Does your brand have a signature sound? Has your brand developed an original sound effect, song, or jingle that your customers are meant to associate with your product or service? If so, you’ve engaged in sonic branding.
Sonic branding isn’t quite as well-known as the concept of visual branding, but for many companies and small businesses, it’s just as important. Let’s take a look at what sonic branding is, how it enhances the brand experience, and whether your business should consider branding with sound.
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What is Sonic Branding?
Sonic branding refers to the sounds or songs associated with a brand, product, or service. The association isn’t created organically by fans, followers, or consumers. Instead, it’s developed or adopted by the brand as part of an intentional strategy that helps its audience associate those sounds with the brand.
In short, sonic branding is the sound of your brand. It’s the default ringtone on the Apple iPhone. The McDonald’s “I’m Lovin’ It” ditty. It’s the “Intel Inside” jingle or the XBox 360 startup sound. It’s why (if you’re a Millennial or older) you won’t be able to stop singing, “Call Goldberg! 800-600-6014,” for the rest of the day. (You’re welcome.)
Sonic branding is another layer of your brand experience that draws in potential customers and helps make your brand memorable. It’s most effective when utilized uniformly across all marketing channels.
How Does Sonic Branding Enhance the Brand Experience?
When your customers experience your brand through a specific sound or song, they learn to associate those distinctive sounds with your company, product, or service. If done well, your customers will immediately think of the song when they think of your brand–or think of your brand when they hear the song or sound.
The sounds you choose to sonically brand your company should provide a quick glimpse of your brand story and DNA. You can convey so much through sound and music that you may not be able to say through copy. If you want to help potential customers feel a certain way about your brand, you can get there faster through sound.
The sounds you use as part of your sonic brand can vary. Maybe a jingle with lyrics could help your potential customers remember your business (“Go to The General and save some time,” anyone?). A simple sequence of notes or sound effects could enhance a high-end product experience. (Maybe I’m easy to amuse, but I never get tired of the sound my Macbook makes when I plug it in.)
Is your brand peppy and upbeat? Use a distinctive, happy little ding for your app that users come to associate with your brand. What if your company is a more serious brand–maybe medical or legal–that advertises on TV and radio? Try using music with a hopeful, uplifting tone that communicates trustworthiness.
Refreshing and Rebranding with Sonic Branding
If you’re looking to refresh or rebrand your business, you can use sonic branding as a component of that process. Rebranding with sound can help invite consumers into your new brand identity, particularly if you’re making significant changes. For example, last year, Mastercard spent $15 million on a new sonic brand.
On the other hand, if you’re not making significant changes, updating your signature sounds during a brand refresh retains the familiar while keeping the brand modern and relevant. Let’s look at a few examples.
- The NBC jingle. NBC’s three-note jingle is one of the most distinctive sounds in modern media. It has been updated over the years as technology has advanced, but the song hasn’t changed. You can listen to an early version here, then check out one of the more recent iterations.
- The Mac startup sound. As a 90s kid, I couldn’t help including the Mac Startup sound. Here’s the one I remember from computer class in 8th grade. Now, listen to this sleek update. Notice the sound has slightly changed, but retains a similar feel.
- The Walt Disney Pictures intro. Disney movies have had a series of distinctive intro jingles over the years. You can listen to a series of nostalgic intros here, then check out one of the most recent introductions.
- The default iPhone ringtone. iPhone has had a series of distinctive default ringtones since 2007, starting with the original Marimba ringtone. In 2017, the company rebranded its default sound to “Reflection”. You can listen to that here.
Creating Nostalgia Through Sonic Branding
If you felt a little nostalgic listening to any of the examples above, that’s by design. Sonic branding can make a brand so memorable that it becomes a permanent part of the customer’s life at that point in time. And from then on, they’ll always remember the sound of your brand and associate it with that time in their lives.
If you’re a 90s kid like me, there are a number of sounds that will throw you straight back to your elementary or middle school days in a heartbeat. For me, some of those sounds include:
- The Windows 95 startup jingle (in addition to the Mac sound–I associated Mac with school and Windows with home)
- AOL’s signature “You’ve Got Mail” notification (and who didn’t feel like a million bucks every time they heard this?)
- The SEGA Genesis startup jingle
When paired with a memorable brand, a strong sonic brand becomes part of pop culture. It can trigger memories in loyal customers for years to come. And, its familiarity can even help keep them coming back for more.
(What brand sounds make you feel nostalgic? Drop us a comment and let us know.)
Should Your Business Incorporate Sonic Branding?
While sonic branding is highly effective, it’s not appropriate for every business. So should you incorporate sounds into your brand? Here are a few scenarios where sonic branding makes sense if:
- Your brand uses or appears in audio or video media (social media video, television, radio, streaming audio, streaming video)
- You use recorded audio or video media to advertise your brand
- You host a podcast or vlog
- Your company makes a device that would be complimented or enhanced by incorporating original sounds into its functionality (think computers, cell phones, or home appliances)
- You’re an author producing audiobooks–a signature page transition or audiobook intro (think, “This is Audible”) could be right for you
- Your customer service team relies on hold music when customers contact the call center
Remember, sonic branding consists of original sounds that have been specially developed to suit your brand. Leaning on generic sounds in your brand (such as canned hold music, default sound effects, or unlicensed music) is not the same thing as sonic branding.
If you want your brand to be associated with a specific tune or song, you’ll need to work with an audio producer or sonic branding expert in order to develop sounds that make sense for your brand.
Sonic branding helps to fix brands, products, and services in the minds of consumers–sometimes for a lifetime. If you choose to incorporate sound into your brand identity, the process requires developing original sounds that convey your unique DNA to consumers. But, when done well, sonic branding is well worth the time and effort.
Does your brand incorporate sound? How so? Do you plan to make sonic branding part of your brand DNA? Drop us a comment and let us know!
Featured image via VectorMine / shutterstock.com
Thanks for such an insightful article Haley. As a professional voice over artist, I’m seeing how impactful Sonic Branding can be and is becoming. I think with the newest named generation, Generation Alpha, this generation will be most affected by Sonic Branding and this is a great opportunity to rebrand with Sonic Branding or start incorporating it into your company. This is a generation that was born into the tech world. So as early as infants, they’ve been influenced by sound from toys, to baby monitors, to iPADS, Alexa, storytelling apps, etc. As they become productive members of society I do think Sonic Branding will be one of the major ways this generation makes decisions on what products and services to purchase. Thanks for the article!
Nice article. Yes. Sometime earworms are good. LOL. I would also like to know where to go and how to integrate a sound for my advertising. Where might these instructions be found along with any pricing etc.?
Thank you for this very interesting post.
I would appreciate an instruction manual to integrate a sound to the introduction of a site for example.