Sonic Branding

Sonic Branding
Our CEO, Eric Parent, talking about Sonic Branding

Sound is an emotional experience.

Have you ever assigned a unique text tone to a contact in your phone? If the contact is someone who holds particular importance to you, you might recognize that the unprompted sound of this notification might incite a distinct emotional response that is more pronounced than its standard counterpart “ding.” Your heart rate might increase slightly when you hear this sound. Your breath might become shallow. Your muscles become suddenly, ever-so-slightly taut.

Now what happens if the sound comes from someone else’s device? You are passively waiting in line at the supermarket or commuting on the bus and you hear the disembodied sound.

Your body does not know the difference; your eyes dilate, your skin conducts the slightest bit of sweat. Your reaction is visceral, and it courses through you before you can rationalize that it is not “your” sound.

Sound is personal. This is because the auditory cortex where sound is processed in the brain is directly connected to the limbic system. Notable structures of the limbic system include the hippocampus, hypothalamus and amygdala among others, which are responsible for a range of functions including motivation, memory and emotion. This is why scent, which is processed in the olfactory region of the limbic system, is heavily regarded for its role in memory association [1].

From a marketing standpoint, sound allows you to communicate directly to the emotions of your audience. Thomas Marzano, global head of brand experience at Philips, remarks that “sound can express the brand belief and values in an emotionally direct way. Sound speaks to our deepest emotional instincts and bypasses our rational brain” [2]. This offers an opportunity to create an emotional narrative that visual cues alone cannot accomplish.

Our CEO, Eric Parent, Providing his two cents on Sonic Branding

How can this insight be integrated into a digital brand strategy?

The use of audio in marketing and advertising is not a new concept. Companies have been using sound to enhance brand recognition for years. It is unlikely you can hear the phrase “I’m lovin’ it,” without mentally conjuring the golden arches of McDonald’s, just as you might think of THX and immediately remember the dramatic sound preceding your favorite childhood movies. These kinds of sound signatures can include auditory renditions of logos, jingles and catchphrases. So why discuss it now?

Auditory branding – or sonic branding – is an emerging strategy that aims to create a complex archetypal narrative using consistent audio representation. These archetypes allude to dominant personas such as the Hero, the Caretaker or even the Rebel of Jungian psychology [3]. AMP, the leading research and design authority on sonic branding, describes in their Best Audio Brands 2020 report that “the consistent use of recognizable sonic assets over time builds trust and ensures a connected brand experience across all audible touchpoints” [4].

“Voice shopping alone is set to hit 40 billion dollars by 2022. [5]”

OC&C Strategy Consultants Report

How will you distinguish your brand from others amid all the digital noise? To evaluate this, we must consider the stages of the customer journey. It is important to note that the architecture of the sales funnel might vary between different types of products or services; the individual components of a strategy aiming to promote a luxury sofa will explore mediums that may be different from one designed to sell regular household products such as paper towels. Despite these nuances, every sales funnel is designed to culminate in a decision, and the goal for every brand is to influence this decision. Your opportunity to reach customers begins with the first impression and extends up to, and even beyond, point-of-sale. By appearing at the appropriate touchpoints, you have the ability to compel an individual to choose your brand over a competitor. This is where the consistency of your brand, from visual representation to audio signature, is essential. Applications of sound across user experience can range from streaming ads to website and video content, and app interface. Ultimately, the objective of sonic branding is to improve engagement. Without engaging the customer, there is little opportunity for influence. What does it mean to engage the customer in an audio landscape? Consider the insightful words of Steve Keller, sonic strategy director at Pandora and self-proclaimed “audio alchemist” in a recent interview, “an engagement has to be tied to a behavioral outcome, otherwise, it’s a meaningless metric.” He defines a behavior outcome of sound as “purchase intent” and “willingness to pay” [6].  In that regard, studies show that audio can play a significant role in impacting consumer decisions at the point-of-sale.

