Teemu Yli-Hollo // April 27 2016

Audio Branding – If You’re Not Doing It, You’re Failing At Marketing

Would you like to have a strong and recognisable brand for your company? Do you have a logo? Does your company have brand guidelines for the colours you use? You might even have your slogan or values posted on your website with your font, right? Can you afford to have any oversights with these to make the most out of your marketing efforts?

Probably, and hopefully, you’re nailing all of the above. But wait, is sight our only sense? What do you sound like?

These questions need to be asked because there is a crucial yet greatly undervalued part of marketing. Music and sound shouldn’t be just something you add at the last minute once everything else is ready, but an essential and strategic part of the whole branding process. Through conscious sonic choices it is possible to build lasting, effective and emotionally engaging branding and marketing.

The approach which is nowadays known as sensory branding was widely discussed by Martin Lindstrom in his book Brand Sense already in 2007. It marked a paradigm shift from one sense to five. According to Lindstrom’s report, 83% of all marketing expenditure globally has been focused on what is visual. This means that sight is drastically overemphasised and the power of the other four senses has been largely undervalued. Nowadays there’s robust scientific evidence that the way we form our opinions is inherently multisensory.

Hearing is the second major sense after sight, yet an extremely overlooked topic in marketing. 41% of consumers consider sound as a central element of brand communication, according to Lindstrom. Nevertheless, just 12% of marketing budgets are spent on it.

A failure to utilise consistent sound in marketing, and the inability to provide unique recognisable sound, mean that you’re not connecting with 41% of the potential customers in the best possible way. This in turn reveals a drastic lack of understanding of the way consumers perceive brands in the first place.

Unconscious doesn’t mean unimportant

Our relationship with sound is mostly unconscious. We might not be aware of the sound we are creating or being surrounded with. Nevertheless, unawareness of sound doesn’t mean it wouldn’t have an effect on us and our brands. On the contrary, sound provides an excellent way to stand out in a very competitive field of visual marketing for anyone willing to make the effort.

Sound affects…
1. our physiology: sudden noises can make our brain release cortisol and more gentle ones make us relax,
2. our psychology: it powerfully affects our mood,
3. our behaviour: we generally move away from unpleasant sound and towards pleasing sound,
4. and our productivity: depending on the task at hand background sounds can greatly increase or decrease productivity.

In addition, hearing is in many ways also our primary sense. We simply cannot turn our hearing off (compared to closing our eyes). Neither do we have a ‘deaf spot’ because hearing is our primary warning sense. At least subconsciously, we notice everything around us. That’s why hearing is also crucial for our spatial awareness. Hearing is almost a hundred times as sensitive as sight. Nuances that reveal e.g. disappointment, jealousy or devotion can be spotted instantly in words that are otherwise generic. Finally, familiarity of a sound or a piece of music makes us like that particular sound even more – and thus makes our brains release even more oxytocin, lower our stress levels and make us feel safe and comfortable whenever we hear it.

Who wouldn’t want to make their brand stand out more, make their customers feel better and evoke more positive recollections more easily? It makes increasingly less sense why the money and time budgeted for sound is generally quite low.

What does consistent sound really do for marketing?

With consistent sound the impact of visual marketing is increased by over 1000%. This might sound ridiculous, but Oxford University’s Professor Charles Spence has discovered this during his analysis of the inter-relational effects of combinations of senses. Congruent sound increases the impact of visual marketing by 1207%, while incongruent sound decreases that impact by 86%. It’s crazy that so much of all the resources spent on visual branding globally every year gets languished by inconsistent use of sound.

Uniform sound branding also strengthens customer loyalty and emotional connection. Music and soundscapes affect our mood, our physiology, our ability to focus and willingness to stay in a certain location. So whether you are interested in creating the best possible work environment for your team, a unique and emotionally engaging shopping experience or a consistent connection with your audience regardless of the media outlet, focusing on sound marketing and your audio brand should be at the top of your to do list. Because whether it’s conscious or not, your brand will sound like something.

An audio brand is…
• a logo: A sound tag to be used with your logo. Think of e.g. Intel or EA Sports.
• a piece of a melody, a jingle, or a composition. You probably know McDonald’s’ “I’m loving it” and the “Nokia tune”.
• a sound bank. Can you hear the sounds for clicks, buttons, elevators, and public transport announcements?
• a sound environment: Just think of two restaurants or airports – one with terrible acoustics and one with a calm atmosphere. In which one would you rather have a meaningful conversation?
• any music or sound you use in your communication. The background music used in your YouTube videos can make a difference.

Audio identity is simply a deeper and more solid way of approaching sound, cutting through the whole concept of a brand.

The final question remains. Can you afford not to be aware of the sound you are creating? One thing is certain – whether you like it or not, and whether it is conscious or not, your brand will have a sound. The ones who are really making the effort to create a consistent brand sound will benefit from their competitors’ active indifference.

So again, what do you sound like?