Tuesday, March 21, 2006
In the spring of 2004, Bill Nygren and Frank Lauraitis took a portable digital audio recorder to a Toronto coffee shop. Settling down with their coffees, they began recording ambient sounds: a cup placed on a saucer, a spoon being stirred inside a mug, the hiss of an espresso machine. Later, in their studio, they recorded the sound of hot coffee being poured into a cup. “Did you know that you can’t use plain water or Coca-Cola?” asked Lauraitis. “People notice because something about the sound is different.”
Sonic brands are the beeps, chimes and voices that are ringing in the new frontier of marketing. Cue the registered earmark. Welcome to the Three-Second Commercial
Founders of Boom Sonic Branding in Toronto, Nygren and Lauraitis were hired by Timothy’s World Coffee, a family-owned gourmet coffee chain with 138 shops across Canada, to create radio spots. These featured the company’s executive chairman, Becky McKinnon, speaking to consumers about her passion for coffee and the Timothy’s experience. It’s a common radio technique, but the two partners landed the gig, in part, because they also promised to create a unique combination of music and sound that would epitomize the Timothy’s brand.
Back in their studio, they mixed their coffee-shop recordings with an acoustic drum kit, finishing with what they refer to as the sonic brand: a three-second rhythmic kicker ending with a satisfied sigh, as though someone has just taken a first sip from a delicious cup of coffee. “That’s meant to go anywhere,” explains Nygren. “You could hear it when you first get to a website or incorporated into any other promotional or advertising application.”
Nygren and Lauraitis didn’t invent the sonic brand, which is best described as an audio trademark. But they’re part of what is becoming the new frontier of marketing. Thanks to everything from TV remotes and TiVos to satellite radios and iPods, consumers have shorter attention spans as well as more control over what they want to see or hear. Multitasking and endless distractions have also eroded the effectiveness of the traditional commercial, once a marketer’s dream. But a three- or four-second sonic brand is insidiously effective and can be absorbed even while channel surfing.
And it’s something that’s turning up everywhere. Think of the distinctive chord you hear as Microsoft Windows boots up. Or the harmonious whirring associated with Germany’s Rowenta vacuum cleaners. Or the satisfying “bing-bing-bing” that lets you know you’ve successfully created an MP3 in iTunes. Then there’s the human voice. CNN built its successful sonic brand around the actor James Earl Jones, whose velvety baritone has become inseparably linked with the news channel.
These unique sound bytes have become part of our aural landscape – and for solid scientific reason. Research into neuroscience reveals that sound reaches both sides of the brain, the rational and the emotional. Marketing experts believe that using music, sound effects and the human voice alone or in combination is a remarkably effective – and perhaps even subversive – way to transcend language and cultural barriers. All of which suggests that sound, more than visuals, has the potential to penetrate people’s psyches, even when they’re not paying attention. As Lisa Lamb, the former head of sonic branding at global marketing company Interbrand Corporation, puts it: “One does not have to listen to hear, whereas one does need to be looking in order to see.”
Ronald E. Millman examined the influence of sound on consumer behaviour in his much-cited 1985 study published in The Journal of Consumer Research. Millman proved that sound in stores affects consumers more than you’d think. With slower music playing, customers shopped longer and spent more. Conversely, in restaurant lineups, patrons were more likely to leave if uptempo music was played.
“When we hear sounds, our brain often takes shortcuts,” explains Adrian North, a specialist in music psychology at the University of Leicester in England. “We’ve found that sound effects have a powerful associative impact. The sound of bubbling test tubes conjures up the image of a mad professor, for example.” And like smell, they can inspire the trusty marketing tool – nostalgia. “By hearing a certain piece of music,” North says, “two people might be transported back 40 years to a rainy Saturday night in a car when they were teenagers.”
