Why Developing Sonic Branding is a Sound Strategy

FLM Harvest

The idea of a catchy, clever product jingle has been used since the inception of radio. As television came of age, these familiar earwigs were played over idyllic, family-friendly scenes accompanied by brand logos for easier recognition out in the wild. Fast forward to present day where there is more media than ever, elevating the need for brands to have a memorable, unified voice. Sonic logos are a way to cut across all media to adhere a brand together.

What is a sonic logo?

The sonic logo is a short-form audio expression of a brand’s identity. It’s usually a musical note or series of notes that captures the essence of a product, service or company and gives it a personality.

For example, “Bada Ba Ba Ba, I’m loving it” is synonymous with McDonald’s and evokes a certain emotion, expectation and craving for a burger and fries. The static TV fuzz of the HBO intro announces exclusive content and the potential for non-cable scenarios. Also, think of the angelic voiced start-up sound of a Mac or the sound of the empty trash icon.

How important can a few seconds be?

Pandora recently developed a sonic logo, something Spotify and Apple music currently don’t have. After six months and more than 200 different audio logos, a three-second sound was chosen. At first blush that may seem excessive, but it took Visa over a year to come up with a sound that lasts less than a second. Thanks to that year of strategic development, Visa’s positive brand perception increased 14%. Recall of the Visa sonic logo also increased, and consumers who experienced sensory branding while paying with Visa were 12% more likely to say that the merchant is interested in security.

Moreover, a survey conducted by brand specialists PHMG suggests 60% of consumers recall audio cues more than they do visuals on a screen. So, what we say tonally matters just as much as what we see.

Jingle or sonic logo?

Brands have been using jingles and slogans for decades, but since media consumption has expanded beyond radio and TV, sonic logos are designed for multi-platform consumers listening to podcasts, streaming music and smart speakers.

In 2016, Garner Media predicted 30% of searches would be screenless by 2020, and that prediction seems to be holding water. Currently, 65% of people who own an Amazon Echo or Google Home can’t imagine going back to the days before they had a smart speaker.

How do we select sonic logos?

The first step in developing a sonic logo is to conduct a sonic branding audit. What is the current audio identity of the brand? What tracks or sounds are being used for things like radio spots, podcasts, pre-roll, convention video, sales presentations, etc. Is there a signature signoff line in reoccurring segments? More than likely, a client has more of a signature brand tone than they realize.

After hearing the soundscape, it’s time to think emotive. The goal is to have people associate the brand with a positive feeling and keep it simple. Don’t just add more noise to an over-saturated marketplace.

Another thing to keep top of mind is imitation. A helpful exercise is listening to sonic logos with clients and asking how they feel or reviewing examples of what they like or admire in other brands. But, if the potential choice sounds remotely like another one, it only reminds listeners of the original. Choose a sound that highlights the brand’s position in the marketplace with unique tones.

When given this blank slate, it’s no wonder it takes months or years to compose the signature sound of a brand. Developing a sonic logo is like designing any other component of your identity. It takes time and a few late nights to get it right but the end result is a brand experience that’s memorable for eyes, ears and everything in between.

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