Building a brand identity by creating earworms – companies have been doing it for years. Just think of Nokia’s piano jingle, Intel’s five-note “bong,” or 20th Century Fox’s marching drums and trumpets. Sound and music are essential components of how we interact with and remember marketing messages, and they can help a brand create a deep and affecting relationship with its consumers – one that persists through time, like a song that gets stuck in your head.
Just as a company has a logo and a visual style that differentiate it from its competitors, it must craft a unique sonic identity. This audio DNA should express the brand’s personality across all points of interaction with consumers or customers – from television advertising to call-waiting messages, the music playing in brick-and-mortar stores to the company’s YouTube channel. Yet, many brands neglect their sounds, sending incoherent and inconsistent aural messages.
Martin Pazzani, former CEO of leading commercial music and sound branding company Elias Arts, emphasizes the need for brands to have a thought-out sonic branding strategy. “Most companies don’t have a consistent, integrated audio identity the way they have a visual identity,” Pazzani tells Fast Company. “A company may use one type of music on TV, another for radio, a third for hold music and yet another sound for the actual product. The result is a schizophrenic brand that does nothing to reinforce a brand identity. It’s plain and simple noise.”
Pazzani points to a crucial component of a successful audio identity: consistency. Companies that are able to deliver the same sonic experience across different channels are much more likely to create a deeper and more memorable relationship with consumers. Take Apple, for example. The “whoosh” sound that plays every time you send an email is consistent across all its products, whether you’re working on a Mac, an iPad, or an iPhone. In fact, its ubiquity has made it synonymous with not just Apple, but with the very act of sending email.
Sounds can either make you love or hate a brand; irritate you or delight you. Joel Beckerman, award-winning producer, composer, and founder of Manhattan-based sonic branding agency Man Made Music, has spent a lot of time treading this line. (If you’ve ever heard the six-note chime at the end of AT&T commercials, you’ve heard Beckerman’s work.) His book, Sonic Boom: How Sound Transforms The Way We Think, Feel, and Buy, illustrates the power of thoughtfully designed sound and its ability to create results.
In Beckerman’s view, creating obnoxious noise is the worst thing marketers can do – nobody wants to have a message pushed at them. Sonic branding messages that are obtrusive – think about embedded video ads that begin playing automatically – are frustrating and forgettable. “The reason I wrote this book was to start a movement saying that the sounds in our lives should elevate our experience,” Beckerman tells NPR. “They should benefit us.”
While visual branding still requires a degree of active engagement on the part of the user, sonic branding can convey an emotive message or association subconsciously. With our ever-shrinking attention spans, sound and music offer avenues for brands to connect with their consumers in more subtle ways. All brands are heard somewhere, whether in a commercial, in a store, over the phone, or online – sonic branding is merely the act of consciously managing that sound, building a narrative, and cutting through all the proverbial and literal noise.