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Your Brand Needs More Than a Sonic Logo

illustration of girl with headphones surrounded by multiple devices

If a sonic logo is the only audio branding you have, you’re going to have trouble being heard. This isn’t because sonic logos — those catchy, often subliminal musical lines accompanying a brand’s visual mark — aren’t effective. In fact, many sonic logos are so good, we not only have trouble getting them out of our heads, we often recall them better than we do a company’s visual logo. The challenge these days is that we’re inundated with content, and marketers need to think more broadly about how their brands sound in order to create lasting associations.

Sonic Boom

Sonic branding goes back as far as the late 1800s when poetry was used to promote products in newspapers and magazines (e.g. Sapolio Soap). As radio emerged, broadcasters used sound to identify their unique brands, like the NBC Chimes (circa. 1930). Then came ‘jingles’ — catchy marketing tunes that wormed their way into your head in hopes you’d recall them come purchase time — think Oscar Mayer’s The Wiener Song, Alka Seltzer’s Plop, Plop, Fizz, Fizz, or I’m a Toys ‘R Us Kid.

Since then, the digital landscape has placed an even higher demand on audio with an ever-growing array of websites, apps, social media platforms, podcasts, and well, you get the picture. Brands have a lot to keep up with, and among the many creative resources at their disposal, sound — one of the most powerful senses for driving emotion and recall — is often an afterthought. Having a great sonic logo is a good starting place, but making a deep connection with today’s consumers takes a holistic audio approach.

Audio Strategy

Gone are the days when a catchy jingle could put you on the map. Today, even a sonic logo won’t do — not by itself anyway. A recent study by SoundOut revealed that Gen Z is 60% less likely than older generations to recognize the sonic logos of leading household brands.

To connect with audiences, brands must incorporate audio strategically across multiple touchpoints. Take Taco Bell for example. Listen beyond their iconic ‘bell’ logo, and you’ll hear a consistent sonic message. From ads to social posts, all convey a snappy, fun, and somewhat quirky vibe that caters perfectly to the Taco Bell faithful.

As with all branding, consistency is key. It is one thing to select music to suit a one-off advertisement or social post, but representing a brand’s sonic palette across media and over time takes a keen ear. On top of that, describing sound can be elusive. As with visual branding, a style guide is a must, defining attributes like genre, mood, pacing, and most importantly, listener emotion. Without one, finding the right music is like searching for a needle in a haystack, and it’s difficult to build any sort of sonic consistency or recall.

Creating a consistent musical thread is the key to building recall, something Stephen Arnold Music, a leader in the sonic branding world, knows well. They’ve developed sonic branding for companies like ESPN, Sony Interactive, and UPS over 30 years.

While the creative music agency builds audio identities from the ground up, they often find that with established brands there is a need to reference existing audio elements to naturally build upon or transition the company’s sound — for example, creating the intro for a new ESPN program that naturally fits with the iconic Sports Center music, or a sonic identity for UPS that feels right at home with music the brand is comfortable using.

Creating this level of consistency requires a deep dive into the audio personality of a brand, as well as the commitment and know-how to make representative audio choices. It’s this type of thinking that creates powerful recall the moment someone hears your branded content.

Why Sound?

All of this begs the question, “Can sound really make that big of a difference?” The short answer is, yes, absolutely — and there’s science to back it up.

Sound has a way of reaching audiences like no other sense. It’s ubiquitous, often subliminal and can powerfully influence our emotions and memory. It’s also incredibly fast. Sound is actually processed more quickly than sight, allowing us to react faster to auditory stimuli, and leading to deeply visceral responses. Take the opening credits to Top Gun. Before we even see a fighter jet, Harold Faltermeyer’s opening orchestral bell reverberates through our consciousness and fills us with feelings of anticipation and hope. As the track moves along, we feel the growing intensity and action as Navy pilots and crew prep for the mission ahead. We’re immediately in tune with the film and where it wants to take us. Not just any track can do that.

You might then ask, “Ok, but a song is a song is a song, won’t any good musical selection do?” Yes and no. The beauty of music is, like any creative process, subjectivity. There is no single solution. However, some solutions are better than others. Let’s consider a best-case scenario, you select a song that beautifully speaks to the emotion of your content, and audiences are moved by the piece. Understandably, there will be some brand recall established, however, is it the kind you’re after? How well does the piece speak to your brand voice and values? Is there consistency with other types of music and sounds that your brand uses? If the answers to these questions aren’t clear, then even a seemingly perfect piece of music might not be the right fit for your overall brand.

Turn Up the Volume

As consumer touchpoints have become more sophisticated, so too has the need for sonic branding. Like visual branding, it’s an opportunity to engage with audiences at different levels and in different ways. Consider your content, user experiences, product and retail sounds, and the list goes on and on — all should speak the same sonic language.

Just as your visual logo is only a small percentage of your brand story, so too is your sonic logo. There’s a ton more to be heard. In a world that has become more sound centric, brands need to be proactive about their audio choices and put sonic branding at the top of their marketing and engagement strategies.

Russell Boiarsky is Director/Brand Strategy at Stephen Arnold Music which has created sonic branding for leading companies worldwide including CNN, Sony Interactive, Match, The Weather Channel, ESPN and more.

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