The Sonic Boom in Branding

Posted in Play

illustration of green sound waves

Over-stimulating times call for highly-engaging brands. The usual familiar visual cues—a website, a logo, an ad—don’t set the entire tone. Brand building is holistic; when done right, it builds a world that engages all the senses. Those marketing jingles that live rent-free in your head have been branding gimmicks for decades, but using sound in all its forms to create distinctive touchpoints has become increasingly popular. Enter sonic branding: a potent ingredient that can help fully bake your brand.

Why Sonic Branding Matters

Sound has the power to connect with people quickly, and on a deeper level.

The average attention span of the modern human is 8.25 seconds. Your brand really doesn’t have much time to make an impression. The good news is that sound can be recognized and make an impact in far less time than that.

In fact, a recent UCL study found that the human brain can recognize a familiar song within 100 to 300 milliseconds*. If you don’t have a whole jingle to recall, that’s still enough time for your version of the Macbook startup chime or the T-Mobile tinkles.

In addition to the rapid response our brains have to sound, a sonic identity bridges culture and language gaps. According to a UC Berkeley study, “the subjective experience of music across cultures can be mapped within at least 13 overarching feelings." From joy to dreaminess, triumph to relaxation, sonic branding is a mainline to the subconscious, regardless of language.

Sonic Branding In The Wild

Sound offers endless opportunities to shape moods and memories. Your brand needn’t do it all, just find a few tactics that resonate. From a sonic logo that serves as a brief trigger for recall, to full-fledged soundscapes that become an integral part of an experience, the way to a customer’s heart is often through their ears.

Playlists and in-store/environmental music. Assembling and sharing the tunes that set your tone anywhere people gather in physical space, and something they can “take home” with them online.

Signature songs, original or licensed. Beyond just using the right song for an ad, or penning an old-fashioned jingle, re-inventing classic tracks (e.g., “In My Life” for Amazon) or unearthing deep cuts (e.g., DJ Shadow for Cadillac) can create something ownable.

Soundscapes at events, venues, and other physical spaces. Part of the fabric of an experience, musical or SFX, that may even work subconsciously.

Concert series or streaming sponsorships. Amex, Lincoln, Burberry, even Oreo and Under Armour, are releasing mixtapes and livestreams left and right to align their brands with song.

Trending sounds on social media. In channels like TikTok, creators are amplifying and altering music to create brand leverage.

Audio UX on web and apps. Integrated into the UI at startup and key actions, this has been a staple since “You’ve Got Mail!”

Sonic logos. It’s becoming a requirement to animate logos, visually and audibly, to enhance their appeal and stickiness.

Podcasting and audio ads. The popularity of these mediums is almost a return to the nostalgia, vocal connection, and intimacy radio days.

Voice search. The rise of Siri, Alexa, and other avatars that respond to your voice and become helpful, familiar friends in return.

Think of some sonic branding you may have encountered recently: the xylophonic ending of a TikTok, the sound of your laptop turning on, the start of a Netflix movie. By intentionally engaging the ears, these brands nailed it, creating something unique and consistent that builds recognition, makes an emotional connection, and ultimately, enhances loyalty.

Creating A Sound Strategy

Music and sound insights extend naturally from clear brand foundations and experience intent. To define your sound strategy, start with the basics:

  • What emotion do you want the listener to feel and what sonic modes best convey that?

  • When are the opportune times to weave audio elements into their interaction(s) with you?

From there, a sonic identity can be woven into the brand identity and customer journey via these four methodical steps:

  • A sound audit: an analysis of current and desired sound environments within the customer journey.

  • A sound vision: a statement of the aspirations for how customers will interact with sonic elements.

  • A sound personality: a description of the brand's character and tone of voice that can help inform sound choices.

  • A sound architecture: a framework of the sound elements and their applications.

With a clearer picture of where music and sound fits into your brand, these touchpoints help guide creative development and direct how your brand can best win the hearts and ears of loyal listeners.

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