Given sound’s profound impact on people, it’s not surprising that jingles – those short jaunty tunes intended to sell products and services – have been around since the early days of marketing in the 1900s. One of the oldest sonic brands is the 1929 three-note chime identifying the NBC radio network. It was also the first audio trademark accepted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. (NBC was luckier than Harley-Davidson, which gave up its bid to register the roar of its V-Twin engine as a trademark after it faced opposition from competitors.) Composer Raymond Scott – said to have coined the term “audio logo” in the 1950s – is considered a pioneer in linking sound to products. In the 1980s, French radio consultant Jean-Pierre Bacelon coined the catchy term “marque sonique” (sonic logo) to refer to a radio spot.
But today, sonic branding is different. A single sonic brand can be applied to many different marketing materials – from television and radio to the Internet – making them more adaptable than their cousins, traditional jingles. (But like jingles, the most successful are instantly recognizable.)
There is a German word, ohrwurm, which literally means “ear worm.” Metaphorically, it refers to sounds that travel through the ear into the brain and become embedded there – precisely the thinking behind sonic branding. One of the best-known examples is Intel’s sequence of five tones (one long tone followed by four quick ones). Created in 1995 by an Austrian composer using several synthesizers, it evolved into the company’s primary branding tool, used in TV, radio, Internet and in-store advertising. Last year, Intel reportedly spent more than $400-million promoting it internationally. This distinctive sound “button” is estimated to play once every five minutes somewhere in the world. Studies have shown it has high recognition value, astonishing when you consider that the company’s products are hidden inside computers. Most of us wouldn’t even recognize Intel’s visual logo or know what a Pentium chip looks like.
Another example of ohrwurm is a tune that was transformed by Nokia. The cellphone giant first used the 19th-century Spanish guitarist Francisco Tárrega song “Gran Vals” in a commercial in the early 1990s. You’ve probably heard it. It’s known as the Nokia tune, the default ring tone on millions of handsets. (Most recently, Nokia has introduced a high-end camera phone with lilting ring tones by Ryuichi Sakamoto, the influential composer of orchestral and popular music.)
To burrow itself into our minds, ohrwurm needs a host, and that host is technology. “Thirty years ago, a person had one television set in their front room and a couple of radios. Today the average household has 10 or 15 different devices that all play sound,” says Daniel Jackson, founding partner of London-based Sonicbrand (the U.K.’s first agency dedicated to the discipline) and author of Sonic Branding: An Introduction.
Jackson is talking about everything: cellphones, gaming consoles, PDAs and more. “Sonic branding could be applied to almost any product as long as it can be done cheaply,” he says. “We were asked to put sound into a tin of beans. I won’t mention the brand, but it cost five to 10 pence to equip it with a little speaker, so that was too expensive for a mass product. My point is, once you’ve wrapped your head around the fact that consumers have ears as well as eyes, it makes sense to direct your branding in that direction as well.”
This experience got Jackson thinking. “I have a Philips tea kettle that beeps when it boils, just like the old ones used to whistle. It’s not a branded sound, but it easily could be.” He pauses, considering the potential money to be made from this idea, then adds, “I guess I should get in touch with Philips…”
Thanks to David Hayes
Monday, March 20, 2006
Friday, March 17, 2006
In a world of too much work and too much multitasking, the best way to beat the competition may be to do less.
Remember the story of Archimedes lolling in his bathtub? To an observer, he'd have seemed to be wasting time. While ostensibly doing nothing, however, he discovered the principle of displacement, a cornerstone of physics. Would he have reached the same insight in a quick shower?
Unlikely. And while you might say that's ancient history, don't be too sure.
Consider that for most industries, the U.S. can't hope to be the low-cost producer in a global economy. With innovation now our main competitive strength, creativity is crucial for anyone who wants to move up.
But it's really, really hard, if not impossible, for the human brain to come up with fresh new ideas when its owner is overworked, overtired, and stressed out. And in today's wonderful world of nonstop work, 40% of American adults get less than seven hours of sleep on weeknights.
"The physiological effects of tiredness are well-known. You can turn a smart person into an idiot just by overworking him," notes Peter Capelli, a professor of management at Wharton.
