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Audio Branding

By Karsten Kjems
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How Does Your Brand Sound?

Audio branding is the strategic and conscious use of sound and music across all brand touch points to create more engaging, meaningful, and affective communication. It’s a parallel to a visual identity. Audio branding (or sonic branding) and sound logos have been around for some years. It started out as jingles, where brands created small songs that incorporated the brand or product name in a catchy way into the song and lyrics. Coca-Cola is probably one of the strongest and earliest users of audio branding.

The power of audio branding

Hearing is the first sense we develop. We can hear before we are born and music is the type of sound that we know affects our emotional state the most. It affects our moods, feelings, behavior and pulse rate, and can make us feel calm, sad, scared or even happy and uplifted. Most sounds that surround us today are random and sometimes even unpleasant. So, audio branding is not a question of adding more sound, but using the right sound at the right time and place. Otherwise it’s noise.

Sound and music affect us in three ways: The way we feel the way we think and the way we act. Knowing this and knowing that most of our decisions are made unconsciously, audio branding can play an essential role in creating meaningful, affective and effective brand communication. A study conducted by professors Dr. Adrian North and Dr. David Hargreaves reports that brands with music that fits their brand identity are 96 percent more likely to be recalled than those with non- fitting music or no music at all (www.SoundsLikebranding.com - survey). Especially when it comes to a combination of sound and visual logos, consumers who like the combination of sound and visual logo, plus recognize the combination, will probably also find the combination fitting to their perception of the brand.

We do not remember noise and boring musical experiences. Only bold, meaningful and emotionally engaging music can achieve this. Try to listen to the sounds and music your brand uses, and then ask yourself:
• What emotional state does this leave our audience in?
• Is it meaningful and engaging?
• Does the musical expression substantiate your brand promise and reputation?
• Do you know what, where and how to use music and sound deliberately to create more effective communication?

Audio logos as mnemonics

Why are some audio logos so powerful and make us recall brands? There are several reasons:
Firstly, music theory reveals that audio logos between five to seven notes are easier to remember. This is experienced in the audio logos of Intel, McDonalds, Coca- Cola and others: they all have five notes in their audio logo. Secondly, if the audio is used consistently together with the presentation of a visual logo, i.e. with an animation in a TV-commercial, the combination of audio and visual presentation makes it even more memorable due to the combination of two senses. Furthermore, if we are frequently exposed to an audio logo and visual logo together (TV, web, cinema) our brain will unconsciously recall the visual logo “attached” to the sound logo, just by hearing the audio logo.

Coke probably made the best audio branding case in 2010 when they were one of the main sponsors at the FIFA World Cup. The FIFA theme song was the five Coca-Cola audio logo notes, made into a tune played by various artists from 14 different countries. By elegantly disguising popular artists and people singing their Coke audio logo as a tune, Coca-Cola managed to create effective subliminal branding by having their sound logo played millions of times during the tournament, and making it one of the most downloaded tunes on iTunes in 2010.

We feel faster than we think

Looking at the InterBrand top 16 strongest brands in the world from 2015, 50 % have an audio logo, an increasing tendency over the last couple of years. Why? Because it works and creates more brand value. Increasingly more brands are becoming aware of the value and importance of the auditory component of their marketing communication because, no matter what your activities are, your brand is making sound. And if you are not giving it the attention it deserves, you are probably shooting yourself in the foot. We see, choose and evaluate brands and products as much with our ears as we do with our eyes.

Audio branding as a philosophy

There are some points to consider when starting to use audio branding. Firstly, I believe that silence is king. Silence is a rare but valuable condition that is scarce nowadays. If you choose to break it, you must create more meaning and value than the silence, otherwise you are just creating noise. So, if your brand was to be expressed in audio, what should it sound like? What feelings and meanings should it evoke? And how and where should yourbrand use music and sound to create more value and meaningful communication? Simple questions but not very easy to answer, because when it comes to expressing brand values and feelings in musical and auditory terms, most people’s vocabulary falls short.

in 2010 when they were one of the main sponsors at the FIFA World Cup. The FIFA theme song was the five Coca-Cola audio logo notes, made into a tune played by various artists from 14 different countries. By elegantly disguising popular artists and people singing their Coke audio logo as a tune, Coca-Cola managed to create effective subliminal branding by having their sound logo played millions of times during the tournament, and making it one of the most downloaded tunes on iTunes in 2010.

We feel faster than we think

Looking at the InterBrand top 16 strongest brands in the world from 2015, 50 % have an audio logo, an increasing tendency over the last couple of years. Why? Because it works and creates more brand value. Increasingly more brands are becoming aware of the value and importance of the auditory component of their marketing communication because, no matter what your activities are, your brand is making sound. And if you are not giving it the attention it deserves, you are probably shooting yourself in the foot. We see, choose and evaluate brands and products as much with our ears as we do with our eyes.

Audio branding as a philosophy

There are some points to consider when starting to use audio branding. Firstly, I believe that silence is king. Silence is a rare but valuable condition that is scarce nowadays. If you choose to break it, you must create more meaning and value than the silence, otherwise you are just creating noise. So, if your brand was to be expressed in audio, what should it sound like? What feelings and meanings should it evoke? And how and where should yourbrand use music and sound to create more value and meaningful communication? Simple questions but not very easy to answer, because when it comes to expressing brand values and feelings in musical and auditory terms, most people’s vocabulary falls short.

Advice on how to get started using sound branding

It can be difficult to grasp how and where to start if you want to work strategically with sound and music, and strengthen your customer journey experience with strategic use of audio. Below is a brief guide on how to get started using sound and music strategically in your brand communication.

1. Create an overview of all your brand touch points using audio. Map your audio customer journey experience and then identify which brand touch point is the most important.
2. Start asking why. Why are we using music here? What function should it have? What emotional feeling do we want to leave the listener at this stage? If the audio or music doesn’t create more value, then remove it!
3. Designate a person in your organization as audio brand manager. Communicate that internally, and make him or her the go-to-person for all audio use in the organization.
4. Work with professional audio partners. Find a skilled audio branding company that can help you create and produce your audio identity along with implementation and ongoing consultancy and maintenance.
5. Just like your corporate visual identity, make all your audio assets available on-line so stakeholders and collaborating partners can access your audio assets easily, along with guidelines and templates for easy usage.
6. Ensure you hold all music rights or, if you work with a band or buy music, check the total cost of ownership and what it costs to use the musical expression over time or in your campaign.

Sound identity: All the sounds and audio pieces an entity (business/organization) can be recognized by. A sound identity can consist of an audio logo, music, musical elements and sound design and is used to create audio coherency, synergy and recognizability for a brand. An audio identity parallel to a visual identity.
Sound logo: A good sound logo is a brand asset that reflects a brand in a short melodic phrase, melody or sound. In time, the sound logo may converge into a kind of brand symbol
that carries associations that help shape the brand image and function as a memorable link to the actual brand. To successfully achieve this, sound logos as brand elements must be: Memorable, Meaningful, Likeable, Transferable, Adaptable, and Protectable in the mind of the consumer to contribute to build brand equity (Keller 2008 p.140).

About the author
Karsten Kjems. Born in 1972, father, brother, audio branding evangelist, jazz-drummer and weekend-Buddhist. Dedicated to creating more meaningful and relevant communication through sound and music. With kindness and love I am striving to fulfill my potential, being the best version of myself, but I fail daily.

This was originally published in Insights Magazine, NMSBA members have access to the full archive of this quarterly magazine on neuromarketing. Interested in joining? Check the options