Take note of audio branding

Take note of audio branding 

Audio branding image

Audio branding reaches the parts that other types of sensory branding cannot reach, delivering different messages while still maintaining brand consistency.

Why is it we can remember the theme tune to obscure TV shows or ads we watched as children, yet many of us struggle to remember what day of the week it is? And why does that irritating ring tone you heard on the train this morning play over and over again in your head until it drives you crazy? The answer lies in the incredibly strong connection between sound and memory. Sound is one of the most evocative senses. It exploits emotions and can take us right back to a distant event or place, or instantly translate in our brains to a feeling or a mood. So, is it time to take note of audio branding?

This is one of the main reasons that audio branding is creating such a buzz in marketing circles of late – but it’s not the only reason. Sound branding is extremely portable. You can listen to music wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, which means its reach goes far beyond that of a visual logo. Audio – or sonic branding and sound branding as it is sometimes known – is an increasingly valuable tool in establishing some companies brand identity.

The most instantly visible representation of any brand is its logo. But a logo has limits, and can only be used where sight is involved: on a website, packaging, TV and outdoors. Audio branding, however, can reach the parts that other types of sensory branding cannot reach, delivering different messages while still maintaining brand consistency. Your company’s hold music, for instance, is an important and often overlooked opportunity to convey your brand personality at a time when visual contact isn’t possible. Audio branding is also great for reinforcing visual messages. A presentation backed up with on-brand music will have far more impact than words and pictures alone. Similarly, radio commercials, shows, seminars, websites and multimedia collateral are all opportunities to reinforce your personality through audio branding.

Much of what we now know as audio branding isn’t new. It’s just that we now have a name for it and a recognition of its power. Whether you’re commissioning original music for a TV or radio advertisement, licensing music to use on a website or showreel, choosing suitable voice-over talent or selecting your hold music, you are subconsciously making a brand statement. And no company wants to be associated with a version of Greensleeves that sounds like it’s being played on the stylophone! It’s not just about choosing an audio signature. You need to make sure you are using the right sounds, and using them consistently at all customer touch points. Get a professional involved in this. They can advise on what type of sounds will work with your visual identity and tone-of-voice, and offer suggestions of where and how you can incorporate audio branding into your marketing activity. To get you started, here are a few examples of the different forms audio branding can take and how some well known brands have used them to their advantage:

Sonic logos
With just a few notes, you know a computer has ‘Intel inside’ without ever mentioning the name. This is a good example of how audio branding can complement traditional logo design.

Branded audio
Commissioning a composer to write on-hold music bespoke to your company will make that wait more bearable. This should be created in a way that complements your sonic logo. Hold music also provides opportunities to cross-sell products and services.

Environmental audio
Audio branding can be used to make environments more inspiring places to work and visit. From ambient background noise to branded music, the applications are vast and include captive spaces such as your reception, communal areas and elevator.

Musical signatures
Associating a sound with an action can have a powerful effect. The Microsoft Windows 95 start-up sound (Ta da!) was composed by Brian Eno, who was briefed to create something inspiring, universal, optimistic, futuristic, sentimental and emotional. This demonstrates the longevity of audio branding.

Background music

Starbucks has had a partnership with Hear Music since 1999 to produce its particular brand of soothing jazz, designed to make you want to linger over a second latte. Rumour has it that McDonalds actually speeds up music at lunchtimes to increase customer turnaround. Whether that’s true or not, it’s an interesting concept and demonstrates the potential of audio branding in influencing customer behaviour.

In-store music

NikeTown’s high energy, vibrant, uplifting sound track helps attract young urban customers, while at Waterstones, the slow, relaxed sounds are designed to encourage leisurely browsing.

Product design

BMW, Bentley and Ford have all done research into the sound of a car door closing to get the optimum sound that customers find recognisable and reassuring. Harley Davidson has trademarked the distinctive roar of its motorcycle engines as they create the tough, wild and free identity of its bikes. In this digital age, ‘mechanical’ sounds are often added to products – the ‘click’ on a digital camera or the ‘ching’ of a Bluetooth device as it connects.

You might not be about to design a new car, but there are simple and effective ways to introduce elements of audio branding into every business: sonic logos, hold music, ads, corporate presentations, websites – the list goes on. The trick is to stop just thinking about what your business looks like, but ask yourself what it sounds like too.

About the author...

Stewart Hodgson

Marketing Director. Brand master. Audiophile. Stewart lives and breathes design. (Even his toaster is a Porsche.) Has spent the last 20 years getting businesses like The BBC, Johnson & Johnson and AXA excited about what good design can do for them. Makes sure Fabrik delivers it – and then some… Always tuned in to clients’ needs. Always plugged it to iTunes. Has OCV (obsessive collection of vinyl).

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