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Is it time to get serious about sonic branding?

Is it time to get serious about sonic branding?

Posted 16th May, 2019 by William

What do you think of when you hear the word ‘branding’? Is it a name? A household name like Dyson, Max Factor or Kellogg’s? Is it a logo? Like those world-famous golden arches, that semi-eaten apple or that black tick? Could it be a colour? Virgin’s red, Barclays blue?

In a year or so’s time, it may be that none of these things spring to mind first. As increasing numbers of people use their voice to search on the internet and consume their media through podcasts and the like, it could soon be audio branding that becomes the focus of branders around the world.

In this blog, we’ll explore exactly what audio AKA sonic branding is, look at who’s doing it well and consider ways in which small businesses and entrepreneurs can at least prepare for it, if not harness it themselves.

What is sonic branding?

In a nutshell, sonic branding is the sound or series of sounds that become associated with a brand. It’s Intel’s five notes, the start-up tones of Windows and the ba da ba ba ba of McDonald's.

The notion of sonic branding goes way beyond the concept of a jingle. Some branding experts refer to these sounds or series of sounds as ‘earcons’. A play on the word icon, earcons are the audio equivalent of a logo. They can be used across channels, in multiple contexts and can be subtly manipulated to ensure maximum reach and usability.

The power of sonic branding

Science and psychology suggest that human beings are hard-wired to react instinctively to sounds. Studies have shown that arousing music can make our hearts beat faster and increase their muscle tension, while other physical symptoms like goosebumps and lumps in the throat can be created by something as simple as a change in melody.

Research also shows that human beings react faster to audio stimuli than they do to visual stimuli. A study reported by the Journal of Neuroscience and Medicine showed that the difference in response times can be as great as 20 per cent.

Done well, sonic branding can also help a company overcome cultural barriers in its marketing. The internet is full of articles on the visual and written faux pas that businesses can, and have, made when it comes to reaching out to different markets with products. A prime example is the Hitler ice cream cones that were made in Uttar Pradesh, India, which sparked outrage in Germany.

Audio branding, meanwhile, doesn’t necessarily have this problem. Research has shown that a pancultural music sentience exists in the world and that people are able to identify certain unknown pieces of music as either happy or sad, regardless of their cultural background.

How can small businesses develop their sonic brand?

It depends on which industry your business is based in as to whether sonic branding will be easy for you to achieve on your budget. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to tap into the talents of sonic branders and music experts in your sector.

Otherwise, you might need to commission the help of a professional sonic branding agency.

Whichever route you take though, there are a few top tips worth following on your path to a successful sonic future.

Don’t settle for anything less than something completely new

Sonic branding isn’t just a case of picking a theme tune for your business and playing it in all your marketing efforts. In fact, it’s best if you can come up with something completely new.

One company that’s gone to town on developing a totally unique sonic brand recently is Phillips. The electronics business commissioned sonic branding experts Massive Music to create an audio signature for the brand – one that would be run through everything from its adverts and its digital communications to the welcome music at its events.

Massive Music developed a brand-new musical instrument that harnessed the sounds made from manipulating light bulbs – Phillips’ original product – with everything from touch to violin bows, plus sounds made by the human body like finger snaps and the sound of a pulse.

They now use this musical instrument to create sounds and compositions that are uniquely Phillips’.

Massive Music explains: “Imagine these as jigsaw pieces that we can swap, stack and rearrange to create something truly original.”

Swot up

There’s plenty of detailed reading material regarding sonic and audio branding available on the internet. Two of the most recently published books include:

The Sonic Boom: How Sound Transforms the Way We Think, Feel, and Buy - written by composer and strategic sound expert Joel Beckerman, this book combines sociological study data with business advice all linked to sonic branding. It offers practical tips for how business owners can use techniques like Boom Moments to connect with customers.

Audio Branding: Using Sound to Build Your Brand - this book promises step-by-step guidance on how business owners can use audio branding to enhance brand loyalty. It delivers actionable advice on how companies can infuse sound into their existing brand operations.

Keep an eye on your competitors

Before you embark on a sonic branding project, either under your own steam or with a branding agency, it can help to have a prior idea of what your competitors are doing.

Even if they don’t have an official audio signature as such, there might be certain types of sounds or compositions that they use in their communications unofficially. You’ll want to ensure that what you produce is completely different.

Know what you want

Your sonic branding is all part of your wider brand proposition, so you need to articulate, before you start out in the process, exactly what you want your audio to convey.

There’s a good chance you already have a tone of voice guide – a set of rules for the way you correspond and communicate with customers using both spoken and written words. This can help you establish the basic commandments for your sonic identity.

However, whereas your tone of voice may be built around concepts like cheeky, enthusiastic and human, you’ll want your sonic branding to go a little bit further.

You’ll definitely want your brand audio to hint at your sector – like Phillips. So add a commandment in to ensure any sonic branding reflects this.

Categories: Tips, Marketing, Small Businesses

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