Audio branding is the strategic and conscious use of sound and music across all brand touchpoints to create more engaging, meaningful, and affective communication. It’s a parallel to a visual identity. Audio branding (or sonic branding) and audio logos have been around for some years. It started as jingles, where brands created small songs where the brand or product name was named in a catchy way into the music and lyrics. Coca Cola is probably one of the strongest and earliest users of audio branding.
The Audio Identity
An audio identity is an audio parallel to a visual identity, and consists of all the sounds and audio pieces an entity (business/organization) can be recognised upon. An audio identity can consist of an audio logo, music, musical elements, and sound design and is used to create audio coherency, synergy, and recognisability for a brand.
The Audio Logo
A good audio logo (or sound logo) is a brand asset that reflects a brand in a short melodic phrase, melody, or sound. In time, the audio logo may converge into a brand symbol that carries associations that help shape the brand image and function as a memorable link to the existing brand. To successfully achieve this, sound logos as brand elements must be: Memorable, meaningful, likable, transferable, adaptable, and protectable in the consumer’s mind to contribute to building brand equity.
The Power of Audio Branding
Hearing is the first sense we develop. We can hear before we are born, and music is the type of sound that affects our emotional state the most. It affects our moods, feelings, behavior, pulse, and can make us feel calm, sad, scared, or even happy and uplifted. Most sounds that surround us today are random and sometimes even unpleasant. Audio branding is not a question of adding more sound but using the right sound at the right time and place. Otherwise, it’s noise.
Sound and music affects us in 3 ways:
- The way we feel
- The way we think
- The way we act
Knowing this and knowing that most of our decisions are made unconsciously, audio branding can play an essential role in creating meaningful, affective, and effective brand communication. A study conducted by professors Dr. Adrian North and Dr. David Hargreaves reports that brands with music that fits their brand identity are 96 percent more likely to be recalled than those with non-fitting music or no music at all.
Especially when it comes to a combination of audio and visual logos. Consumers that like the combination and recognize it will probably also find the combination fitting to their perception of the brand. Contradictory, if one does not like the combination of the audio logo and visual logo or cannot recognize it, the perception of fit will probably be more negative. We do not remember the noise and boring music experiences. Only bold, meaningful, and emotional, engaging music can do this.
Try to listen to the sounds and music your brand is using, and then ask yourself:
- What emotional state does this leave our audience in?
- Is it meaningful and engaging?
- Does the musical expression substantiate your brand promise and reputation?
Audio Logos as Mnemonics
Why are some audio logos so powerful and make us recall the brand? There are several reasons: First, music theory reveals that audio logos between 5-7 notes make it easier to remember. We experience this in the audio logos from Intel, McDonald’s, Coke Cola, and others (they all have 5 notes in their audio logo). Secondly, if the audio is used consistently together with the presentation of a visual logo, i.e., with an animation in at TV-commercial, the combination of audio and visual representation makes it even more memorizable due to the combination of two senses. Furthermore, suppose we often are exposed to an audio logo and visual logo together (tv, web, cinema). In that case, our brain will unconsciously recall the visual logo, that was “attached” to the audio logo, just by hearing the audio.
Coke probably made the best audio branding case in 2010, where they were the head sponsor of the FIFA world Cup. The FIFA theme song is the 5 Coke Cola’s 5 audio logo notes, made into a tune, played by different artists from 14 different countries, making it one of the most downloaded tune that year. By making famous artists and people singing their Coke audio logo, elegantly disguised into a tune, Coke managed to create effective subliminal branding by having their sound logo played millions of times during the tournament and one of the most downloaded tunes on iTunes in 2010.
We Feel Faster Than We Think
Looking at InterBrand top 16 strongest brands in the world, from 2015, 50 % has an audio logo. A tendency that has been increasing over the last couple of years. Why? Because it is working and creating more brand value.
Increasingly more brands are becoming aware of the value and importance of the auditory component of their marketing communication because, no matter what your activities are, your brand is making sound. And if you are not giving it the attention it deserves, you are probably shooting yourself in the foot. We see, choose, and evaluate brands and products as much with our ears as we do with our eyes.
We can feel faster than we think. It’s all about emotional connectivity and response. Advertising that generates emotional response has two benefits
- It can help the emotions transfer to the brand, shaping the brand perceptions
- It can help generate engagement and memorability
“Brands that create an emotional connection to
consumers are much stronger than those that don’t – it’s as simple (and complicated) as that” – Martin Lindstrøm
Audio Branding as a Philosophy
We believe that silence is king. Silence is a rare but valuable condition that is seldom nowadays. If you choose to break it, it must create more meaning and value than the silence you break. Otherwise, we are just creating noise. So, if your brand was to be expressed in audio, how should it sound? What feelings and meaning should it evoke? And how and where should your brand use music and sound to create more value and meaningful communication? Simple but challenging questions to answer because when it comes to expressing brand values and feelings in musical and auditory terms, most people’s vocabulary often comes in short.
Advices on How to Get Started Using Sound Branding
It can be difficult to grasp how and where to start if you want to work strategically with sound and music and strengthen your customer journey experience with strategic use of audio. Below is a brief guide on getting started using strategic sound and music in your brand communication.
- Get an overview of all your brand touchpoints using audio. Map your audio customer journey experience and then identify which brand touchpoints are most important.
- Start asking why. Why are we using music here? What function should it have? What emotional feeling do we want to leave the listener at this stage? If the audio or music doesn’t create more value, then remove it!
- Designate a person in your organization as an Audio Brand Manager. Communicate that internally, and make this person the go-to-person for all audio use in the organization.
- Work with professional audio partners. Find a skilled audio branding company that can help you create and produce your audio identity along with implementation and ongoing consultancy and maintenance.
- Like your corporate visual identity, make all your audio assets available online so stakeholders and collaboration partners can easily access your audio assets, along with guidelines and templates for easy usage.
- Be sure to have all music rights in place or if you work with a band or buy music, check the total cost of ownership and what it costs to have the musical expression over time.