Just look to Mastercard, who recently invested two years in the creation of a comprehensive sonic brand. In a statement regarding the launch of the new audio identity, Mastercard proclaimed that “from the music you’ll hear in our commercials to the acceptance sound while shopping, our unique melody will reinforce our brand every time a consumer interacts with Mastercard” [7]. Raja Rajamannar, chief marketing and communications officer at Mastercard, expressed the following sentiment about the change:

“When we created our sonic DNA, we considered the five principles that underscore the attributes of the Mastercard brand…the sound had to be relatable and inclusive and we wanted to ensure that our tone, while unique, feels relatable and approachable no matter where in the world you are from” [2].

It would appear that Mastercard succeeded in their rebranding endeavor; in the aforementioned 2020 AMP report for Best Audio Brands, which “quantifies audio brand performance against a range of criteria such as trust, recognition, engagement and efficiency,” Mastercard takes first place, outranking both Apple and Shell.

While all that sounds copacetic, why spend two years investing in something as seemingly insignificant as a jingle, and how does that translate into a strategy where your primary KPI is a measurable return? Let’s consider the impact of sound on purchase intent at the point-of-sale. During an experiment described by Keller, a liquor store conducted a study on customers to evaluate the influence of different background music on wine purchases. The results of the experiment were remarkable, demonstrating that “the days that French music were playing, 77% of the wines that were sold were French.” In another trial, they played German music in the store. That day, “73 percent of the wines sold were German” [6].

With the trend toward personal voice assistant devices such as the Amazon Echo and the Google Assistant, the point-of-sale experience is slowly being integrated into the everyday household. While the majority of purchase activity is on fast-moving consumer goods, such as toiletries and inexpensive household goods, data shows that this is only the beginning of the future of voice shopping. One foreseeable trend is an increase in searches for local results. “Within the past year, 58% of consumers have found local businesses using voice search” [8]. This is a critical opportunity for small businesses to show up in local search listings through SEO or paid advertisements, especially before these platforms become saturated with competition. Businesses already utilizing these networks can improve audio searchability by including more conversational search keywords, as voice search queries often include more casual verbiage. In an article from Forbes, “How Alexa Is Changing The Future Of Advertising,” author Ilker Koksal recommends that brand content writers “adopt a question-and-answer approach in titles [and] answer the question clearly toward the top of the page” [9].

It is evident that sonic branding will be integral to maintaining brand identity in the upcoming environment of voice technology. This is the time to audit your current brand guidelines in alignment with the narrative that you want customers to associate with your business and determine how sound can enhance and reinforce this identity. Think of it as “a set of ingredients that you can take and combine in a very different way to create different sonic assets for the different touchpoints,” Michele Arnese, founder and global CEO of AMP,  when illuminating the capabilities of developing your “sonic DNA” [10].

Next Level is a specialized creative advertising team that provides outstanding creative strategy and comprehensive reporting of results. Our team values integrity, passionate collaboration, and authenticity above all else. If you’re considering this or any other marketing strategy, set up an appointment for a free consultation.

[1] Rajmohan, V., & Mohandas, E. (2007). The limbic system. Indian journal of psychiatry, 49(2), 132–139. 

[2] Kite-Powell, J. (2019, May 10). Why Big Brands Are Using Sonic Signatures To Reach Consumers. Forbes. 

[3] Houraghan, S. (2018, May 3). How to use Brand Archetypes To Hack The Mind Of Your Customer. Iconic Fox. 

[4] AMP (2020). AMP Best Audio Brands 2020 – Insights. AMP. 

[5] Perez, S. (2018, March 2). Voice shopping estimated to hit $40+ billion across U.S. and U.K. by 2022. TechCrunch. 

[6] Krangle, Jodi (2020, April 1). Interview with Audio Alchemist, Steve Keller – Part 2. Audio Branding: The Hidden Gem of Marketing. Spotify.

[7] Mastercard News (2020, Feb 8). Sound On: Mastercard Debuts Sonic Brand. YouTube. 

[8] DBS Interactive. (2019, July 10). Emerging Trends in Voice Search Statistics. DBS Interactive; DBS Interactive. 

[9] Ilker Koksal. (2018, December 11). How Alexa Is Changing The Future Of Advertising. Forbes.

[10] Binder, E. (2020, February 17). Michele Arnese: Why Brands Need Sound – Voice Marketing and Beyond. Beetle Moment Marketing. 

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