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Vincent Tutay

Engage and enhance recall with sonic branding

Sonic or audio branding may not be a new innovation. In fact, audio was predicted as a marketing trend of 2022. Now, through the rise of Spotify and the increase in the adoption of voice assistants, the spotlight remains firmly on how audio helps in the overall brand experience. Netflix and that ubiquitous “ba-bumm”. McDonald’s and those strategically selected notes of “I’m lovin’ it”. The Windows XP’s start up sound that has also seeped into pop culture through memes and reaction videos. All of these sounds have been embedded in our collective psyches and even pop culture. Much to the envy of many other brands. The common thread that cuts across all these different sounds is that they are undeniably associated with very specific brands. Why is sonic branding so effective and how can brands benefit from having a form of sonic branding? Read on and find out!

What is sonic branding?

No, it’s not the video game hero’s branding. In a nutshell, sonic branding simply is the use of sound or music to create a distinctive and recognisable brand identity. It can start as a full song, as in the case of Mastercard. This can also be distilled into an audio logo. A soundbite that is a few secs long. From Netflix to Don Don Donki, and jingles to sound mnemonic, sonic branding is used to enhance brand awareness and recall. This can then be used across all of the brand’s touchpoints all tuned to create a consistent and memorable experience for customers.

The psychology behind sonic branding

The goal of any brand is to make themselves more memorable and to create an emotional connection. How sonic branding supports this is to create a unique audio signature that can easily be associated with a brand and remembered by customers. Additionally, studies have shown that listening to music actually helps the brain to associate memories with sounds. It even actually helps in laying down new ones. This means that associating a signature sound with a brand actually aids in helping consumers remember them better! Which brand wouldn’t want that?

This phenomenon is actually deeply rooted in how our brain works. Getting information into our brain is easy. What’s difficult is actually recalling and pulling out those data efficiently. How music helps is that the song structure allows someone to recall information better. The melody then provides repetition, which aids in memorisation. To illustrate this point further, let me ask you to try to remember the letter that comes “J”. Chances are, you are probably singing the “ABC” song right now to help you remember.

Another benefit of using sonic branding is the emotional aspect of audio. Music and sound evoke emotions and help in creating deeper connections with listeners. Listening to uptempo, happy beats lifts moods. Sad songs, perfect for breakups. Need to boost your gym session? Try listening to percussive music. Now imagine how McDonald’s has associated satisfying hunger pangs with the playful beats of “I’m lovin’ it”. The bottom line is, emotional connection can make the brand more memorable and increase the likelihood that customers will recall it later.

Opportunities in sonic branding

In an era of Airpods, Spotify and rich media, sonic branding would also be a missed opportunity to endear yourselves to the notoriously short attention spans, always plugged-in Gen Zs. Some brands are incorporating sound into their websites, mobile apps or even the very devices. Reports suggest that the audio media consumption of Gen Zs have steadily increased over recent years. In fact, audio streaming platforms are the 2nd highest consumed form of media for Gen Zs next to social media. Aside from listening to music, they are also consuming podcasts, another avenue to imprint sonic branding. For brands seeking to connect with this generation, aligning sonic branding with Gen Z behaviour and habits on audio platforms might be a good place to start.

Brands innovating with sonic branding

1. The Apple sound

In order to stand out and stay ahead of their competition, brands are constantly innovating to create memorable and emotional connections with their target audience. This could incl. a variety of sounds, such as music, jingles, sound effects and even simple tones.  Do you remember the feeling when you 1st started up your very 1st iPhone or Macbook? Apple’s startup sound has remained fairly consistent across their devices and over the years. All the more to help you nostalgically remember and relive that feeling.

2. Voice assistants and brand voice

The rise of voice assistants like Siri and Alexa has given brands a voice…quite literally. This means that brands can even incorporate specific speaking styles, cadences, accents and tones to create, you guessed it, a distinct brand voice. This means that through audio, the brand’s personality can certainly shine through when determining the nuances of how a voice assistant sounds like. Sonic branding certainly has given a new meaning to brand voice and persona. Moreover, brands have already begun to optimise their websites so that these voice assistants are able to serve up their content better.

3. Chill vibes with Starbucks

Ambient soundscapes are also audio canvasses that brands have experimented with to create a specific atmosphere or mood. Starbucks, for example, have used audio to great effect when creating an experience for their customers. More often than not, most of their cafés use soft background music to create a relaxing and inviting atmosphere. Layered with the smell of freshly brewed coffee and the chill vibes of their interiors, they have hit a trifecta of senses when engaging with their customers.

4. Sonic branding your food deliveries

Sonic branding has practical operations applications as well. The next time you visit your favourite bubble tea store, pay attention to certain alert tones that play at random intervals. This actually signals store staff that either a Grab food, Uber eats, Deliveroo or Food Panda request has come in. All with their own distinct branded sounds.

5. Localising your signature sound

As with any form of branding, consistency is also key in sonic branding. A sonic logo used across multiple platforms, such as video ads in advertising, in-store experiences and even websites help create a cohesive brand experience. This also reinforces how customers remember and associate sound with a brand. Mastercard recently has embarked on an extensive sonic branding exercise along with their rebranding. What started out as a master track then spawned tonal versions used on payment devices in-store. Mastercard has also taken this to another level by localising their signature sound using native instruments from their local markets.

Branded auditory experience

The benefits of sonic branding is truly undeniable. Many brands have already embarked on their journey to incorporate audio in building a richer, more experiential brand. As marketers, brand recall is the metaphorical foot in the door when it comes to aiding marketing efforts. After all, consumers who already remember your brand are more likely to make a purchase.

In embarking on building an auditory experience for your brand, consider a few factors. Have you built a robust brand guide that aids in determining what your brand sounds like in terms of personality? What are the touchpoints available to your brand? In your marketing funnel? Are there opportunities for sonic branding experiences on any of these touchpoints?

Determining these factors and how your brand stacks up are the 1st crucial steps. While it does take time to build enough equity for any form of branding, associating sound with brands actually aids in the neural memory making process. And the end results would mean your consumers remember you better and an overall richer branding experience. Sounds good?