Everything marketers need to know about sonic branding in 2022

Have you ever wondered what you would sound like if you were a melody? Do you suspect your favourite cheese brand would have strident tones of sauciness if it could talk? How about your Xbox – have you ever paid attention to the ding it makes every time you choose an option from the menu? And what about what you hear while on hold to your bank, telco or insurance provider: Does it scream personality?

Now more than ever, what a brand ‘sounds’ like has become as much a part of individual and distinctive brand identity as a visual logo, service experience, advertising and product and services set.  

That’s because sound – and importantly, voice – are becoming increasingly critical in the world we live in. Just look at what digitisation has brought with it as it’s pervaded every aspect of our lives. We interact with all manner of voice-controlled products, touchpoints and services, stretching from conversational commerce and self-service menu options to voice-controlled light switches and home security units, electronic appliances, mobile phones, health devices and more.  

Here, CMO takes a look at why sonic branding is one of the hottest trends for brand strategy in 2022 and asks the experts: What does it really means to find and articulate your audio brand identity?  

Sonic branding’s meteoric rise

Eardrum founder and audio expert, Ralph van Dijk, describes ‘sonic branding’ as the most common definition for the strategic use of music, voice and sound to articulate a brand.

“A brand’s sonic identity is to the ears what its visual identity is to the eyes,” he tells CMO. “It’s more than a three-second audio logo. We create brand anthems and playlists to ensure all longform communication, instore music and live events share a common sonic DNA.”  

Over at Sixieme Sons, every sonic branding job consists of designing an ‘earcon’ and sound that leaves a distinctive ear print.

“Sonic branding is about digging into the brand’s DNA, values, history and purpose. What makes it different from its competitors? What does the brand stand for? What does it want to convey, who is it talking to?” the agency’s managing director, Laurent Cochini, says. “We then transpose the outcome of our research, benchmarking and discussions with the brand into music, looking for the sounds that fit it perfectly and that best express it. Our work does not stop with creation, it also consists in accompanying the brand in the implementation of its musical strategy at all touchpoints.”

But why is sound so important? As WARC by Ascential’s recent report on sonic branding in July 2020 pointed out, people react to a new sound up to 10 times faster – about 30 milliseconds – than they respond to a visual stimulus. The way our brains process sound is also more linked into subliminal processes than conscious thought.  

Then there’s the Man Made Studio research program, which showed subconscious reaction to sound is responsible for 86 per cent of our decision to engage (or avoid) an associated experience. Among the top naturally occurring sounds for positive subconscious emotional appeal on Man Made’s ‘Sonic Humanism spectrum’ are a baby laughing, applause, birdsong and orchestra tuning. Designed sounds with distinctiveness and power, meanwhile, included one undisclosed brand’s weather alert, another brand’s TV set-top box and a third brand’s home security keypad alert.  

An Ipsos study into distinctive brand assets is a further indicator of audio’s power. In its February 2020 findings across more than 2000 video advertising pieces of creative, sonic brand cues were 8.53 times more powerful than visual brand assets tested in terms of performance. The latest research by Analytics Partners into the power of audio with consumers also demonstrates the important role audio plays in the marketing mix. It found strong opportunities for brands across digital audio services and digitised radio and podcasting, particularly when it comes to shorter-term messaging.

The music and voice of an ad can provide so much emotional impact, and with consistency can makes a brand more memorable

Ralph van Dijk, Eardrum

“With higher levels of engagement and the ubiquity of audio, brands can reach consumers with compelling messages at the most relevant times,” van Dijk comments. “The music and voice of an ad can provide so much emotional impact, and with consistency can makes a brand more memorable.”  

Lippincott senior partner in design, Kevin Grady, agrees any brand with customers possessing ears should be placing greater emphasis on sonic branding efforts right now.

“With our collective shorter attention spans and more media channels competing for our attention than at any point in human history, brands that strategically and holistically embrace sound will be at a distinct advantage over those that don’t,” he says.

Sixième Son managing director, Laurent Cochini, says 90 per cent of the best performing brand music is tailor-made. “The popularity of a famous licensed commercial track, on the other hand, does not gauge how successful the content will be,” he warns. “On the contrary, brands who used trendy, popular tracks seemed to add more complexity and actually triggered a negative reaction.”

Longevity also factors strongly in a sonic brand’s success, and nine out of 10 of the best performing sonic identities have been in use for at least five years.

“Brands that invest the most on media do not necessarily have the best performing sonic identities,” Cochini says. “It is not quantity, but quality and strategy, that make a difference.”

Global creative strategy director at MassiveMusic, Roscoe Williamson, says the sheer amount of communication across channels today makes cut through for brands harder than ever.  


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