Still, putting in more than 50 hours a week at the office has become routine -- and that doesn't count time spent doing paperwork at home, answering e-mail at the airport, or talking on the phone in the car.
Sooner or later, companies' performance has to reflect that, Capelli says. "On the organizational level, what you get is, everyone is so focused on running flat-out to meet current goals that the whole company is unable to step back and think."
Indeed, "the notion that busyness is the essence of business can only do us long-term harm," writes consultant Tom DeMarco in a book called Slack: Getting Past Burnout, Busywork, and the Myth of Total Efficiency.
DeMarco knows the word "slack" has some not-so-hot connotations -- slacking off, slacker, slack-jawed... -- but his definition is different: the degree of freedom required to effect change.
"Companies need to respect the time it takes to do strategic thinking," he says. "Task-oriented thinking is important too, of course. But bigger thinking is slow."
The late Peter Drucker agreed. He wrote in The Effective Executive (an eerily prescient 40 years ago), "All one can think and do in a short time is to think what one already knows and to do as one has always done." Gulp.
Moreover, in Drucker's view, simply working longer and longer hours won't help. "To be effective, every knowledge worker, and especially every executive...needs to dispose of time in fairly large chunks," he wrote. "To have small dribs and drabs of time at his disposal will not be sufficient even if the total is an impressive number of hours."
Hmm, small dribs and drabs of time...and, just think, the BlackBerry hadn't been invented yet.
The multitasking trap
It's not really news that so-called multitasking can actually make people less effective at their jobs. One detailed study five years ago by psychologists at the University of Michigan demonstrated that, because the human brain needs time to shift gears between tasks, the more switching back and forth you have to do -- between, say, talking on the phone, reading e-mail, and thinking about your next meeting, all while scarfing down a sandwich at your desk -- the less proficiently you will tackle any of it (except maybe the sandwich).
The "time cost" of refocusing your attention may be only a few seconds with each switch, but the researchers found that, over time, it reduced people's total efficiency by 20% to 40%.
Seeing connections, when you have time
What scientists have only recently begun to realize is that people may do their best thinking when they are not concentrating on work at all. If you've ever had a great idea pop into your head while you were washing your car, walking your dog, or even napping, you already know what a team of Dutch psychologists revealed last month in the journal Science: The unconscious mind is a terrific solver of complex problems when the conscious mind is busy elsewhere or, perhaps better yet, not overtaxed at all.
This brings us back to Archimedes, whose "Eureka!" moment in the bath -- or, to cite another example, Isaac Newton's discovery of gravity while loafing around under an apple tree -- was a classic example of a kind of creativity known as remote association, or associative thinking. As the name implies, it's a knack for seeing connections among things that appear on the surface to be unrelated to each other.
For example, consider this sample question from the standard test for this trait, as developed by a University of Southern California psychologist named Sarnoff Mednick: "What word is related to the following other three? Cookies, sixteen, heart."
If you answered "sweet," well done.
Great innovators score off the charts in associative thinking, but most of us are capable of it to some degree -- if given enough slack, in Tom DeMarco's sense of the word.
So it could well be that, in the era of knowledge work, the most prosperous companies will turn out to be those that encourage people to build some slack into their days. (A first step, according to DeMarco, might be to cancel as many meetings as possible.)
The Google example
If you doubt it, consider Google. On February 23, the company unveiled a new product called Page Creator, which allows people who can't write HTML code to create their own web pages quickly and easily.
Within hours, this was such a smash hit that the company had to put a temporary limit on the number of Google (Research) users who can sign up for it.
Page Creator is the brainchild of an engineer named Justin Rosenstein whose relatives were constantly bugging him to build web pages for them. He came up with the elegant technology behind the product while noodling around at the office on a project unrelated to his regular job.
Google's headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., is a famously laid-back place, replete with lap pools, massage rooms, pool tables, free haute cuisine, and loads of other stress-reducing amenities like onsite dry cleaners and hair stylists.
