What Is It and How It Can Speak Volumes for Your Brand


Sonic Branding: What Is It and How It Can Speak Volumes for Your Brand

Any ‘90s kid knows the original Nokia ringtone, AOL’s “You got mail” sound or the Disney intro theme. Sound is powerful and can trigger memory, instantly transporting you (even for a millisecond) to the memory and feeling of every time you’ve heard it. According to Spotify’s annual 2021 Culture Next Report: “63% of millennials feel that audio is the most immersive form of media and 65% of Gen Z agrees that audio helps them experience a situation more deeply.”

And as experienced from the Apple iPhone ringtone or even the pleasant song your dishwasher makes when it’s finished a cycle, it’s also a surefire way to grab your attention. As brands fight for our eyeballs on every screen available, they’re shifting towards asking audiences to listen rather than look. And audiences are increasingly receptive: Edison Research’s findings in The Infinite Dial show that 73% of the U.S. 12+ population (an estimated 209 million people) have listened to online audio in the last month, up from 68% in 2021. With the wireless headphones market trajectory believed to reach $45.7 billion by 2026 and more brands using artificial intelligence to generate realistic sounding voices for ads and content, it’s no wonder 2022 is shaping up to be the year of the “sonic boom.”

As the industry evolves, brands need to keep up and reach their audiences in the spaces where they are, in the way they want to be reached. Everything from social sonic entities to multimedia experiences in the metaverse presents audio opportunities for brands: “Audio is essential to navigation and communication in a socially vibrant and dynamic virtual setting, [and it’s] critical for immersion and believability in digital realms.”

With a highly-receptive audience and multi-billion dollar market to bust into, the potential for brands to push creative boundaries across a range of sonic platforms is unparalleled. But how? Start with creating a sonic identity that’s aligned with your overall brand identity, from the way you create your own logo to your social posts. Here we will explore what sonic branding is, why it matters and how to leverage auditory opportunities to reach your audience in new and meaningful ways.

What is sonic branding?

Sonic branding, sometimes referred to as audio branding, is the strategic use of sound as a part of your brand identity. It’s much more than just a little ditty, it’s the culmination of rhythms, songs, tones, cadence, voices—and even silence. As Daniel M Jackson, author of Sonic Branding: An Introduction, says in an interview with Transform, “Most brands still think sonic branding is a jingle or sonic logo rather than a whole suite of harmonious sounds that bind a brand identity.”

Think of the science of sensory marketing: The unmistakable ASMR sound of Pop Rocks, the squeaky scribble of a new Sharpie or the literal snap, crackle and pop of Rice Krispies—immediately you can picture the product.

Effective sonic branding uses sonic triggers to grab listeners’ attention and presents a unique opportunity for brands to build meaningful connections through the power of sound. Whether you’re a self-creator, entrepreneur or just getting started, thinking about the sounds associated with your brand right from the start is key. It isn’t just reserved for enterprise-level businesses, it should be considered for every type of branding.

Just like outlined in your brand voice and visual identity, your sonic identity needs to be aligned with your core values and purpose. Is your brand tech-savvy and forward-thinking, or naturalistic and organic? These are questions that can help outline each aspect of your sonic brand identity.

Why sonic branding matters

We all have sounds that elicit certain responses or emotions, many of which are universal. When you hear a fire alarm or a doorbell, you know what to do. What about the sound of waves crashing on the beach, birds chirping or the crackling of a warm fireplace? Or hearing that song on the radio that instantly reminds you of your ex, how does it make you feel? Each of these specific sounds can form echoic memories, or auditory sensory memory—a type of memory that stores audio information (sound).

Sonic branding can harness this power and create an emotional impact and connection to audiences, boosting both brand awareness and loyalty. Through associations, customers will recall your product or service just by a sound.

