How Financial Companies can use Sound Branding To Communicate With Customers

Digital payment technology was already rapidly removing the need to physically exchange money long before the COVID-19 crisis came along.

Recently published data suggests a significant decline in the use of cash in recent months as people concerned with associated health risks turn to the burgeoning array of digital services enabling people to control their income or expenditure such as mobile apps, websites and e-commerce experiences.

But, consumers are also switching in large numbers to contactless payments in-store as they return to shopping malls and high streets in huge numbers with lockdowns across the world easing.

Research by Paysafe found 55% of U.S. consumers were concerned about handling cash and Covid-19 had prompted half to try it out by April – a remarkable upswing as US shoppers are traditionally more reluctant to use contactless than their counterparts in other major markets

In the UK, the contactless payment limit was recently increased from £30 to £45 to dramatic effect. Shortly afterwards for example, Barclaycard reported that more than 90 per cent of face-to-face payments using its cards were made through the contactless method and a 23 per cent increase in such transactions year on year.

If we are looking for one definitive outcome from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is that “contactless” has become an established part of the everyday shopping experience for many people.

But are there limits to the potential for contactless transactions and e-commerce? And as we increasingly use digital services to push money around or pay for things, how can banking brands make the experience more acceptable and reassuring?

Banks and credit card brands are amongst the most visually recognizable entities in the world. They’ve been at the forefront of branding and brand strategy because they recognized long ago that visual recognition was a vital aspect of finding and using service in the physical world.

As our lives have been increasingly digitized the same rule has applied – signposting and branding are a critical part of making us feel comfortable with mobile or desktop interactions.

But an increasing number of our interactions with brands are now screenless and dependent on sound.

Large numbers of households in many developed markets now use smart speakers and interact regularly with voice assistants. Research, transactions, entertainment and work are habitually being done through sound alone. Several recent studies showed smart speaker usage surge in the US and the UK.

The growth in contactless payments in store and the rise in audio interactions via Alexa, Siri and Google Home suggests an accompanying audio experience or cues that illustrate or signify these interactions taking place or completing, could become a vital ingredient.

But what should this sound like and how can a financial or retail brand ensure they are identified by the customer? To address that challenge a growing number of financial services businesses are investing in audio branding to engage with customers and ultimately to enhance the business performance.

Academic studies show that brand engagement is far stronger when audio is treated as an equal and essential aspect of the brand. Sound and music have a far more direct influence over our subconscious, decision-making mind.

Not only does sound build an emotional connection with consumers, it can also significantly shape the customer experience, building loyalty, recall and trust over time and with repetition.

Sound-branding is not new. Jingles to encourage the listener to subconsciously recall a brand have been around for almost a century.

Forward-thinking brands such as Disney, McDonald’s or Intel have created sonic logos to integrate into advertising and digital service. But with the range of touch points continuously growing, even a sonic logo is a partial solution when you need people to hear you across everything from TV commercials to digital point of sale.

So how should financial services brands go about creating an audio brand strategy that can translate from contactless payment through to TV commercials?

Our Best Audio Brands study objectively and comprehensively evaluates audio brands based on the full spectrum of audio touchpoints available. This year, Mastercard was recognized as the world’s top-performing audio brand, leaping up the index from 72nd place in 2019 and dethroning the previousbest performer – McDonald’s.

Mastercard achieved this by embracing a far more holistic approach to its brand communications by thinking about audio experiences as integral and equalto visual branding in its overall strategy.A significant signpost was its decision to drop text from its logo, switching to a minimal design featuring the iconic interlocked circles.

The success of the audio element of Mastercard’sstrategy lies in the adoption of comprehensive sound architecture.

It has invested in music that identifies the brand through core melodies. These melodies can then be edited and adjusted so that they can be woven into everything from advertisements to point-of-sale transactions. Likewise, the core music can be adapted to the cultural tastes and genres found in different markets.

For example, Mastercard has developed a payment confirmation sound that reassures the card holder that a contactless transaction was successful that is derived from the core brand music. To date, Mastercard has rolled out said sound out to over 36 million digital wallets and physical payment terminals around the globe.

In a recent interview, Mastercard’s CMO mentioned that his team conducted research with GFK Global as to how the brands sonic logo has been performing so far, claiming that 77% of customers believe the sound makes transactions and retail environments “more trustworthy”. Mastercard has taken stock of today’s digital-first environment and has adopted a long-term brand strategy that is fit for the future.

However, the financial sector as a whole has a lot of work to do. For example, HSBC was ranked 65thin the Best Audio Brands index, while Visa occupies 72nd spot.

The arrival of younger financial services customers brought up with voice assistants and facing perhaps more challenging financial scenarios than previous generations and the growth of contactless technologies and digital wallets means the sound of money will become just as important as the sight of dollar bills accepted at the checkout.

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