"We want to take as much hurry and worry out of people's lives as we can, because a relaxed state of mind unleashes creativity," says Stacy Sullivan, the company's HR director. "And everybody's on flextime here, so we don't reward face time or working super-long hours. We just measure results."
In the end, what else matters? Of course, not every workplace can match Google's. But plenty of companies might do a lot worse than to emulate the thinking behind it.
Thanks to Anne Fisher at Fortune
It's great to see these prefab's finally hitting the states.
If prefab styles can be categorized geographically, the kitHaus is truly SoCal. Its luminous and airy interior, lightweight exterior, vibrant wood paneling and soaring windows almost create a mirage of the Pacific Coast behind the house no matter where it sits. kitHAUS offers a truly modular home - "the kind destined to revolutionize the conventional rules of prefab."
See and read more at kitHaus.
Happy St. Patrick's Day!
Thursday, March 16, 2006
Gaming Sites On Top - PR Sites On Bottom
The Web Marketing Association, sponsor of the annual international WebAward competition, announced the findings of a decade-long study of Web development trends across more than 80 industries. The resulting Internet Standards Assessment Report provides industry benchmarks for Web site development and is based on data collected from nearly 10,000 Web site evaluations.
The report reveals that gaming Web sites dominate the top scores in every category, followed by music, which placed second overall, and automobile and sports Web sites, which tied for third place. The industries with the lowest average Web site scores included radio, public relations and search engines.
The WebAward competition provides an in-depth, quantitative analysis of results to develop standards of excellence for future development. The results evaluate average scores in each industry against defined benchmarks in seven categories, including design, innovation, content, technology, interactivity, copywriting and ease of use "According to our professional judges, design, ease-of-use and innovation are the most important contributors to a Web site's success or failure," said William Rice, president of the Web Marketing Association.
"However, our results found that industries overall excelled in content and copywriting over design and ease-of-use, which may close the door to many users. Innovation, while critical to a Web site's success, actually received the lowest average scores across all industries. We believe this is due to the fact that innovation is so elusive and difficult to maintain - what is groundbreaking in one industry may be commonplace in another."
The consumer-focused sites which led the industry rankings over the last decade feature vibrant content aimed at migrating the brand experience online and building online communities. In addition, these industries excel because of the need to meet high audience expectations that almost demand that sites be on the cutting edge of Web development.
Gaming Sites: These sites feature experienced designers who understand the intricacies of Flash animation and the benefits of online communities, including message boards and chat features. Targeted to a younger audience, these sites focus on providing a user experience that is on par with the actual gaming experience. Recent best of industry winners include: Star Wars Mercenaries Game Site, SOCOM II: U.S. Navy SEALs and Disney's Hot Shot Business.
Music Sites: Users come to music sites for the content, but they stay for the experience. According to Rice, "Music sites have conquered the age-old dilemma regarding the use of technology, where too little equals boring and too much means the site can be overwhelming. The music sites we've evaluated over the years have demonstrated the ability to build a loyal following by effective uses of technology to stream rich media content without sacrificing usability."
Recent best of industry winners include: Red Bull Music Labs, Sting: Public & Pay Member Site and Live365.
Automobile Sites: One of the most hotly contested industries, automobile sites realized early that customers were most likely to engage an auto brand in the privacy of their home or office, rather than in a showroom with a commission-driven sales person. As a result, this is one of the few industries that has beaten the average scores for the WebAwards every year since the competition's inception. Recent best of industry winners include: Volkswagen 2005, Toyota Scion and The all-new XJ online campaign.
Sports Sites. These sites benefit from a fanatical fan base who count on their favorite Web sites to stay in-the-know about sporting news and events. Therefore, it's no surprise that this industry ranked highest in the areas of design and content. Recent best of industry winners include: Nike Basketball, RBK Sound and Rhythm and Prince Tennis Website.
"As Internet bandwidth developed, so did the ability for Web sites to deliver a dynamic rich media experience that merges online entertainment with e-commerce to create a compelling interaction for users," added Rice. "While content is still king, it's a Web site's ability to interact with users in interesting ways that keeps an audience coming back."