Sounds forge a 360-degree brand experience. When you build a brand, you must know your target audience and sonic branding can help you access who you are trying to reach. Something as simple as the background music in a “how-to” video, to the button click sound on your app can impact more than just the user’s experience, it also impacts their feeling and mood.

Sonic branding can also be a valuable tool when companies decide to rebrand or refresh. For example, the NBC chime, a sequence of three tones, has existed since the early 1930s and is still associated with the brand today. The sound mark has gone through a range of interactions and updates over the years, as has their iconic and colorful peacock logo—both are always recognizable, regardless of the updates. Having a solid sonic identity empowers brands to maintain their familiarity with customers, while also updating their offering.

While all branding efforts aim at evoking emotional responses, sonic branding is a compelling way to shape a customer’s experience through sound. In addition, brands can become a part of pop culture, become intertwined with music or even go viral on a TikTok sound—like the unmistakable Cisco hold music. Or Dreya Mac, whose viral lyrics to ‘Own Brand Freestyle’ sparked a dance challenge and led to her breakout hit song, launching her career as one of Vogue’s musicians to rule 2022. This highlights the influence of sound and the viral nature of it. Sharing on social gains momentum and every time it’s heard it can be more impactful and influential.

According to the official TikTok business account, 100% sound-on campaigns on TikTok are 2.2% more likely to increase brand awareness than ads on platforms that don’t use sound. According to the 2021 Kantar Report for TikTok for Business:

“TikTok takes sound to a new level of effectiveness for brands that want to break through, be heard, and bring their message home to a worldwide community. By taking a sound-first approach, businesses can create a message that truly resonates—and that truly delivers the results that they need. TikTok has changed the social platform, where video content is curated around a specific song or sound, and not the other way around.”

Research also shows that 33% of adults under the age of 35 feel more favorable towards brands with a sonic identity. Sonic experiences are key to cultivating emotional connections with audiences. As Hillary Taymour, Founder, Collina Strada, believes: “Brands need to create more exciting experiences for audiences, always re-invent and be in spaces where your audience are.”

sonic brand identity

When is sonic branding relevant

As part of your overall brand strategy, consider how sonic branding fits in with your visual aesthetic. Think about your sonic identity can bring your brand story and brand messaging to life. You can use audio branding in:

  • Podcasts

  • Vlogs

  • Any kind of video or audio content

  • Recorded advertisements

  • Script writing and voice artistry

  • Social media

  • Radio and streaming audio

  • Playlists in brick and mortar stores

  • Curated playlists

  • Customer service hold music

  • Website interactions or button clicks

  • Product sounds and design

Remember, with enough exposure, these sounds can become part of your consumer’s subconscious.

When is sonic branding relevant

Benefits of sonic branding

  • Emotional connection/impact on mood: Sound is visceral. By selecting the right music or sounds for your brand, you will be able to trigger an intentional emotional response from your customers. For example, the annual Christmas commercials that John Lewis Department Store rolls out each year are ​​almost guaranteed to make us cry as they purposely pull on our heart strings around the holiday season, reinforcing the brand’s messaging and association to positive and familial emotions.

    Or McDonald’s quintessential “I’m lovin it” jingle, made famous by Justin Timberlake back in 2003. This tune also has served as the brand’s catchy slogan, forever associated with the “ba da ba ba ba” vocal hook. This jingle was used as part of a brand transformation, to restore the brand’s image, reach new audiences and refresh the feeling associated with the fast food chain. Two decades later, ​​the company’s longest-running marketing campaign is still relevant and evokes a youthful, happy feeling (and of course, a craving for fries).

  • Attention-grabbing: Consumers are bombarded with noise (both literally and metaphorically), and too much visual stimulation can be overwhelming. Effective sonic branding can cut through the noise, making it easier for customers to hear (and see, and feel) your brand.

