What does your brand sound like? Years ago, this may have been answered sufficiently by a single jingle or a short musical “sting.” These days, however, customers interact with brands in more diverse ways, across many platforms and numerous devices. Add the rise of voice-enabled technologies, and there’s even more reason to ensure your audio branding is on song.
“Any expression of a brand starts with an understanding of what makes a brand distinct,” explained Ralph van Dijk, founder of Sydney-based audio branding company Eardrum, which makes audio logos and music for corporates and retail brands. “Once the essence of a brand is defined, then all expressions can be created to communicate the brand in a consistent, distinct, and positive way.”
In fact, the principles of audio, or sonic, branding remain consistent since the golden days of radio. It’s all based on the way our brains respond to sound.
“Most decisions are made by the non-rational part of our brain,” van Dijk told CMO.com. “The very same part is aroused by music or sound. So your sonic branding needs to be aligned with the experience you want to create for your customer. It drives recall, preference, confidence, and trust.”
Finding Your Audio Identity
Many marketers are adept at how their visuals are expressed, right down to Pantone colours and font names, but chances are they are less familiar with the elements of audio branding.
“A brand’s audio identity should be designed to be as meaningful and coherent as its visual identity,” van Dijk said. “There are three ingredients that make up sonic branding: music, voice, and sound effects. Music is the most sophisticated of the three. It is also the most powerful for generating memorability and distinctiveness.”
Some audio branding agencies suggest music can be even more memorable than visuals for marketing. “Our hearing is a more powerful emotional sense than our sight, so there is a clear opportunity for businesses to broaden their marketing horizons and gain a competitive edge by making better use of audio,” said Daniel Lafferty, director of music and voice at PHMG, in an interview with B&T earlier this year.
As one example, an article on the memorability of music by Econsultancy, calls out the successful Australian ad campaign for Melbourne train safety called Dumb Ways To Die. Its tune was so catchy it went on to be released as a single.
For cinematic flair, Korean car-maker Kia hired composer Eric Serra, famed for working on films such as “The Fifth Element” and “Goldeneye.” Several versions of Serra’s Kia theme song were made available as ringtones from Kia’s website.
Australian composer Greg Townley, who writes music for brands to go with videos, animations, and special events, told CMO.com about where he begins when creating audio.
“We ask them what piece of music they think aligns with the brand. The language of music is interpreted differently, so reference material is important. One or two pieces is usually sufficient,” he said. “Brands are always going to want people to feel good about the brand and have a positive vibe. So we ask them, what’s the journey they want? They’ll know if it’s acoustic or electronic, for example. Technology brands usually want something futuristic in feel.”
A Voice-First Future
Given the plethora of ways consumers interact with brands, using audio makes sense as we move forward in more of a command-based world.
“It offers maximum branding with minimum interruption, which makes it perfect for smart speakers, apps, podcast sponsorship, and any new technology that helps us navigate the world with our ears, using our voice as a remote control,” Eardrum’s van Dijk said.
Indeed, beyond music, voice is a big part of audio branding. “Choosing a consistent brand voice that matches the essence of the brand is crucial,” van Dijk said.
Brands often use actors and ambassadors to voice commercials, narrate video, and record on-hold messages. Now, with the proliferation of voice-enabled technologies, consumers are expecting audible answers to their questions. Research from iProspect found that the mobile-first markets of China and India are leading the way in adoption of voice recognition technologies in APAC, so branding considerations are particularly important.
In a voice-first environment with digital assistants and smart speakers integrated into set-top boxes—now offered by over-the-top TV network operators in South Korea, for example—the need for a particular and distinctive voice means brands might want to have their own identifiable voices ready.
“There are at least twenty-five variables that can be used to describe voice, including accent. If the perfect voice is used consistently, your customer recognizes your brand instantly,” van Dijk said.
Every Step Of The Way
Finally, audio branding isn’t complete without the third ingredient van Dijk mentioned—sound effects. “Natural ambient sound can be very useful in stressful office environments, and influential sound effects can be incorporated into sonic logos. Mnemonics, too,” he said.
There are various names for these: earcons, sonic icons, musical logos, and audio logos, to name a few. They help brands enrich the experience around a product. “Often in composing, it’s about asking a question and creating curiosity about the question, even in a few seconds,” Townley said.
A distinctive audio sound can represent a specific product perhaps best exemplified by the oft-cited Intel “bong,” one of Townley’s favourite examples.
Similarly, sound effects can be a powerful signal of an event to the user, such as turning on a Macbook or receiving a new chat message.
For example, Chinese ride-sharing company DiDi Chuxing recently incorporated a cheerful sound to indicate a successful booking on its app, so that users don’t have to rely on on-screen notifications to know a driver was on the way.
Product designers also use “skeuomorphisms”–sounds that provide meaning to function. Case in point: the sound of typing on a mechanical keyboard to give users confirmation of a key press, when, in fact, their fingers are silently tapping on a touchscreen.
Perhaps the most important takeaway is the intrinsic relationship audio branding has with overall experience.
“It should be a given that your sonic identity is incorporated within all broadcast and online commercials, just as your visual logo is no doubt mandatory. But unlike visual branding, audio can be integrated within every step of the customer journey and often the product itself,” van Dijk said.
“Your audio branding needs to be aligned with the experience you want to create for your customer.”