Other noteworthy industries include retail, healthcare and travel. Retail-oriented sites, including shopping, auctions and catalogs, ranked highest for interactivity. These sites allow for personalized cross-selling and detailed product information which are not always available in print catalogs or off-line stores. Similar to the automobile industry, the retail industry has succeeded by maintaining its off-line brand presence online.
In the healthcare and travel industries, content, copywriting and ease-of-use dominated the scores due to recent changes in industry dynamics. "An important trend we're seeing in healthcare and travel is disintermediation," said Rice. "For example, the healthcare industry previously relied completely on service providers for patient interaction, but new legislation has opened the door for direct-to-consumer initiatives. As a result, the healthcare industry has become very competitive in the areas of content and copywriting as consumers are turning to these sites to become better informed before deciding on a course of action with their doctors."
"A similar scenario exists in the travel and leisure industry, with the practical elimination of travel agents," continued Rice. "These Web sites have demonstrated a strong showing in both copywriting and ease-of-use as Web sites integrate effective copy with strong images to create a lifestyle experience for the user, allowing them to make better choices for themselves."
The industries with the lowest average Web site scores included radio, public relations and search engines. These sites tend to concentrate more on content than delivery platform, often forcing too much information into too little space, which hinders design and ease-of-use.
Radio Sites. These sites rank particularly low in the areas of innovation and use of technology. This is surprising given the industry's ability to harness rich media similar to music sites. While radio station sites can draw upon music for content, they often try to cram their homepages with so many options that users can feel lost and overwhelmed.
Public Relations Sites. While advertising sites excelled in design and innovation, public relations sites ranked low across all categories. Notably, public relations scored lowest for copywriting, even though it is an industry known for effective communication. According to Rice, "It's likely that PR practitioners focus more on developing their clients' sites, while their own sites suffer from typical 'brochure-ware.' Another possibility is that the low scores reflect the informal nature of the Internet and the backlash over over-edited, corporate speak."
Search Engine Sites. While search engines are dominating the buzz around the Internet industry as a whole, these sites rank lower than average in every category, except ease-of-use. In fact, search engines received the lowest scores for use of technology even though the behind-the-scenes technology driving search engines is so sophisticated. These low scores can be attributed to the spartan nature of most search engines which allow the results to speak for themselves.
"Of course, in every industry, there are Web sites that stand out and others that don't make the grade," concluded Rice. "Our goal has always been to be more than just a popularity or beauty contest that rewards brand names and good design. Instead, this report is designed to take a decade's worth of judging scores to define what Internet marketing professionals should strive for in their Web site development efforts."
Get a copy of the report here.
Monday, March 13, 2006
Wednesday, March 08, 2006
"It is what the sailor holding a tight course feels when the wind whips through her hair....It is what a painter feels when the colors on the canvas begin to set up a magnetic tension with each other, and a new thing, a living form, takes shape...."
These words, written by American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (Mee-high CHICK-sent-me-high-ee), describe the state of "flow." It's a condition of heightened focus, productivity, and happiness that we all intuitively understand and hunger for.
Read the whole thing here.
And if you're anything like me, you need a soundtrack for you Flow. I've got some stuff over at my audio blog, Necessito La Music.
Saturday, March 04, 2006
Finally! Well, it's official. As of this morning, Saturday 7:05 am, March 4th, 2006 the "Who Your Padre?" Campaign was launched live on the Weather Channel! Here's a sneak peak at the avalanche of forthcoming merch and buzz...
I wish I could convey how excited I am about being involved with this campain and how especially awesome it is seeing the little Padre dude I scribbled on a napkin back in November getting some face time!
The Padre, (Your Padre!), is the Soul and Spirit of Beautiful South Padre Island, Texas.
Stay Tuned - there's lots more to come!
Who's Your Padre?
