Branding is one of the top concerns of CEOs and CMOs, and smart firms are investing as much as ever on branding initiatives — even online. For instance, back in August, eMarketer reported that in the digital area alone, U.S. advertisers will spend approximately “$17.46 billion on branding, or 41.6% of total digital spend. By 2017, [the online] branding spend is expected to grow to $29.33 billion, or a 48.5% share.”
But with most B2B and B2C organizations using virtually the same branding tools, they’re arguably seeing less advantage as a result of their efforts — if they’re realizing any advantage at all.
To gain advantage on this leveled playing field, there’s one powerful branding tool that has been generally overlooked — or perhaps undervalued — by most marketers: sound. With of our increasingly audio-enabled media environment, the strategic use of sound can play an important role in positively differentiating a product or service, enhancing recall, creating preference, building trust, and even increasing sales.
Called audio branding, sonic branding, sound branding, or acoustic branding, cognitive studies show that relevant sounds and musical cues can truly influence people in ways marketers want. According to research presented at the 2012 Audio Branding Congress, congruent sound cues can increase the speed of a visual search for products (a key for success in both online and retail settings), as well as improve the perceived taste of food and wine (PDF).
Some marketers have long employed sound and music as part of their brand experience, including the familiar chime of an Apple Computer launching, the pop of the Snapple lid, and the aggressive howl of a Harley in rev mode.
While these are within the realm of audio branding, the true practices are actually more sophisticated than an isolated packaging or product sound, the singular use of a now quaint jingle at the end of a radio spot, or a discrete audio logo such as the one attached to the Intel inside button.
Rather, audio branding entails the creation of an entire audio language for the brand based on its essence, values, promise, and personality — a language that gets expressed across all touch points, from the web and apps to trade shows to TV to the retail environment and even the product itself. Just as the verbal or visual brand expression is optimized at each medium, the audio expressions are also sensitively adapted across the touch points, so they’re psychologically appropriate to the medium.
The French national railway, SNCF, did just that. They launched an audio branding initiative in 2005 for two key reasons. First, already in competition with airlines, they were beginning to compete with German and Italian railroads. Second, consumers, when asked, associated SNCF with “strikes and delays.”
They started their initiative by conducting a study of the all the audio in their competitive set, revealing a lack of distinctiveness. They then created an audio DNA with the goal of communicating their leadership along with the comfort and caring that distinguished the brand.
It was introduced with a film that drew the connection between the company’s heritage and its new position.
To bring the audio DNA to life, the music was interpreted in various ways. Station messages, for example, took into account travelers’ anxiety. For those, the music was calm and reassuring.
Though the TV end frame uses the same tune, it has a more authoritative sound with more emphasis on rhythm.
The customer service line draws from the same audio DNA but provides surprises and variety to make the wait feel shorter. The now-familiar music was also adapted to the needs of meetings, corporate messages, brand advertising, and communications needs all throughout the company.
While the audio DNA has remained intact, the expression has evolved since its launch, keeping with the developing brand. The first appearance in 2005 had to capture leadership, which led to a dynamic and authoritative musical universe, employing a rhythmic approach and a distinctive sound. Then in 2008, to emphasize its eco-mobility, the instrumentation became more natural and acoustic.
And finally, in 2012, the brand needed to impart its new vision of simple, direct and easy mobility, so sounds were simplified and a whoosh of speed was introduced.
SNCF made a bold decision to give up the usual codes of the category and create something to which no link to the past existed, but that underscored its then current leadership and brand values. As a result, the audio brand has turned into a significant asset for SNCF. For instance, they found that they are correctly identified in testing by 92% of the listeners — and that 88% of these listeners correctly identified the brand upon hearing just two notes. And perhaps more significantly, 71% of them now see the brand as being “attractive” or “very attractive,” and SNCF has experienced an 18% increase in the perception of leadership.
Just as the earliest visual logos and branding programs are iconic today, audio brands will likely become iconic tomorrow. If you do not have an audio brand, the time is now to get started. Done right, your efforts can provide rewards for years to come.brand, Technology_Internet, Sound branding, Communication design