  • Familiarity: Like a trusted friend, most of us, on some level, prefer what we’re already familiar with—because we feel more comfortable. In branding and marketing, if customers already know your brand they may be more likely to purchase from you, and return. As George Costanza famously said in an episode of Seinfeld, “I’m like a commercial jingle. First, it’s a little irritating. Then you hear it a few times. You’re humming it in the shower. By the third date, it’s ‘Buy Mennen!’”

  • Increase brand trust: Similar to familiarity, exposure helps build trust. If the sounds of your brand provide audible reminders to customers, they will likely drive brand recall, and in turn foster brand trust.

  • Added assets to brand identity: Your brand identity encapsulates both the visual and non-visual aspects of your business. From your logo and brand name, to your typography and color palette, outlining your sonic identity in line with all of your brand collateral will strengthen your overall brand identity.

    In addition, each audible touchpoint must be a holistic part of your overall identity. Your sonic identity is not just limited to a sonic logo or singular sound, it is the entire collection of recognizable and strategic sounds combined throughout brand communication and user experience.

    As entrepreneur and author Gary Vaynerchuk says, “Sonic branding is the audio equivalent of a brand’s username. If a company plays their tag alongside advertisements or content that match their brand’s positioning, eventually that audio tag by itself will conjure up the intended feelings around that brand.”

  • Boosts engagement: Integrating sound into your branding efforts creates a more interactive experience. Think about it, if people hum your music, or your song trends on TikTok, this increases the likelihood that they will search for—and more importantly— share it.

Sonic branding examples

HBO

First launched in 1993, HBO’s opening sequence (officially dubbed the static angel), set the stage for an almost-Pavlovian response to entertainment, creating a mental cue that it’s time to relax and enjoy the show. Even now, when you hear the sound, what TV show intro do you hear right after? HBO’s branding has changed the game, paving the way for many entertainment companies like Netflix to use their own sonic logos (“tudum”) as an intro to what follows next.

Intel

Arguably one of the best and longest running sonic logos of all time, Intel’s sonic identity is one of the original trailblazers, first used in 1994. For a product that is rarely seen (since Intel manufactures the internal parts of computers and devices), their brand recognition is particularly impressive.

As Jamie Masters, Head of Audio Branding Strategy at Adelphoi Music, explained to Shots,

“Thanks to all that exposure, over so many years, the Intel bongs began to be recognized as a sonic logo in their own right. And that above all was what impressed the marketing industry: at a time when the traditional sung jingle was beginning to sound passé, Intel appeared to offer a less corny, more concise, but equally effective alternative.”

The intel sonic identity showcases innovation with simplicity and timelessness. What’s more, the brand created a sound that is easy to re-record, repurpose or refresh—if needed. This distinct sound can be played with other instruments, sounds or versions and would be recognizable nonetheless.

So in 2020, when Intel unveiled their updated brand identity, including a new version of their famous “bong sound” sonic logo, they were able to harness the meaningful associations they’ve established with their audience. As Karen Walker, senior vice president and chief marketing officer of Intel explained in an Intel blog post, “We make a leap into the future, with a transformed Intel brand that reflects our essential role in creating technology that moves the world forward.”

Mastercard

Mastercard sonic branding is one of the best examples of how a brand used sound to build trust. As Raja Rajamannar, chief marketing and communications officer at Mastercard, says, “Sonic identity literally adds a new dimension to the customer experience. [It] reaches people’s mind and hearts through other senses—the sense of hearing.” The brand has built an audio strategy that is just as important as their visual one.

When Mastercard debuted their sonic brand identity, they created a “comprehensive sound architecture that signifies the latest advancements of the brand.” As they imagined it, it’s the equivalent of their iconic red and yellow circles logo and reinforces the brand at every interaction.

Karo Pharma

Stockholm-based Karo Pharma partnered with Wix user and creative sound agency Unmute to rebrand with a new sonic identity, developed to “add depth and emotion to the brand in ways that words and images can’t.” The sonic logo begins with three subtle ticks followed by a harmonic fade for a smooth transition from beginning to end. The result is simple, direct and uplifting—exemplifying the very essence of the health-driven company.