Thursday, March 02, 2006
In the age of e-mail, the handwritten note becomes cherished.
NEW YORK (AP) -- Melissa Walker follows a ritual when she opens her daily mail. She goes through all the bills and the boring printed stuff first. Then, if it is one of the lucky days, she takes a deep breath and savors the prize: a handwritten, hand-addressed note from her dear friend in Wisconsin.
E-mail may have revolutionized our communication, making it faster, easier, more practical. But that does not mean the handwritten note is dead. Instead, the act of putting pen to paper seems to have gained in currency. Now, it is what you do to say something special, or heartfelt, or really important.
It is not a question of being e-mail ignorant. Walker, a history professor in South Carolina, spends lots of time on the Internet. But that's just the point. She could easily e-mail her college friend, Janet, but instead they choose entertaining postcards, and dash off a few personal notes, once or even a few times a week.
"It's so much more satisfying," she says, her voice evoking the delicious anticipation you felt as a child when the mailman was expected to bring something special.
"Many people mistakenly think a new technology cancels out an old one," says Judith Martin, who writes the syndicated Miss Manners column. People are charmed by handwritten letters, she says, precisely because they are rarer.
"You glance at an e-mail," Martin says. "You give more attention to a real letter."
Not just older folks do it. A. Michael Noll, a communications professor at the University of Southern California, says he was stunned not long ago when he asked his class of undergraduates whether they wrote letters by hand. "More than half of them raised their hand," he says. Later he asked a different class the same question. Same result.
"Clearly, handwritten letter-writing is very much with us," he said. And why? Noll, who refuses to make his e-mail address public because he hates the barrage in his inbox, can only speculate: "In this day and age, receiving a paper letter becomes unusual, and hence, more treasured -- and clearly more important."
For Kate Spade, the designer famous for her trendy handbags, handwriting is a way of life. She does not use the computer -- ever. She has an e-mail address, but her staff prints out the e-mails for her. It's all about paper.
"Everyone LOVES to get a letter," Spade says, with an enthusiasm that seems to stem from her childhood. "I love sending them. I love getting them."
Spade, who began her business with handbags and later expanded it to paper goods, has just launched a new stationery line, partnering with Crane & Co., the Massachussetts-based company that has been operating since 1801 and supplies the paper used for U.S. currency.
The stationery is boldly colored, with zebra prints or multihued birds, coupled with cute phrases like "Watch less, write more" accompanied by a drawing of a TV. It includes correspondence cards -- "for when you just want to dash off a note," Spade says -- and calling cards, a personal version of the standard business card.
Such high-end stationery reflects the fact that in some circles, the handwritten note has achieved a sense of cachet, a certain je-ne-sais-quoi that it never had before e-mail. Julie Weiss, a graphic designer in New York City who creates unique invitations for affluent clients, compares it to a particularly stylish handbag that everyone wants because it is hard to get.
"I believe the handwritten note has become a status symbol, not unlike a vintage Hermes Birkin bag (they go for thousands, and there is a wait list) in fuschia," Weiss says.
"We get 100 e-mails a day, but a handwritten note only if we're special. The handwritten note is elitist and therefore a must for the fashion-conscious set. Of course, it must be written on fabulously heavyweight monogrammed stationery."
Even those who are not particularly status-conscious eventually realize there are moments when handwritten notes are a must. These include condolence letters, of course -- imagine getting one of those by e-mail -- or thank-you notes for an important gift. Or, as Susan Ross of Westport, Connecticut, found out, reply cards.
Ross, whose son will celebrate his bar mitzvah in March, wondered aloud to her stationer if there was a trend in asking for replies by e-mail.
"She looked at me with absolute disgust," Ross says.
Now, Ross is teaching 13-year-old William how to write fancy thank-you notes. "He was shocked that he couldn't do them on a computer, and didn't seem to have any notion of how to organize a formal note," Ross says -- for example, how to indent, or where to put the date.
"I kept insisting that he must have learned these life skills at school," she says. "And he keeps insisting that he has not."