Why Sound is Such a Powerful Memory Trigger

Echoic memory, the part of the human brain that holds audio information from your sense of hearing, lasts only 2 to 4 seconds.
Echoic memory, which holds audio information from your sense of hearing, lasts only 2 to 4 seconds.

One of the most common questions we’re asked here at ChromeOrange Media is why we say in our webinar, “Brands Like Hit Songs,” that sound used in marketing and branding is more memorable than visuals (including brand logos) are.

The answer to that question lies in the types of memory our human brain stores:

Echoic Memory

Echoic memory, or auditory sensory memory, is a type of memory that stores audio information—sound, music, ambient noise and sound effects.

Echoic memory is a subcategory of human memory, which has three major parts:

  1. Long-term memory retains events, facts, and skills. It can last anywhere from hours to decades.
  2. Short-term memory stores information recently received. It lasts anywhere from 30 seconds to several hours.
  3. Sensory memory, also called the sensory register, holds information from the senses. It can be further broken down into three types:
    • Iconic memory, or visual sensory memory, handles visual information. Lasts for less than a half second.
    • Haptic memory retains information from your sense of touch. These memories tend to last for about two seconds. It enables us to combine a series of touch sensations and to play a role in identifying objects we can’t see.
    • Echoic memory holds audio information from your sense of hearing. Lasts only 2 to 4 seconds.

The difference between short- and long-term memory can be compared to a computer.  The information in your long-term memory would be like the information you have saved on your hard drive. It isn’t there on your desktop (your short-term memory), but you can pull it up whenever you want or need it, at least most of the time

The purpose of echoic memory is to store audio information as the brain processes the sound. It also holds bits of audio information, which gives meaning to the overall sound.

How echoic memory works

When you hear something, your auditory nerve transmits electrical signals to your brain—  “sends” the sound to it. While this is happening, the sound is “raw,” unprocessed audio information.

Echoic memory occurs when the brain receives and holds this audio information. Specifically, the information is stored in the primary auditory cortex (PAC), which is found in both hemispheres of the brain.

The information is held in the PAC opposite of the ear that heard the sound. For instance, if you hear a sound in your right ear, the left PAC will hold the memory. But if you hear a sound through both ears, both the left and right PAC will retain the information.

After a few seconds, the echoic memory moves into your short-term memory, where your brain processes the information and gives meaning to the sound.

Echoic memory is automatic. This means that audio information enters your echoic memory even if you aren’t actively and purposefully listening. In fact, our minds constantly form echoic memories. For example, when you talk with someone, your echoic memory retains each individual syllable. Your brain recognizes words by connecting each syllable to the previous one.  Similarly, each word is also stored in echoic memory, thus enabling your brain to understand a full sentence.

Your brain also uses echoic memory when you listen to music. It briefly recalls the previous note and connects it to the next one. As a result, your brain recognizes the notes as a song. The same holds true for sonic (audio) logos. 

Iconic memory vs. echoic memory

Echoic memory is very short. According to the “Handbook of Neurologic Music Therapy,” it only lasts for 2 to 4 seconds.

Iconic memory, or visual sensory memory, on the other hand, holds visual information. It’s a type of sensory memory, just like echoic memory, but it’s much shorter, lasting for less than a half second.

The reason for the discrepancy in the durations of iconic and echoic memory is that images and sounds are processed differently. Since most visual information doesn’t immediately disappear, you can repeatedly view an image. Plus, when you look at something, you can process all the visual images together.

Echoic memory is longer because sound waves are time sensitive. They can’t be reviewed unless the actual sound is repeated.

Also, sound is processed by individual bits of information. Each bit gives meaning to the previous bit, which then gives meaning to the sound. As a result, the brain needs more time to store audio information.

The goal is long-term memory

Eventually, when your brain has repeatedly been exposed to and recalled both sound and visual information, it moves up the memory hierarchy to long-term memory—the stage in which information is stored indefinitely. It is defined in contrast to short-term memory, which typically lasts for only about 18 to 30 seconds but can sometimes last for several hours, whereas long-term memory last anywhere from hours to decades.

For marketers and brand managers, long-term memory is the goal. We want consumers to remember the sound and visuals we’ve attached to our brand messaging as well as the music we pair with them in our broadcast advertising. That’s where the “Rule of 3” comes in.  More on that in our next blog post.

7 Steps to a Better Brand Experience


Now that the world is coming back to life following the Covid lockdown, many companies are scrambling to regain lost business.  Your customers haven’t forgotten about your brand, but you may want to examine your brand messaging and positioning strategies to see where you may be able to improve consumer recall and recognition.  We’ve assembled 7 steps to a better brand experience:

1. Develop your brand’s personality.

Create your brand’s personality—the set of human characteristics related to your brand name that will help consumers identify with the brand.

2. Create a user experience.

The right kind of user experience and strong visual and sonic brand assets can attract customers who will perceive the brand’s values and personality to be similar to theirs. Careful attention must be paid to color palette, tone of voice, visual logo, graphic elements, sonic branding and audio experience, and interactions at all touchpoints to ensure proper reflection of the brand personality.

3. Make it simple, relatable and memorable.

While there is a “minimalistic” movement in branding, startup brands need visuals and audio with more “juice” in order to differentiate themselves and stand out in a sea of competition. The focus must be on delivering a user experience that sparks consumer loyalty and advocacy. There’s nothing worse than a great brand whose assets deliver a disappointing user experience. Providing an exceptional user experience should be a part of your brand—perhaps the most important aspect of it.

4. Draw attention to the benefits of the brand.

All the visuals and audio in the world can’t make up for a brand that doesn’t deliver some type of benefit or value to the consumer. Branding is about more than just an eye-catching logo and sonic identifier—it’s about communicating the uniqueness of the brand and what it can do for your target audience. If you find a niche and solve a problem with your product, it’s more likely that people will purchase your brand because it is unique.

5. Create a brand experience at every consumer touchpoint.

A touchpoint is any point of interaction between a consumer and a brand. They’re critical interactions within the customer journey—key moments that can either build or destroy customer trust. But, touchpoints are meaningful only if and when the company understands them and can transform them into user experiences.

6. Understand what drives customer loyalty.

Understanding your customers and what drives them them toward loyalty (or brand abandonment) is the first step in delivering a superior customer experience. Once you know the kind of experience customers crave, you can begin infusing that experience in all touchpoints for consistent brand experience delivery. The key is to remember that touchpoints are precise and specific.

7. Take an inventory of touchpoints from the consumer’s perspective.

Touchpoints include websites, billboards, email communications, customer service call centers, and the like (business touchpoints) but don’t forget to include customer touchpoints: online demos, credit card transactions, mobile apps, online chats and other things that are very important to consumers and to building a relationship with them.