Sonic branding

There is a well-understood visual language where text and colour can be used to evoke specific moods and drive us to act, such as clicking a link to view more information about a product or service. Creating an audio strategy for your company can also add a new dimension.

Sound plays a vital role in our lives. Images and sound have a symbiotic relationship. Brands have long understood the power that sound can have on their customers. Airing on Christmas Eve, 1923, General Mills created the world's first singing advert including, a musical jingle.

Jean Pierre Baçelon is credited with coining the term 'marque sonique' as he identified the power and commercial potential of sonic branding through his work on French radio in the 1980s. In association with Diarmid Moncrieff at Capital Radio Sales, they developed Baçelon's ideas in English, showcasing what could be done with audio radio advertising from a branding perspective.

Businesses have continued to develop a sonic identity that reinforces their brands – making them instantly recognizable. If you hear a TV advert from Intel, you instantly know which business is being shown on your TV set without even looking at it. If you hear a certain whistle, you know the ad is from the world’s largest fast food chain.

With the massive expansion of podcasting and the enormous uptake of smart speakers using voice control, audio has been moving through a renaissance. Today well-known music artists are being commissioned by some of the world's most famous brands to create new audio components for their brands and products. Brian Eno famously designed the Intel chime.

Recently Jean-Michel Jarre has been working with HSBC Bank to create what it calls its 'Universal Sound' consisting of seven tracks and on the mnemonic jingle. Another brand that has been actively designing its sonic identity is MasterCard. “Sound adds a powerful new dimension to our brand identity and a critical component to how people recognize Mastercard today and in the future,” said Raja Rajamannar, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, Mastercard.

“We set out an ambitious goal to produce the Mastercard melody in a way that’s distinct and authentic, yet adaptable globally and across genres,” Rajamannar continued. “It is important that our sonic brand not only reinforces our presence, but also resonates seamlessly around the world.”

The result, a distinct and memorable melody with adaptations across genres and cultures, making it locally relevant while maintaining a consistent global brand voice. In addition, the use of varying instruments and tempos help to deliver the Mastercard melody in several unique styles such as operatic, cinematic and playful, and some regional interpretations.

Your audio brand

Businesses and their brands are actively creating sonic identities as screenless purchasing via smart speakers are forecast to $40 billion plus in 2022, up from $2 billion today across the US and the UK.

Voice shopping is set to explode. RBC Capital Markets recently predicted Amazon would generate $10 to $11 billion in sales from Alexa devices – including device sales themselves and voice shopping – by the year 2020. In the UK, 10% of households have a smart speaker, with 16% using it to make regular purchases.

To unlock how businesses can begin to use sound, Croner-I Business-inform spoke with Michele Arnese, Founder and CEO, amp, and began by asking how important is an audio component to a brand or business to differentiate it in its marketplace?

“The single question to frame the importance of audio branding is 'could you currently be recognized if you can't be seen?' Arnese responded. Even pre-COVID, consumers flocked to 'brand invisible' environments through their smart speakers and voice devices. Touchless and mobile interactions had already become vital. The pandemic has only accelerated this.

“A sonic strategy that considers all of these touchpoints, in their broader context, and makes the brand heard in an authentic, immersive and contextually relevant manner can be a real differentiator.”

“An example of a brand that has done this is Mastercard, which is arguably the leader in sonic branding – having having particularly invested in its sonic branding over the past couple of years. Its objective was to curate an audio experience that brought new meaning and purpose to the brand, showing its flexibility and strength. They can now clearly be differentiated amongst the competition, across many channels, especially in physical and digital retail, where they rolled out their ‘contactless’ transaction sound to over 75 million touchpoints globally. Amp has been part of the sonic branding journey at Mastercard, and we are working with them to further expand its sonic identity.

“In many cases, brands are still treating rebranding – or the creation of a brand – as a purely visual exercise exploring multiple touchpoints and use cases, but often overlooking audio experiences, which is increasingly where consumers are. There’s also an element of ‘if you build it - they will come’ - so brands that don’t have sonic strategies will fall even further behind those that do, as consumers shift to voice.”

What are the challenges of creating an audio brand?

