30-second summary:

  • The sound of a brand is just as important as the brand’s visual identity. Brands should consider sonic branding from the very beginning as an integral part of the design process.
  • Owned music strengthens brand recall and is a recession-proof solution to expensive licensing fees.
  • Rely on data when faced with musical decisions; personal taste may be subjective, but data-driven, consumer-facing analysis is not.
  • Strategic and consistent sonic asset implementation is key to driving marketing returns and impacting next-gen consumers.

Michele Arnese: Sonic Branding 101Sonic branding can be an intimidating topic for CMOs and decision-makers. The root of intimidation surrounding this topic stems from the subjectivity that music often provokes in the creative process; this also applies to branding. Thanks to advancements in technology, we are finally able to have data to back up creative decisions. In a world overflowing with noise, cutting through the cacophony can be an arduous task.

To simplify and demystify the topic of sound branding, here are four steps to consider when approaching the subject of sound.

Step 1: Marry visual design with sound composition in the branding process

Sonic Branding 101: Step 1Imagine if a brand decided to launch with no visual identity but instead crafted a personality solely around sound. This simply would not happen in the modern advertising and marketing world. Herein lies the problem when separating visual design from the sound branding process; a thoughtfully crafted visual has no lift without acutely designed sonic.

The two driving forces are meant to harmonize, elevating brand recognition, perception, and recall.

When brands kickstart a redesign, new product launch, brand campaign, or any myriad of activations, they should ask themselves:

  • What will this sound like?
  • What environment will this ad be experienced in?
  • Which consumers are we trying to reach?

Sensory marketing, targeting through sight, touch, smell, taste, and hearing, has been proven to create stronger bonds with consumers. Specifically, sonic brand cues improve the likelihood of brand attention by 8.53 times, making them the most effective asset a brand can invest in. When sound is combined with other senses, for example, taste, a richer, multisensory experience can be delivered, leading to heightened memory recall.

Step 2: Invest in owned music to build brand equity 

Sonic Branding 101: Step 2Brands often make the mistake of investing exorbitant amounts of money into licensing, only to briefly rent said song in hopes the artists’ cultural impact will transfer through some form of brand-orientated osmosis. There is only one surefire way for brands to build equity through sound.

They must create owned sonic assets. These should be flexible enough to evolve, and memorable enough to generate brand recall across all audible touchpoints.

Step 3: Dissociate personal taste from data-driven insights

Sonic Branding 101: Step 3Working in music can be challenging, especially in the Advertising, Marketing, and Branding industry. Steadfast, yet often unfounded musical opinions tend to run rampant across the sector. The key to this roadblock lies in quantifiable data and insights. When assessing how a brand should sound, it is important to ask the below questions to distance personal taste from actionable sonic targets:

  • How will the consumer perceive this product or service?
  • What core emotion is the brand attempting to convey?
  • How can sound influence this emotional connection?
  • Can you facilitate this connection with genre-specific productions?

Sonically speaking, the best translation of brand ethos into sound comes with the implementation of a sonic brand strategy, rather than costly single licensing, as mentioned in Step 2. Personally crafted assets allow for total brand side control, alongside thorough AB testing to ensure specific consumer reactions. The recommendations given involve market research or the use of Sonic Tools like amp’s Sonic Hub. These suggestions are not meant to subvert creativity or expert evaluation. They are in place to tie sonic strategy to data-driven insights.

Step 4: Implement sonic strategy across all touchpoints

Sonic Branding 101: Step 4Sonic assets are only effective if brands implement them in a consistent and repeatable manner. Many brands around the world sound fantastic but struggle with implementation across digital channels. Investing in copyrighted music has many limitations and risks compared to creating original music for your brand.

How should brands approach the buy versus create music decision?

Culturally comprehensive and fully integrated usage is an absolute must when it comes to sonic branding. This proves especially true when targeting younger generations. According to Spotify’s 2022 “Culture Next” Survey, 70% of Gen-Z’s and Millennials reported that they enjoy it when brands have a discernible sound. Showing up sonically across social media channels, podcasts, YouTube, TV, and additional touchpoints is crucial when courting the next generation of consumers.

An important first step in the implementation process involves a deep understanding of how consumers interact on different social platforms. Brands should show up across all digital platforms. But remember that ill-fitting sound can dismantle any previously effective inroads they have made. Increasingly, we are seeing short-form melodic content succeeding across a range of digital touchpoints. A successful brand sonic identity is one that brands can translate across all platforms, even down to a few properly arranged notes.

From sonic asset repositories to the creation of new sonic assets using media and production automation, brands should understand that a sonic identity is something that lives and breathes in the implementation. The devil is in the sonic detail.

2023 will be sonic

These solutions and suggestions should provide a starting point and structure to help differentiate your brand in a crowded, and oftentimes very cluttered sonic environment. More brands are considering their sound than ever before. Indeed, some companies are even hiring Chief Music Officers to oversee sonic operations. Even in traditionally muted industries, sonic-conscious companies outperform silent ones. We see ownable and flexible sonic assets as the key to targeting next-gen audiences, and as a result, expect to see brands from all sectors migrating to a more harmonic horizon.

Michele Arnese is a self-driven strategic and creative thinker with a strong entrepreneurial approach. He founded the worldwide leading Sonic Branding Agency amp in 2009. The industry recognizes Michele as one of the world’s foremost experts, with clients including Mercedes-Benz, Mastercard, Deloitte, Porsche, BBVA, Geberit, BMW, UniCredit, MINI, Triumph, The Linde Group. He has a range of international awards for his work with amp (among others, four Red Dot Awards in a row and an ADC in silver). He is a member of the prestigious Audio Branding Society and Guest Professor at the renowned design university “NABA / Nuova Accademia delle Belle Arti in Milan. Here, he teaches Sound Branding for the master’s certificate in Sound Design.

Further insights into sonic branding and sonic analysis of the world’s most reputable brands can be found via AMP’s editorial publications, amplify (the first-ever sonic branding magazine), and Best Audio Brands (a yearly index and ranking of brands based on their sonic performance).

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