What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the word “logo”? Probably it’s something visual; at base, the design or symbol a company uses to distinguish itself from others on letterhead, business cards, websites, landing pages, T-shirts, bumper stickers, ads, the faces of foolish people, and the multifarious other places you can stick a logo.
But branding isn’t just for your eyeballs. Ears can also get in on the action. Computer chip manufacturer Intel is a perfect example. There are few people in the modern world that would hear this sound and not immediately recognize it as Intel’s audio brand.
There’s a big difference, though, between an audio brand and a jingle, both in concept and purpose.
“Audio branding is not just about sound and music, it’s about influences,” says Michaël Boumendil, president of music design and branding agency Sixieme Son, which is responsible for the music used in Renault’s successful Captur app. “Audio branding is another dimension of the brand that truly embodies it—the same difference between just using images and having a logo and a true visual identity in place.”
Meaning, Alka-Seltzer’s vintage ditty “Pop, pop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is” = jingle; while Sixieme Son’s sound design for Cartier = audio brand. Jingles work on knowledge—audio brands word on emotion, Boumendil says. An audio brand may be distinct, but the point isn’t necessarily to be recognized, rather to express something deep and core about the brand’s identity.
As far as the five senses go, sight and sound are two of the biggies, often experienced in tandem. In fact, a recent Oxford University study found that hearing a related sound can speed up the visual search for an object, says Colleen Fahey, U.S. managing director at Sixieme Son. And that’s handy from the perspective of a brand looking for help combating the declining attention span of the average consumer, she says.
Experienced together, audio and video can, as Fahey puts it, “underscore the attributes conveyed by the visual brand” or complement them by subtly adding further meaning.
“For example, today we’re working with a brand whose logo conveys leadership, authority, and dynamism,” says Fahey. “We’re using the audio to add warmth, optimism, and diversity.”
The idea is to be cohesive—an audio brand should have some logical connection to the visual one—but to also remain fluid. “Being coherent doesn’t mean being static,” Boumendil says. “But being dynamic also doesn’t mean being confusing.”
There’s something to be said, as well, for the visceral nature of sound. Music is a language that everyone can appreciate, and one that doesn’t contain the same potential pitfalls inherent in a turn of phrase. As Boumendil points out (unfortunately for Nike), the brand’s name is actually a slang curse word in French, a really naughty four-letter one at that. The same holds true for colors. For instance, while brides wear white in the West, in Japan, white is the color of mourning—but wedding music is cheerful the world over.
“What kind of vocabulary is really universal? Music—because we’re all human beings,” he says. “Every language is a system to say something, to broadcast a message—but with music all people will understand it the same way.”
Want to get started with your own audio branding system? Click through for the top sonic branding do’s and don’ts from Colleen Fahey.
An audio branding primer with Colleen Fahey, U.S. managing director at Sixieme Son:
Audio branding don’ts
1. Don’t leave audio strategy until the last minute. Plan your music and sound at the outset.
2. Don’t confuse audio branding with entertainment. It has a job to do, and that job is brand enhancement.
3. Don’t forget that impact without meaning can be distracting and counterproductive.
4. Don’t choose a piece of music because you like it. Ask instead, “What does it say about me?”
5. Don’t repeat the same music mindlessly—adapt it to the context.
6. Don’t neglect a measurement mechanism. Is the brand conveying its specific values better than before? “Our clients have seen rises in ‘distinctive, soothing, pleasant’ as well as ‘innovative, mobile, and modern.’ They’ve measured drops in perception of call waiting time. They’ve seen brand recognition by over 80% of population in just two notes.”
Audio branding do’s
1. Articulate what your brand stands for before addressing what the music must do. Audio branding should create a core “audio DNA” that remains consistent, while allowing flexibility for adaptations to multiple touchpoints over many years.
2. Think of your audio brand as a system of distinctive sounds and music, not as a jingle.
3. Investigate what audio approaches your competitors are using so you can stand out.
4. Enumerate your key audio touchpoints, including your on-hold music, trade show booth, app-opening sounds, and events. Make every customer touchpoint a relationship builder.
5. Decide if you need the audio branding to underscore or to add to the message conveyed by the visual brand.
6. Require an audio style guide as part of your brand guidelines.
And there you have it. Go give your clients an earful.