Sensory Branding Is The Retail Future: Mastercard Introduces Sonic Identity

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For a long time, restaurants have had signature dishes, from the highbrow Le Cirque Lobster Salad all the way down to KFC’s finger-licking-good fried chicken.

A signature dish is a recipe that could be identified in a blind tasting; it could be your grandmother’s Christmas cookies or a favorite Starbucks drink. Taste is a memory anchor that leads you to think favorably about the restaurant, coffeehouse, or relative.

But that’s not the only sense that is important. Studies have shown that people can remember a scent with 65% accuracy after 1 year, but visual memory sinks to 50% after only a few months.

Walt Disney intuited as much when he created the Smellitzer. The story goes when the bakery was being designed, imagineers wanted to put a fan in front of the cooling racks of freshly baked cookies to blow the aroma out onto Main Street. Instead, they put a pump down in the service tunnel with an artificial cookie-smelling liquid so that even if they weren’t baking cookies, the smell would lure passersby into the shop.

Back in 2006, Westin Hotels started to disperse White Tea, their signature scent throughout their properties, not only to relax guests upon arrival but also to be immediately recognizable as a Westin property.

Sense memories are quite powerful.

According to researchers Dr. L.D. Rosenblum, Dr. Harold Stolovitch and Dr Erica Keeps, here’s how much information each of our senses processes at the same time as compared to our other senses.

  • 83.0% – Sight
  • 11.0% – Hearing
  • 03.5% – Smell
  • 01.5% – Touch
  • 01.0% – Taste

The researchers explained it like this, “Imagine you’re in an open field. How far can you see? About 50 miles. How far can you hear? Maybe a mile or two. How about smell? 10-20 yards, assuming that the wind is not blowing. How about touch? Just an arm’s length. Taste? A couple of inches.”

So with the power of all five of our senses in my mind, I found myself in Fred Segal’s on the Sunset Strip this weekend to take part in the launch of Mastercard’s new sonic identity.

You can watch the video I took below to hear the Mastercard tone:

Working with Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park and others, the sound is the core of a sonic identity whether online, in a store when you use your card, or more importantly, when using voice search. 

It’s the sound equivalent of their iconic intersecting orange and red circles. The sound will become a critical way people will connect with Mastercard in the future.

That’s because voice shopping will hit $40 billion by 2022. This sonic brand will greet consumers with familiarity whether paying for a transaction or asking a smart speaker about Mastercard’s priceless experiences.

They developed a few variations of the song including playful, cinematic, and an operatic version as well as melodies for different regions. The sound had to work as well at the opera house as it does at a ballpark.

As payment options explode for consumers, being top of mind, especially when it comes to voice search will be table stakes. Much like the old NBC tone did on TV, adding a sound to make the voice shopper actually pay attention will become important to brand loyalty.

As Dr. Christophe Morin and Patrick Renvoise, authors of The Persuasion Code note, “In today’s day and age, the most successful brands are the ones that deliver feelings and emotions.”

I would go one further for brick and mortar retailers…

When are you going to offer a branded, sensory experience in your stores? One that is unique? One that is compelling and one that is memorable?

Mastercard worked with agencies, artists, and musicians around the world for over 18 months to produce a sound that would resonate with a global audience.

How much work have you done to create an experience second-to-none in your stores?

How much thinking have you been doing about how your brand will stand out from the masses in the coming years?

See also, How Retail Store Of The Future Holds Keys For Retail Shopping Trends

In Sum

Raja Rajamannar, chief marketing and communications officer at Mastercard, summed it up, “We set out an ambitious goal to produce the Mastercard melody in a way that’s distinct and authentic.  It is important that our sonic brand not only reinforces our presence, but also resonates seamlessly around the world.”

The Mastercard strategy is to touch the senses to stay top-of-mind with their loyal customers.

And as exciting as it was to be there at the launch, I couldn’t help but wonder how many of you are as focused on where you need to be in the future and how you will remain relevant and top-of-mind to your customers.