The average person is exposed to an assault of stimuli each and every moment of our waking day. Some of this stimulus catches our attention, but much is filtered out as extraneous, useless, or unimportant. This filtering is our way of handling the constant barrage of information we endure. As marketers it is our job to cut through all the meaningless, random white noise of life and penetrate the consciousness of our targeted audience with our marketing messages.
Mere Subliminal Exposure
One of the weapons, tools if you prefer, professional media producers use to create an impression and influence behavior is something called mere subliminal exposure, the process of communication without explicit notice. It is a process and effect that everyone uses every day without ever thinking about it, and it is a necessity in order to deal with, and make sense of, our over-stimulated lives.
The look your spouse gives you at a dinner party, the tone of a simple comment, or the change in body language communicates a message that says, 'stop what you're doing before I get angry,' or 'let's get the heck out of here before I die of boredom.' But whatever the coded meaning, the communication is clear. We all have the ability to decode these kinds of minimal subliminal messages. In fact the inability of some to properly interpret these kinds of signals has lead to unfortunate consequences.
This process is not to be confused with the discredited work of James Vicary, who in 1957 faked the results of subliminal advertising in movie theaters. He claimed and later recanted that by flashing barely noticeable images of popcorn and soft drinks on the screen that it increased sales of the items by a significant amount. However, this abuse of the phenomenon does not negate the fact that people are sensitive to, learn from, and respond to a variety of subtle visual and auditory experiences that influence their behavior. The same can be said of other senses like smell and touch, but since our main concern is how to use this process on website presentations we will leave the more physical encounters to our offline marketing colleagues.
Audio Sound Design - The Art of Hidden Persuasion
The Signature Voice-over
One of the least used but most effective and economical marketing tools a website business has at its disposal is signature voice-over, or Sonic Personality. It establishes your identity and embeds your brand by giving your site a human voice.
It is the sound of the human voice that conveys all the subtlety and nuance of the message you have to deliver. Major advertisers use familiar sounding actors and actresses to deliver personality and impact. Even when an audience doesn't recognize the voice being used, the positive attributes associated with that voice are transferred to the product or service being offered. It is not by random choice that Ford Motor Company chose Keifer Sutherland's Jack Bauer sonic personae for the voice of their television spots or that Chili's restaurants now employs John Corbett's comfortable, friendly, 'Sex and The City' voice instead of the previously grating and irritable sound of comic Wanda Sikes.
Most website businesses cannot afford to hire Hollywood talent to pitch their products. What is important is that the voice you choose is a signature voice, a distinctive sound that delivers the script with character and style employing timber, cadence, and phrasing like only a professional voice actor can do. Of course, you must also give your voice talent the right words to say, which means you provide them with a professionally written script if you want to maximize the effectiveness of your signature voice-over.
When we think of voice-overs we usually think of commercial presentations, but here again most website businesses truly miss the boat when it comes to utilizing Sonic Personality. We all know that text on your website is important in order to attract search engine indexing, unfortunately from a marketing effectiveness point-of-view, text alone lacks impact.
People are impatient and generally do not want to read volumes of text information, and besides, most people find it difficult to read on a computer screen. Even if they do read your material, how much of it is retained, is it associated with your company, or does it just get confused with all the other stuff people see during their busy, business day?
As a solution why not turn all your website copy, including articles, into audio delivered by a professional signature voice, providing people the option of reading the text or sitting back and listening to your words of wisdom?
Of all the multimedia, marketing techniques available to you, a signature voice is the most economical option whether used as a stand-alone element or as part of a visual or video presentation.
Sound Cue Punctuation & Effects
Voice-over is not the only audio method available to the savvy website marketer. You wouldn't write something without using punctuation: it's what makes the words meaningful by providing the cadence necessary for maximizing the impact, but punctuation does not have to be limited to periods, exclamation marks and semicolons. Punctuation can be added in the form of sound cues and audio effects.
Professional audio engineers know what kind of sound to add to a presentation in order to draw people's attention to certain key phrases, words, or points. In the same way a composer arranges the music score for a movie to enhance mood and build excitement, so too does the commercial audio producer turn a dry read into an authentic, memorable experience.
Sound punctuation and audio effects should not be taken lightly; audio sound design, when done properly, is one of the most complex and technical areas of multimedia, far more sophisticated than video and just as important if not more so. Where and how to use trumpet swells, rim shots, and volume variance is not just art, it's science, and it has a profound psychological and emotional effect on the listener.
Custom Composed Music
If voice-over is the most under-utilized Web-marketing tool we have, then music is probably the most abused. No doubt music like sound design is an enormously powerful method of enhancing mood, and drawing attention to specific points and images. Unfortunately slapping on an over-used royalty-free sound loop that's been used on everything from breakfast cereals to incontinence products is not the answer.
For music to be effective it should be unique enough to be associated with your company and arranged in such a way that it increases the presentation's memorability and enhances its experience. In the silent movie era music was the only method of creating this kind of emotional impact, and despite today's full range of visual presentation techniques and special effects, music scoring is still one of the most crucial elements of memorable movie-making.
When it comes to music, you are dealing with the full arsenal of psychological presentation techniques and failure to use it properly may be counter-productive.
Signature Sound Logos
One of the first things people do when they start a business is to have a logo designed. Even novice entrepreneurs recognize that a company needs some kind of visual identity, a short-form tag that conveys the brand image that can be recognized in an instant.
The advent of visual media like television and commercial TV spots did not obscure the importance of the radio-style jingle and what has become known as the sound logo or audio signature. The Maxwell House coffee percolator beat, Kellogs Rice Krispies' 'Snap, Crackle, Pop,' and Tony The Tiger's 'Grrrrrrrrreat!' are all classic examples of audio signature. Today we have the familiar sound of Intel's sound logo, the powerful swell of the THX movie sound tag, and Vonage's original goofy signature audio branding.
In today's multimedia Web environment, your sound logo is every bit as important as your visual identity.
It's Theater of the Mind
Radio has often been referred to as 'theater of the mind' because the combination of voice, sound cues, effects, music, and audio logos helped paint powerful and memorable mental images for the listener. For those old enough to remember radio dramas, the ringing of 'Johnny Dollar's' telephone or the sound of 'Inner Sanctum's' creaking door are forever permanently etched in the minds to anyone whoever heard them.
In a Web environment populated by millions of websites all competing for audience attention, failure to use every marketing tool at your disposal is simply foolish. If you want to be heard, it's time to say what you have to say out-loud.
About The Author
Jerry Bader is Senior Partner at a website design firm that specializes in Web-audio and Web-video.