University of Arkansas

Walton College

The Sam M. Walton College of Business

Listen Up: How Does Audio Affect Healthcare Brands?

Women looking a shelves of healthcare products
January 09, 2024  |  By Nabiha Khetani, Steven Kopp

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When you hear a short, two-pronged, percussive blast in the next room, followed by a tonal crescendo, your brain instantly recognizes someone turning on Netflix. This famous “ta-dum” has become synonymous with the brand itself as much as the red, ribbon-like N. When you hear the vocalized “Ba da ba ba ba,” you know someone will respond with a melodic “I’m lovin’ it” followed by the iconic image of the golden arches. There’s a reason this is the longest running ad campaign in McDonald’s history. The combination of sound and music with visual logos trigger instant brand recognition with consumers. 

The additional auditory component to a brand’s essence and attributes provides the opportunity to differentiate the character of an organization from others. Sonic branding, the incorporation of sound and music in logos, is an advantage for branding strategy as consumers rely on audio-enabled devices, smart speakers, and podcasts for information and entertainment. While there is limited research on the effects of sonic branding in the healthcare delivery process, studies suggest music and sound can elicit strong emotional responses in consumers.  

Healthcare companies such as Abbott Laboratories,  Alzheimer’s Association, are McLeod Health are gradually utilizing sonic branding within their companies to shape the way consumers perceive their brand. In “Healthcare brands sound off: evaluating the influence of sonic branding in shaping consumer perceptions,” University of Arkansas Associate Professor Steven W. Kopp, Elyria Kemp (University of New Orleans), and My (Myla) Bui (Loyola Marymount University) examine how sonic brands influence consumer emotional reactions and trust in a healthcare provider.  Kemp and Bui are both PhD alumnae of the U of A. 

The Sound of Music 

Experts are fascinated by how our brains can hear and process music and the benefits that come with it. Listening to music can reduce anxiety, blood pressure, and pain as well as improve sleep quality, mood, mental alertness, and memory. Music can also influence affect, and many high involvement decisions that require “trust” are made in affect-rich contexts. Many healthcare decisions t, so patients want a certain level of trust in their provider. Sonic logos represent one way providers can foster trust in patients and consumers. 

Individuals will exhibit more trusting behavior when they feel decreased negative emotions, especially anxiety. Trust manifests as the confidence consumers have in a provider’s reliability and integrity and thus helps consumers develop relationships with providers. Healthcare consumers rely completely on the provider and, in some cases, live temporarily in healthcare facilities.  

Research has yielded considerable evidence to prove that music can regulate the experience of negative emotions and enhance coping. The presence of a sonic logo, one that includes sound and music, can evoke emotional responses in consumers. In healthcare, this has special implications because individuals often experience anxiety in healthcare consumption contexts, which could hinder their ability to trust the provider. Therefore, a sonic logo can play a positive role in regulating their emotional state.  

Music stimulates and helps sustain an individual’s attention. Utilizing a sonic logo encourages attentional resources and heightens message processing for low-involvement consumers, according to the elaboration likelihood model (ELM). In healthcare, low-involvement individuals tend to be less engaged in their health and therefore less interested in processing health-related messages. The presence of a sonic logo in healthcare messaging may serve as a peripheral cue as part of their evaluation of important attributes of a brand or healthcare provider.  

A combination of scientific knowledge, technical aptitude, and affective qualities is crucial to providing good health care. The provider’s display of affective qualities, such as compassion and empathy, can improve patient satisfaction and better health outcomes. A sonic logo can help less engaged consumers evaluate providers more favorably on characteristics such as competence and empathy.  

The Sonic Logo Put to the Test  

When seeking a mental health provider, consumers look for brands that they perceive to be empathetic and compassionate–important qualities in affect mental health care. Likewise, cancer care patients experience negative emotions related to their diagnoses and look for providers they believe to be competent and empathetic. Both of these contexts require a relationship of trust between the patient and provider.  

The two studies conducted tested the influence of sonic branding on the relationship between the patient and the provider. The first study conducted by the researchers tested the use of a sonic logo for cancer care and if it mitigated any of the negative emotions that come with cancer diagnoses, while the second study used mental health care as the consumers’ decision context. People suffering from mental health challenges usually avoid or delay seeking care because of perceived stigma or stereotypes, which can exacerbate the effects of anxiety or depression.  

In both healthcare contexts, a group was exposed to a sonic logo and later compared to a control group. The results from both studies found a positive influence on the sonic logo. Individuals in the cancer care group expressed more trust in the provider and felt the medical team to be competent and empathetic. Individuals in the sonic logo group for the mental health care study felt less anxious about seeking help and expressed higher levels of trust in the provider.  

The question of whether a sonic logo will help or hurt patients who are less involved in their health was also studied. The researchers found the sonic logo to serve as a peripheral cue for the less-involved individuals. They reported seeing the provider as more competent and empathetic when exposed to the sonic logo than those who were not.  

Looking Ahead 

Building trust with consumers is essential for providers, and healthcare organizations should focus on innovative ways to build trust with their consumers. By using sonic logos to convey their brand, healthcare organizations can regulate negative emotions, improve trust, and help to increase consumer engagement, especially with those who are less involved with their health.   

Connecting emotionally with consumers is becoming even more important for brands and organizations to prioritize as reports indicate Gen Z and Millennials tend to support companies based on personal feelings and values. Sonic branding can be an important tool for brand strategists to emotionally engage with their consumers and influence their emotional response to the brand. 

And, yes, choosing to sit down to binge-watch Bridgerton with a burger and fries does not completely depend on the sonic branding success of Netflix and McDonald’s. But it certainly helps that you associate these brands with comfort and reliability: necessary components of trust. Healthcare providers’ sonic branding may never reach these heights, but they can play a more noticeable role. 

Nabiha KhetaniNabiha Khetani is a Senior at the University of Arkansas studying Political Science and Journalism. She serves as a volunteer for the Washington County Teen Court program, is an active member of the Pre-Law Society, and part of the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority. She has always enjoyed writing, and her post-graduate plans include attending law school to one day become a practicing attorney.