Reinforce Your Brand Identity With Sound

Seth Horowitz, a neuroscientist and assistant professor of psychology at Brown University, has written extensively about the way sound impacts our brains. Besides acting as an early warning system, he says, “It’s also our emotional driver. It’s our attentional driver. Everything you hear has some kind of impact on you and changes how you respond to the rest of the world.”[1]

And sound processing happens at incredible speeds. It takes only 0.05 seconds to recognize a sound, while the brain requires at least 0.25 seconds to process something visual.[2]

As a marketer, you’re likely focused on visual elements to establish and represent your brand identity. Choosing the correct colors and designing a unique logo that captures the essence of your brand can offer clues as to what your brand stands for at the same time. It teaches consumers how to recognize you in a crowded marketplace.

And visual branding isn’t going away. In fact, these recent statistics indicate that video marketing continues to grow:

  • 93% of marketers use video marketing [3]
  • 94% of marketers believe video has helped consumers better understand their products and services [3]
  • 87% of marketers feel that video is responsible for gains in website traffic and that video on landing pages can increase conversions by 80% [4]

But by incorporating sound into your brand strategy—also known as sonic branding—you give your current and potential customers another way to use their senses to develop an understanding of your brand, a way to connect to it emotionally, and to make it easier to remember.

Sonic branding goes further than simply selecting the right music for your ad or social media campaign. All of the sounds connected to your brand make an impression on those who encounter it. It’s the music a customer hears when on hold, a unique ringtone, or the three notes that allow millions of people to instantly identify you (the NBC chimes, for example). Sonic branding must be weaved into every possible customer access point.

Examples Of Successful Sonic Branding

These brands have created sound imagery that many—if not most—people can correctly identify:

  • Even if you’ve not been to a movie theater recently, but there’s still a good chance you recognize the buildup of sound into one strong deep note. That sound imagery belongs to THX Sound System from Lucas Films Ltd.
  • How about that popular streaming service that plays a “ta dum” sound when you log in? That’s Netflix, of course.
  • Then there’s the five-note closing on every McDonald’s commercial that began with the introduction of its “I’m Lovin’ It” slogan in 2003. 

These sounds may do more than simply help you remember the brand connected to them. They’re likely to evoke an emotional response. Perhaps the THX deep note conjures up the feeling of excitement you get when you see a new feature film in the theater—complete with popcorn. The Netflix “ta dum” may make you feel relaxed and ready to settle in with some escapist entertainment from the comfort of your own home. And “ba da da da dah” may make your mouth water for French fries.

MasterCard is another brand that has made a huge investment in establishing a sonic brand identity. The credit card company understands the growing role of sonic branding, and it has developed a melody that is used at every consumer touchpoint.

What’s the Best Way For Brands To Begin Developing Sonic Identities?

Start building your sonic brand identity by creating a sonic logo for your brand. A sonic logo is a sound that always travels with your brand and can be incorporated into all of your content that uses audio. Here are some best practices for getting started.

Discover Which Brand Sounds You May Already Have in Your Arsenal

You don’t need to start from scratch. Start from where you are.

If you’re using any kind of audio material in your content marketing—or even in internal video communication—audit those sounds to determine if they are a good fit for your brand identity. Look beyond traditional concepts of music and sound. Short clips of speech can serve as sonic signatures you can use to sign off at the end of a video.

Look To Other Brands For Inspiration But Make Sure Your Sound Is Unique

Even though you may be tempted to carve out something different from an already successful sonic brand logo, that’s a bad idea for two reasons:

Riffing on another brand’s sound can hurt your brand’s ability to stand out. If your sonic brand logo sounds too similar to one that’s already established, you risk handing all of the benefits over to the brand that got there first.

Just because another brand is seeing success with its sonic logo doesn’t mean it will be the right fit for your brand. Concentrate on trying to distill your unique identity into a few seconds of sound that will align with your business goals and mission.

Aim To Arouse Emotions

Here’s another good opportunity to survey how other brands are using sonic branding. What emotions do you feel when you hear their sounds? Can you identify specific elements that led you to feel that way? Maybe it’s reflective of a particular genre of music, or there’s something about the tonal quality that sounds either nostalgic or futuristic.

Spend some time on this exercise because if you get it right, it could be very powerful for your brand. But if your sound doesn’t connect with consumers the way you intended, you could end up turning off your current or potential customers.

Simplicity Is Key

After auditing your brand and others, you’ll probably have some ideas about how your sonic brand logo should be designed. And if you’re working with a team, you’ll want to give others the chance to provide their feedback.

Processing all of the team’s ideas will be complicated unless you first develop a strategy. Each team member should be briefed on what the brand wants to achieve with a sonic brand logo, and all must agree that the sound should be simple and easy to digest. If you establish at the outset that the sound should last for only a few seconds, there won’t be time to complicate it.

Developing A Sonic Brand Identity Will Benefit Your Brand

Although video marketing is on the upswing, remember that audio strategies are also gaining influence. Just think about the way smart speakers and voice search have changed consumer behavior, and you’ll realize that your brand should take advantage of every tool that’s available to help consumers remember it, increase engagement, communicate your brand’s mission, and stand apart from your competition.