Here’s a game. What do these have in common?
Star Wars, Hamilton and Black Panther?
Indiana Jones, Grease and Fifty Shades Freed?
Movies, right? Good job.
But look a little deeper. Think about the music. These are examples of iconic scores (aka “theme music”, Star Wars / Indiana Jones), musicals (Hamilton / Grease), and needle drops (soundtracks that make use of externally existent music, Black Panther / Fifty Shades Freed).
Now think about your job. Think about what you can categorize as a score, a musical, and a needle drop. Imagine your professional life as a soundtrack. If you can start to think about what makes each impactful in a movie, then you can steal this framework for yourself or your company.
A score provides an emotional bed. It often exists around the edges of your story or characters. Think of the “The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme).” It’s the backdrop that once introduced, will forever trigger familiarity. It’s the vintage logo or the woodwork in your lawyer’s office. A score is informative without you needing to think much about it. Both musicals and non-musicals also have scores, and they use them to create automatic-familiarity of the universe they exist in.
A musical mixes the emotional bed with directly advancing the plot itself. Think of anything from Hamilton or Grease. It’s the magic of the song and dance routine. In business, that could be a stand-alone product pitch, a well-designed PowerPoint, or a home office walk-through. Musicals always work best in context, meaning they require a properly expectant audience. If scores create automatic familiarity, a musical is well choreographed to take the story and the audience from one point to another.
A needle drop takes something external (possibly with its own associations!) and inserts it into the scene. Sometimes it has been prepared specifically for the moment, sometimes it just feels like it could have been custom made (the best kind). Needle drops are hard, but they can be extremely impactful as they match an externally familiar thing with an internally new thing. Analogies, metaphors, stories from our past that suddenly snap into a present framework and make us say, “I get it now,” that’s what a needle drop does. Needle drops transform a prior understanding into a new one.
Your business already has a soundtrack. Don’t let it be elevator music. Design and intent matter.