“Arguably, ensuring salience. The goal of sonic branding is to create an audio brand that delivers a meaningful and differentiating position in the market amongst consumers. Audio must knock brands into conveying emotion, but it can be tough to remember that not every emotion is suitable for a given brand. Marketers can sometimes lose objectivity about sound, veering towards musical styles that they like and think sound good but aren't quite right for the brand.

“It’s also a challenge to get the right sonic sound for brands without infringing on copyright issues, getting too close to another brand’s audio stamp may push you into a dark corner. People like music that they’re familiar with, but sometimes going down this path can be a brand’s downfall. There is a challenge in finding the balance between bringing the unexpected, where brands can truly own their voice, or tapping into what consumers feel is authentic or expect to hear to build trust and emotion.”

Do all businesses now need an audio strategy?

“Technology is increasingly challenging brands to communicate with people through sound - think specifically about voice assistants, 55% of households in the US are predicted to own a smart speaker like Amazon Echo in 2022. Digital technology is now deeply rooted in culture worldwide, and our experience of brands spans a multiplicity of touchpoints such as contactless payments, in-app interactions, social media, and e-commerce, to name a few. This provokes a fundamental shift in thinking about how brands use and invest in owned audio assets.

“COVID-19 has further accelerated the need to rethink physical and virtual touchpoints, and an audio strategy for brands requires a strategic approach to be able to span across marketing and service or product experiences. Trust has now become a critical issue for all brands as our world becomes increasingly challenging. Consistent recognition of a brand through sound allows the brand’s personality attributes to shine and resonate with the consumer building a wall of trust that is integral to that relationship between brand and consumer.”

How does audio branding integrate with traditional branding mechanics and collateral?

“A well-designed interface with visuals and sound can be profoundly influential, conveying nuance as well as emotion and urgency. Traditional advertising and marketing have previously focused on visuals and copy to create a winning campaign to promote brands and build a consistent relationship with the consumer. Visual content is the easiest to consume of the five senses but coupled with sound; this ensures that brand DNA is carried across multiple products and services instead of just television or a billboard.

“A good example is the famous James Bond theme tune. It has become such powerful audio which isn’t just down to the theme tune, but the way the films and the content and products surrounding them has been used in multiple scenarios and adapted to the respective Zeitgeist.”

What does the future of audio branding look like?

“Sound branding is not new. Forward-thinking brands like McDonald's and Disney have created sonic logos or jingles for several decades to encourage the public to recall them when they hear a specific sound subconsciously. With a growing number of digital channels available, a far more comprehensive approach is needed to keep pace with technology and customer experience developments.

“The future of audio branding sees an integrated sonic branding that requires a truly multi-dimensional sonic expression of the brand, or as we call it at amp ‘Sonic DNA.’ Audio must run throughout every touchpoint of a brand, instantly recalling positive associations within the consumer to make a difference. Things like immersive audio, which has not yet been seized by brand marketing leaders, will also come to the front. Using 360-degree audio brands will be able to truly bring their brand to life.”

The only way to create a holistic approach to audio branding is to break a brand down to its DNA and create music that reflects it and the role it plays in our lives. The score must have depth so that it can be deconstructed and rewoven endlessly, but also the flexibility to deliver simple, recognizable, memorable melodies. Every brand will approach this challenge in different ways, but the fundamentals are the same. Brands can also learn a lot from the gaming industry in terms of recognition paired with flexibility, take for example Super Mario from Nintendo.”

Sound is just as important as images when brands want to communicate their marketing messages to specific audiences. Since the advent of synchronized sound in the early days of cinema, audiences have associated images with particular pieces of music and later, sound effects.

We associate sound and music with our lives. Music has always been able to evoke strong emotional reactions. The ability of sound to produce images and sometimes intense emotions in an audience has never been more relevant than it is today.

The sonic environments we move through every day have been developing for decades. We are constantly bombarded with marketing messages. On average, you could be exposed to over 6,000 marketing messages per day. With this level of interaction and a marketplace crowded with similar products and brands, one way to cut through the noise to reach a target audience is with additional sound.

The next battleground for consumer spending is audio. With sales of intelligent speakers continuing their explosive growth and the popularity of podcasts showing no sign of slowing, we have only just begun to explore the sonic landscape.