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The Sound of Branding

I mentioned AIGA’s (Chicago) Incite/Insight series recently and I slightly, just slightly, implied that they might be missing some star power to attract a crowd. I wasn’t that far off really, based on the half-filled room. But last night’s talk by Alvin Collis was truly amazing and inspiring. Click on “More” to get the whole story.

Alvin Collis is Vice President of Audio Architecture, a title he finds funny and unsettling, for Muzak. You hear Muzak and you might think of elevator music, but that is so far from reality. It all started with their rebranding by Pentagram in 1997. The rebranding was a complete overhaul of thinking, executives (rebranded by being shown the door,) business approach and obviously the visual identity (which is freakishly similar to the logo I designed for our firm; I still think mine is better, hehe.)

Currently Muzak works with retail giants like Gap, Armani and Design Within Reach to name a few, creating Audio Architecture to enhance, and better, the customers experience of the brand. What exactly do they do? This sounds like a fun job: they listen to music all day long, pick around 50 or so songs, mix them together and play them at the store. Obviously there is a lot of thinking behind the music they choose. Based on emotion. The strongest value they add to the brand.

It was really interesting to get a sample of what a pitch to Gap is like. Basically they play some excerpts from songs while Alvin tells what’s going on in the scene, filled with feelings, colors, smells, people and stories. Again, selling an emotion. Based on music. Fascinating.

What caught my attention the most is their focus on enhancing the brand experience and creating an emotional connection between brand and customer. Like he said “Creating a love relationship between them.” All this is a nice reminder of what we’ve been talking about branding, how it is much more than a logo or a color palette. A brand is everything. A brand can be based on music.

Truly good stuff.

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ARCHIVE ID 1407 FILED UNDER Branding and Identity
PUBLISHED ON Mar.28.2003 BY Armin
Su’s comment is:

I've never been able to understand the in-store music phenomenon. But then again, the only store I know of that would play anything I'd listen to myself is Hot Topic. And funny enough, I refuse to set foot in one of them. Anyway.

I used to find it bizarre when I'd go into stores like Victoria's Secret(shut up; not for me. I just couldn't think of anyplace else that does it) and see them selling CDs of their branded background noise. Then I went to work for Williams-Sonoma's call center. It was a regular occurence for customers to call up asking for a specific edition of the music and being really upset when it wasn't available anymore. Still can't say I understand.

On Mar.28.2003 at 10:15 AM
Su’s comment is:

Back to Hot Topic: Actually, I can't think of any other company that's more based on music, if you think about it. I wonder if they handle their music needs themselves or source it out to someone like Muzak.

On Mar.28.2003 at 10:16 AM
plain*clothes’s comment is:

SU said...

I wonder if they handle their music needs themselves

actually they do; a couple of friends of mine were hired by the corporate offices here in the LA area for just that purpose. I'm not entirely clear on the process, but they screen potential employees to find people who have their finger on the pulse of "underground" music -- an ironic designation when you consider how mainstream and homogenized it's all become because of such companies.

On Mar.28.2003 at 11:24 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

Did they talk about the optimimum volume based on the customer demographics?

I imagine I'm simply too old for most of the mall stores based on the volumes of music in them. ;o)

On Mar.28.2003 at 11:35 AM
armin’s comment is:

>Did they talk about the optimimum volume?

Nope. But you are right, sometimes it is quite annoying. Another client of them is Old Navy, which is a really loud store.

On Mar.28.2003 at 12:12 PM
Jon’s comment is:

I see CD's for sale at many stores now, although I'm not sure if this is specifically what is being played within the store. Gap, Banana Republic, J. Crew, Pottery Barn and Starbucks have all had branded discs for sale at the registers. I just can't see myself ever buying them. I don't often want my home to sound like a major corporate chain.

On Mar.28.2003 at 12:35 PM
Ian’s comment is:

>Did they talk about the optimimum volume?

I live across the street from an Abercrombie & Fitch, and can hear their "jams" over traffic.

On Mar.28.2003 at 12:51 PM
Kiran Max Weber’s comment is:

>Did they talk about the optimimum volume?

GUESS stores are really loud too. I wonder what the purpose of loud music is.

On Mar.28.2003 at 02:52 PM
cw’s comment is:

an interesting question that came up today during a discussion of last night's presentation was whether or not muzak produces a different range of music for its gap outlets in other countries, based on those cultures. in other words, would they integrate a popular german or japanese song into their mix or would gap stick within their own 'americanized' brand of sound? i would imagine that american pop, jazz, electronica, etc. would translate well within any culture; however, would that music/brand experience feel alienating for someone in japan, for instance, shopping at a gap store in osaka? just a thought.

On Mar.28.2003 at 03:41 PM
armin’s comment is:

>whether or not muzak produces a different range of music for its gap outlets in other countries, based on those cultures.

I truly hope so. Otherwise it would be like McDonald's (as we were talking on the poster thread) which stands out like a sore thumb in any place outside of the US. Muzak would be crazy not to embrace those differences. It would show a total lack of respect, and common sense, to the people of any country.

On Mar.28.2003 at 04:34 PM
rocker’s comment is:

Hot Topic stores work closely with bands and labels and consequently they get thousands of promo CDs. These are distributed to stores as "play if you want to" and employees are also encouraged to bring in CDs. Wander in on a weekend and they are playing SAFER stuff. Wander in on a Monday night before close and they are rocking out to THEIR OWN stuff. My friend works there.

On Mar.29.2003 at 11:13 AM
clever ’s comment is:

the name is alvin collis.

but who is counting?

rumor is he has been given a "window seat".

On May.30.2003 at 11:18 AM
armin’s comment is:

>the name is alvin collis.

Dang. You are right. I'll fix.

On May.30.2003 at 01:09 PM
clever’s comment is:

rebranding can do lots, but there are the naysayers...who can't help but think of negative brand connotation when you hear it, say it: "m-eww-zack".

the beauty of words is that if you get the right spokesperson, you'll buy anything.

On Jun.02.2003 at 12:15 PM
Rod’s comment is:

Armin - where is the "more" in page? Can't find it!

"Click on “More” to get the whole story."



On Jul.06.2003 at 09:25 AM
Armin’s comment is:

Rod, disregard that "click on more" line. This entry was way back when some of the usability issues were pretty screwed. If you were looking at this, you had the whole story.

On Jul.06.2003 at 10:06 AM
Joshua’s comment is:

whether or not muzak produces a different range of music for its gap outlets in other countries, based on those cultures.

Working for the gap Inc company for many years and part of the opening teams for all gap stores in Japan I can tell you that they play the same music there that they play here. Gap Japan is selling American clothing there not Japanese clothing. They are selling the American lifestyle in Japan. I don't think they are trying to alienate anyone they are just trying to sell their brand.Oh and muzak does not choose the music a seperate department in the San Francisco HQ makes it. Muzak just mass produces it for all Gap Inc. brands.

On Jul.29.2004 at 01:03 AM