It’s hard to think of the phrase “I’m lovin’ it” and not immediately recall the “ba-da-ba-ba-ba” of the McDonald’s jingle. It’s catchy, appealing and has been repeated so often, that, love it or hate it, it’s etched in your brain like a pop song from high school. Chances are that the sounds you hear when you power up your laptop, log into Netflix or make a Skype call are also instantly familiar. These simple sonic signatures are easy to recall and exert a powerful influence over your emotions and behavior. Yet it’s a wonder that so many brands and products that are very good at crafting their visual image are often neglectful of defining their sound.
The concept behind sonic branding is simple. Create a unique sound or musical phrase that captures the essence of your brand, product or experience. Then repeat it…a lot. A well-crafted sonic signature can be even more important to a brand’s recognition and recall than its visual logo. No one hums a logo, whistles a tagline or sings an announcer. Sonic branding, however, lodges itself in the human mind like chewing gum stuck to the sole of your shoe.
There are two key aspects to sonic branding. Most familiar are audio logos, short sound or musical signatures that are the aural equivalent to graphic logos. Audio logos have been around for a hundred years or so. NBC introduced its famous chimes—the first audio logo awarded a U.S. trademark—in 1926. Intel, THX, HBO and T-Mobile are among the many brands whose sonic signatures have woven themselves into the public consciousness. You can most likely recall them – right now.
The other aspect of sonic branding, product sonification, has become increasingly important in recent years. It’s the practice of incorporating branded sounds into the user experience of products, apps, devices and technologies. You likely have encountered this type of sonic branding, perhaps without realizing it, while driving your car, using your microwave, withdrawing money from an ATM or searching for a movie on your favorite streaming service. Apple, Netflix and Amazon are masters of the medium. With the proliferation of voice-activated technologies—Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri are prime examples—product sonification will certainly become more widespread in the future.
The carefully crafted sounds emanating from products you use every day may strike you as commonplace, but they are strategically designed to enhance your experience, affect your mood, influence your behavior and most importantly, reinforce your connection with brands. Successful companies understand the power of sound and have devoted considerable attention to cultivating a unique and identifiable sonic experience. They infuse their sonic brands not only into their products, but also into their marketing media, product demos, social content and advertising. And they repeat it endlessly.
Product sonification is not just for tech, manufacturing and media giants. A wide variety of B2C and B2B companies of all sizes can use customized sound to enhance their brand image and strengthen relationships with customers. Stephen Arnold Music recently created a sonic brand and sound toolkit for TradeCafe, a cloud-based transaction fulfillment platform with clients around the globe. TradeCafe’s users spend considerable time managing their commodities and inventories online, and the custom-designed sounds helps users navigate the transaction platform with timely and reliable information, while also ensuring confidence and security.
Developing the sound of a brand is both a science and an art. The process demands as much time, attention and research as developing a visual brand. You shouldn’t go to a stock source for a graphic logo, and neither should you settle for something generic or preconceived for your audio signature. In other words, it’s not something you can download for 99 cents.
An effective sonic brand is not only distinctive and memorable, it instantly communicates the essence of your company or product. It should inspire a connection with consumers and customers, remain fresh through hundreds of repetitions, and be versatile enough to apply in a myriad of contexts, uses and locations. Most importantly, it should reflect your company’s mission and brand values. It needs to represent your story in a way that is unique, potent, and memorable.
Consumer buying patterns, habits and socializing behaviors are changing rapidly. It’s becoming more challenging to reach people through traditional advertising and media. Moreover, today’s consumers seek a heightened and pleasant experience when interacting with products, apps and platforms. Sonic branding addresses both issues by forging connections with people through their everyday interactions. For brands seeking to build recognition, increase touchpoints and inspire connection, it’s a powerful tool to make sure their message is heard.
So, what IS the sound of your brand?