Michele Arnese, Founder and CEO, amp
Sound can create powerful emotional connections instantly; it can bring huge groups of people to tears or fits of laughter. Sound can change people’s moods or perceptions and bring distinct images to their minds. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the right sound at the right moment is worth a thousand pictures.
As powerful as sound can be when applied well, it’s equally harmful when it’s misused. A song tacked on to an advert to make something “cool” by association offers no emotional connection. When it comes to sonic branding, sound must be part of a thoughtful storytelling or communication strategy, not just a tactic: It’s part of a brand identity. Suppose the sound is doing nothing but driving the visual presentation or attempting to make something seem more remarkable than it actually is. In that case, all it is, is noise.
Sound and music need to be meaningfully and authentically tied to the identity and the story of the brand. Marketers shouldn’t choose music because they like it. Effective use of sound means building a strategy to pick and create music that helps people understand the brand’s place in their world. With the right foundation, sound and music can help transform a business or a message by communicating a clear, emotional story and helping people feel the brand. As a result, it plays an important role in positively differentiating a product or service, enhancing recall and brand recognition, creating preference, building trust, and even increasing sales.
While many brands have relied on a jingle, the true future-proof practice of sonic branding is more sophisticated than an isolated packaging or product sound, the singular use of a now quaint jingle at the end of a radio spot, or a discrete audio logo such as the one attached to the Intel inside button. You might remember or recognize a sonic logo, but that sonic asset alone is not enough for building an emotional connection. The context behind a sonic logo doesn’t have the complexity of building a holistic brand identity, that will immerse the consumer into a 360° brand experience.
Bringing a brand to life through sound requires the creation of an entire sonic architecture, consisting of a complex Sonic DNA®, intertwined with a digital path for all the sonic assets with the brand-based essence, values, promise, and personality. A Sonic DNA® is packed with the brand’s own sonic themes which can be distilled, adapted and reinvented into all sorts of music arrangements. In this way, just as the visual brand expression is optimized at each medium, the sonic assets can also be sensitively adapted across all brand owned touchpoints, whether that be the web, apps, TV or retail environments. The sound will always be contextually appropriate to the medium. In a sonic branding process done right, logos and jingles will be distilled from this core Sonic DNA® to guarantee recognition across different channels.
Think about the seven notes of “When You Wish Upon a Star”. They show up everywhere from the opening sonic logo of Disney films to the cruise-ship horn on the Disney cruise Line. They remind you of the whole song in its context and, more importantly, how that song makes you feel. You hear those notes and your mind jets back in time to Disney’s Pinocchio or a trip to a Disney theme park where you posed in front of the Magic Kingdom for a picture.
The same is true for the way Star Wars and James Bond movie franchises consistently use recognizable elements of the master soundtrack not only at different points in the films to indicate different types of action or emotion, but also over many years, in different cultures and in the marketing that supports the brand.
If you haven’t done the strategic work of truly understanding your brand story and creating a piece of music that’s adaptable for all kinds of actual experiences with your brand, your logo probably reminds listeners of… well, your ad. Or, worse, it packs no emotion or memory at all. A logo or a jingle alone doesn’t tell a whole brand story. And if that’s all you have, you’re doomed to fail. At the very least, your brand is missing out on a big opportunity.
Once you have a strategy and a Sonic DNA®, you can map where your customers might engage and start using it to heighten people’s experiences everywhere your brand goes. Where can sound make a big difference for your customers, your employees, or your partners? Be more like a big movie franchise and score the brand experience.
Take Mastercard’s Sonic DNA®. It has developed a multi-layered sonic strategy it uses every time a customer interacts with it. That might be TV advertising, always-on digital content, but also the hold music in its customer service center or at point-of-sale transactions. By creating a holistic strategy and using it consistently, Mastercard’s sound has become so recognizable that it offers customers security and trust. A PHMG survey found that 60% of respondents believe that music in marketing is more memorable than visuals and 45% believe that music helps them understand a brand’s personality. To date, Mastercard has rolled out its transaction sound to close to 94 million retail, mobile, and web acceptance points globally.
Mastercard’s holistic sonic strategy resulted in the company taking the crown two years in a row in our Best Audio Brands Ranking 2021, a yearly study that dissects how successfully global brands are using sound. Thanks to its Sonic DNA®, Mastercard scored highly against all the key criteria measured by the independent partners of the study: customer recognition, customer trust, customer experience, customer engagement and customer belonging.
On the other hand, it’s also important to mention that many brands dropped in this year’s ranking due to an increased use of generic stock music. Google dropped 16 places and Amazon dropped 12 spots for this reason. That is because stock music is a short-term fix; it offers no authentic engagement nor drives recognition. That same sound could be Nescafe or Canon. It’s not representative of the brand story.
Just as the earliest visual logos and branding programs are iconic today, audio brands will be iconic tomorrow. With screenless digital technologies – like smart speakers and voice assistants – gaining traction, bringing a brand to life will need to be unique and adaptable in the virtual space. And it won’t be with visual real estate, no matter how bright those golden arches are, or how recognizable you find Microsoft’s four windowpanes. Just remember, you can’t shut your ears.