Singapore Airlines

In 2021, Singapore Airlines unveiled a new sonic identity across every brand touchpoint, including boarding and landing on their aircrafts, in their airport lounges and even on Spotify. The airline collaborated with sonic branding agency, DLMDD, to curate a 30-minute audio suite representative of Singapore Airlines brand values.

In an interview with Drum, Max De Lucia, founder and client director of DLMDD shares:

“The brief, from Singapore Airlines and TBWA (SIA’s creative agency), was: ‘how do we translate the visual world of SIA and the Batik Motif into the world of sound?’ That immediately got us thinking if we could build an instrument with the technology to turn the visual frequencies of these stunning flowers native to Singapore into sonic frequencies that a world-class composer could use to compose the ‘Symphony of Flowers.”

The result: a recognizable and immersive sound that bridges the visual look to its sonic branding. Taking into account the experience of air travel, and all the places in which sound can impact a traveler’s journey, SIA’s sonic identity supports the brand while keeping the traveler at its core.

Sonic branding tips

Here are a few tips to consider when creating your sonic identity.

1. Keep it simple. If you try to use too many notes or too many complicated sounds, it’ll make it much harder to stick in prospective customers’ minds.

2. Make it memorable. Notice how some tunes simply get stuck in your head? (We’re looking at your “Baby Shark”). Those constantly repetitive sounds—known as earworms, can pop into our minds at random, or be triggered by specific associations, emotions or experiences.

3. Use original sounds. Try to avoid using sounds that may have other associations. In addition, be sure to do a quick sonic brand audit. Make sure there aren’t specific sounds that carry other meanings for Gen Z or even Baby Boomers, or perhaps trigger the opposite response of what you’re intending.

4. Differentiate your brand. Be sure to take a look at your competitors to not only see what works for them, but how your brand can stand out.

5. Create appropriate sounds for relevant social platforms. Be sure to pay attention to the specific requirements of each platform in order to sound your best and reach your audience most effectively. For example, when using TikTok, sound is an essential part of the platform’s experience. Whether this means incorporating trending sounds, creating your own or even using specific songs, the messaging will come across loud and clear. Remember in 2020 when Ocean Spray suddenly went viral on TikTok and got a major brand boost thanks to Nathan Apodaca? Not to mention, Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” was exposed to a whole new generation.

6. Consider the context for the sound. Think about the entirety of the sound, how it starts, how it ends and the overall connection to the product or the behavior. You may want to anchor the development of the sound around that product interaction first and foremost, and then build an audio branding landscape around that. The sound, the music and all the branding needs to work well with core messaging. Every sound, click, tone, swipe or beep is not just a simple tactic, it’s part of the experience and the sound imagery that tells the story.

7. Don’t be afraid to play. Though your sonic moment should be short and snappy, that doesn’t mean your creative process has to be. As Rob Goodman, Webby Award-nominated podcast host of Now What? explains from his own personal experience:

“I’ll often anchor the soundtrack around a single moment of sound and then build out from there, or I’ll do the reverse and develop something longer and then take a snippet to create a moment of sound. In the end, we can pull out three to five sounds to use as interstitial moments throughout the audio experience. Each sound is unique but connected, and creates an authentic musical brand signature.”

8. Think outside that radio dial. When you think of Chiquita Bananas, what comes to mind? Are you humming the original tune from the 1940s commercial? While consumers may not listen to the radio or see TV like they did in the mid-century, they do listen to Spotify. So, the iconic brand found a way to reintroduce this tune in 2020 by placing scannable codes onto their famous blue banana stickers so that customers could tune into playlists featuring five remixed versions of the original jingle. Think beyond the jingle for your sonic branding moments and use it as an invitation to engage with both new and old customers alike.

By Kylie Goldstein

Branding Expert and Marketing Blogger




www.wix.com

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