consider.

Do you choose male or female? Young or old? An accent or received pronunciation?

But, ultimately, it boils down to the perceptions associated with each of these attributes and how they mesh with visual branding. The process should start by considering what the existing branding says about the company and working forwards, rather than choosing voice and music then trying to make it fit.

An organisation with a strong corporate image, in financial services for example, might choose an assertive, older voice, which is serious and intelligent in tone. A deep male voice may be particularly appropriate in such cases, as it is perceived by customers as authoritative and professional, providing subconscious reassurance they are in safe hands.

On the other hand, the female voice is largely perceived as soft, soothing and welcoming, so is particularly appropriate where businesses are dealing with regular calls from anxious customers, such as the veterinary profession.

It is also essential to choose a voice that communicates effectively with the customer base. If this is predominantly female, a female voice would work best or if the products are pitched as fun and exciting, a young upbeat voice is ideal.

Regional accents can also be a powerful tool for reinforcing identity where an organisation has a strong presence rooted in a particular geographical area. Accents can be used to assert a sense of provenance and belonging, speaking to customers in a manner they relate to.

Hitting the right notes
However, voice does not work in isolation and it is also important to choose the right music to further strengthen the image being portrayed.

Often, a business will simply choose a popular music track to play on its phone line, believing this represents the best way to keep customers happy and entertained.

Yet popular tracks come with baggage, as people involuntarily attach feelings, both positive and negative, to a piece of commercial music. Consequently, playing a piece of commercial music in an on-hold situation, no matter how cheery and upbeat it may seem, is a lottery of the individual's previous experience of the track.

Using commercial music is also a square peg, round hole scenario, taking a piece of music and trying to make it fit a new purpose to convey a message it was never intended to.

Instead, by working with the appropriate specialist, a company should look to create a music track that is tailored to their exact needs and requirements.

This doesn't have to be cost prohibitive and the result is a production that perfectly complements existing branding. The physical attributes of the track - whether major, minor, fast, slow, loud or quiet - are used to communicate emotional meaning, rather than the personal experience of the individual.

A positive influence
The right combination of voice and music, deployed on the phone line or on premises, can have a powerful impact on the subconscious of customers.

Sound functions as a subtle marketing tool, warming up a customer to make a purchase before they have even spoken to anyone about their requirements. It feels less intrusive than bold visual advertising yet exerts a more profound, lasting effect.

The customer may assimilate sales messages without even knowing they are doing so, avoiding the saturation that can result from other methods of marketing.

However, sound too can induce fatigue if not deployed correctly. When a customer hears the same audio messages every time they call a company, they will reach a point where they simply switch off.

Updating the content of a message is not only imperative to ensure that callers are kept aware of changes to product lines, sales and company information but also to hold their attention.

Changing messaging makes sure that the callers don’t suffer from the fatigue of being fed the same information repeatedly in the same manner. If clear parameters for the tone and style of voice and music are defined at the start of the process, a business can find new music and voice that holds true to its brand values while still refreshing the audio identity.

Brand congruent voice and music used via the telephone line and regularly refreshed content, designed to reflect seasonal trends and promotions, can form an invaluable part of the overall marketing mix.