Common Connection Through Shared Song
(As featured in Fast Company)
Think of the last time you sang a song. It might have been around a campfire with family and friends, or at a church, synagogue or mosque with your faith community. Wherever it was, in the moment of raising your voices together, you probably felt connected on a deeper level as your individual voices came together in a powerful chorus.
For as long as there have been humans, there have been shared moments of musical expression. Stories and storytellers are an important part of the songs, rituals, ceremonies and celebrations that formed the fabric of early human life—and that go on to inspire us to this day.
Just as these moments of expression can shape a community, they can also be integral to supporting a thriving organizational culture. A song may not be right for every organization, but it can be a missed opportunity as a tool to strengthen your brand and emphasize the shared purpose that drives your community of employees, customers and stakeholders. Songs can be a powerful way to establish and celebrate the shared identity that makes your brand strong.
Songs As Shared Experience
The use of songs to build the presence of a brand is all around us. Think of national anthems, which citizens sing together to celebrate their shared identity as members of a geopolitical tribe, or college fight songs which students belt out before games to intimidate the opposing team with the strength of their shared purpose to fight it out on the field.
Historically, there have been a number of brands that have used songs to establish their brand’s presence. Many brands made use of instantly recognizable radio and television jingles that became firmly lodged in the collective unconscious, while others used music internally to increase feelings of employee cohesion. From 1937 until the late 60s, IBM made use of a corporate songbook celebrating the company’s history and achievements, while the Walmart team in Bentonville famously began every Saturday morning convocation with a song.
The reason for these moments of musical connection is simple. Research overwhelmingly shows that singing as a group provides immediate socio-emotional benefits, and enduring emotional benefits that linger long after the singing is over. Historically, brands have taken advantage of these powerful psychological and sociological effects to create songs that would increase feelings of enthusiasm, excitement and group cohesion.
Although these days songs have taken a backseat to other forms of identity branding, some brands have remained loyal to the idea of branded melodies, like Princess Cruises, which plays its Shared Purpose anthem as their ships come into and out of port. And with the rise of TikTok and other marketing mediums that place music at their core, the brand song is making a surprising resurgence.
Brand Songs in the Age of TikTok
Songs are critical to the function of TikTok, where users employ established audio clips to create new content ad infinitum. With the right song, a brand can even go viral, expanding its reach to new audiences in unprecedented ways.
Cosmetics giant Elf was one of the early adopters of this trend back in 2019, with their anthem Eyes. Lips. Face. (elf), a commissioned pop song that went on to become a global internet hit. These days, everyone from fast food giants McDonalds and Pizza Hut to gum company Trident are creating TikTok specific songs that consumers can use and reuse as they wish, bringing these branded songs into the broader discourse.
Sometimes described as “sonic logos,” these easy ear worms are a way for brands to forge an emotional connection with younger audiences, reimagining their presence on a global stage and allowing consumers to forage a creative, emotional connection with a brand.
The songs and sounds these brands create are intentionally designed to be as recognizable as possible in the shortest amount of time — often no more than 10-30 seconds. Using hooks, distinctive sonic landscapes and vocal lines that become a synecdoche for the larger brand message the song has been designed to convey, these miniaturized takes on song-based branding are essentially the fight songs of the modern world.
Although they might sound different from the lengthy jingles and powerful anthems we’re more familiar with, these songs tap into one of the most essential modes of cultural understanding.
Songs and Culture
Brand songs may be the latest trend on TikTok and other social media platforms, but the truth is that in the grand scheme of human identity, the idea of a song as a marker of shared identity is nothing new. Today’s viral clips are the modern equivalent of the campfire songs of yesteryear, the spirituals used to mark the identity of faith communities and the reels and jigs that farming communities would sing together to celebrate a successful harvest.
As long as there have been people, there have been songs. Singing and shared musicality are critical in the formation of a group’s cultural identity, but even an act as simple as listening to a familiar song in the company of other people who know it as well as you do can form an important bond. Used judiciously, songs can be as effective at building a shared company culture as they once were at forming a shared tribal culture, a place where individual participants discovered the meaning of working as a member of a larger whole.
Songs have the power to unite us with a shared identity, giving us a sense of ourselves as members of a community with shared references and matrices of understanding. Both within a company and as part of a larger cultural conversation, songs are one of the most powerful tools we have for branding and building an emotional resonance with brand identity. And now, thanks to platforms like TikTok, the oldest form of human psychological technology has also become the most cutting edge.
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