Marketers are tuning in to the idea of branded sound. Not jingles. Rather, sonic branding, musical signatures, sonic identities, audio logos, and my favorite: earcons (think icons for the ears). Ever heard these terms before? Expect to hear them a lot more moving forward.
Sonic Branding Is Not A New Concept
This is not a new concept, as any Intel user will tell you. Radio opened up a new form of audio-driven marketing over 90 years ago. Jingles were introduced to capitalize on one’s ability to subconsciously recall brands through simple sounds. In-car radios let advertisers reach audiences when no other medium could. Early on, advertisers learned the importance of crafting a non-visual, branded identity.
In September 2017, Nina Hale discussed the resurgence of audio advertising. The blog post called out the fact that people are spending a lot of time in their cars – that in-car devices or the cars themselves are becoming hands-free. Edison Research reported that 44% of time listening to audio still goes to streaming, and Nielsen reported a 59% YoY growth in audio on-demand streaming in 2017. So it’s no surprise that brands continue to craft their “sonic identity,” as Pandora puts it.
Smart Speakers Provide New Sonic Branding + Audio Experience Opportunities
On top of those more established trends, consider the rapid adoption of smart speakers. NPR estimates that 39MM people now own a smart speaker and 71% are listening to more audio since getting one. Voice-activation and response now controls anything from music or podcast streaming, to checking the news, to commanding a home device. With the growing prevalence of both smart speakers and voice search, it’s no surprise our marketing world is becoming less visual and clickable, but more audible and hands-free. This also means that sometimes, sound is the only messaging vehicle.
Consumer behavior shapes technology, and as advertisers, we have no choice but to adapt. If consumers can now immediately access information, pay a bill, or make a grocery list, ad messaging must mirror that immediacy. We already see this trend with video in “snackable” quantities, as Facebook and YouTube are shifting to 6-second formats. And with audio, what more perfect way to be concise then just to remove words altogether? Let’s move away from annoying our audience with never-ending earworms, and instead instill positive emotions with earcons – short, pleasing sounds that excite rather than irritate.
Sonic Branding: A Four-Step Process
We’ve known for a while that unique music or sounds can condition memory and, therefore, aid in brand recall. Referencing a 2008 Leicester University study, Audiodraft noted that consumers are 96% more likely to remember brands that use music aligned with their identity, rather than brands that use “unfit” music, or no music at all. But with non-visual, hands-free technology, we can now capitalize on branded sound in a way we never did before.
First: Create a sound identity.
Audio is no longer a channel listed on a media flowchart – it’s a strategy and a voice that brands can use as an opportunity to identify their musical signature. In a 2018 CES recap with Marketing Dive, CapGemini’s Mark Taylor demands that “Brands need to think what happens when voice is no longer a metaphor – we’ve been talking about “brand voice” for 50 years. Now brand voice is going to be real. What does ‘Tide’ sound like?”
Audio streaming platforms are a great way to drive awareness and engagement. And if you invite them to the table early enough, they can prove a valuable partner in the initial stages. But this needs to be bigger than that. Branding Strategy Insider references an “audio DNA” that can be expressed in all your touchpoints, including other media channels. Even think how search or out-of-home could be incorporated. As Pandora reminds us, voice is the new touch.
Third: Associate your sound with positive sentiment.
As consumer preference shifts from possessions to experiences, brands need to follow suit with upfront, honest, quality messaging. Last year’s T-Mobile and Netflix collaboration was a perfect example of brands going above and beyond the standard subliminal branded sound. They instead capitalized on their recognizable sounds in a very deliberate way, then took it one step further to associate it with positive sentiments.
Fourth and final step: Engage the audience.
Ideally, such positive sentiment will lead to the fourth and final step. With a claim that sonic branding is actually dead, Brandingmag calls out advertisers who get it right by thinking about their “audio experience” and user interaction. Such experiences take the form of user-submitted commercials, interactive digital gaming and VR experiences, or even physical retail environments. “Now, more than ever, users are coming to expect a multi-sensory experience that they control…And ultimately, brands can only get what they give. Knowing your user and allowing participation in a brand activation is the key to an ownable experience, or a memory.”
So What’s Next for Marketers Considering Sonic Branding?
Sales, leads, sign-ups, conversions, ROI. No matter what type of business model they employ, brands ultimately want to see their advertising investment directly tied to increased business value. On that front, we are optimistic. Voice-activated technologies like Amazon Skills, Google Actions, and Siri kit experiences are mimicking the growth of mobile applications. In less than ten years, sound is likely to become identifiable with transaction. In the middle of adding items to your Alexa grocery list, grocery brands will “ping” you with a reminder of which brand is best.
AdWeek quoted Lauren McGuire, EVP of Man Made Music, who stated “If music creates emotion, what we see is brand favorability increases, brand consideration increases, metrics that really apply directly to ROI. When it comes to all experiences, brands are realizing that emotional connection is more important than ever.”
So, although both sound and advertising have been around for a long time, the idea of sonic branding provides an opportunity for a new approach, and a new strategy. What does your brand sound like?