It would be unthinkable for a visual brand strategy to consist solely of a logo. How would the brand use distinctive imagery, or typography, or colour? How would it adapt to different touchpoints? And how would this single, standalone icon create emotional connections with its customers?
Marketers know how important it is to create a holistic visual identity. Yet, sound is rarely given the same level of consideration. But the marketing landscape is changing. Brands now need a defined sonic strategy to compete at the top level.
A brief history of brand strategy
There was a time, not too long ago, when product quality was the sure-fire determiner of success. If you made a tastier whisky or a more durable pair of boots, customers would come. And while brands still existed, their role was different. They were badges – a way for businesses to differentiate their products and “brand” them as their own.
Nowadays, companies offer barely-distinguishable products. Standardisation means they had to find new ways to set themselves apart. This shift left functional brand strategy behind. Instead, brands began differentiating themselves with emotional promises – sexiness, happiness, confidence… The role of the brand transitioned from a badge to part of the consumer’s identity.
Fast-forward another few decades and brand strategy is almost unidentifiable from its original definition. Brands are now mediums, storytellers, and curators. They’re concepts and purposes. They’re personalities and experiences. Modern brands are even expected to deliver social purpose and cohesion.
Creating a smashable strategy
Martin Lindstrom introduced the concept of “smashable branding” in his book Brand Sense. To illustrate the idea, he asks you to envisage a Coca-Cola bottle, smashed into dozens of pieces. Even without seeing the logo, you know which brand it belongs to. Lindstrom explains that a brand is not defined by a single asset, but by the sum of its parts. A good brand can be “smashed” and still remain identifiable.
The audio revolution
Many brands realise their “smashable” potential when it comes to visual strategy. But very few brands do the same when it comes to sound.
Compared to visual branding, sonic branding is still in its infancy. So, it’s understandable that marketers might think that a jingle or “sonic logo” is enough. After all, the chances are your competitors haven’t given it much thought either.
But technology, customer expectations, and brand roles are changing fast. We’re in the midst of an “audio revolution”. Smart speaker apps, voice search, and podcasts are growing exponentially. Brands that don’t develop a full, flexible sonic strategy will get left behind.
As with visual branding, a sonic logo is a starting point but it’s limited in what it can achieve by itself. Brands must understand how they use different types of sound – like music and voice. Your teams must know how these assets vary across touchpoints. And different cultures will interpret your sound differently, so multinational brands need regional flexibility.
The benefits of a sonic branding strategy
Designing a full sonic strategy – one that consists of more than a jingle – has useful benefits for your brand.
1. Differentiation. If your business hasn’t given much thought to sound, the chances are it sounds similar to thousands of other brands. As Mark Ritson says, “the first rule of brand should be, first they must know it’s me.”
2. Flexibility. Poorly defined audio won’t have the ability to flex. A good sonic brand has emotional variations, and it’s designed to resonate with its regional audiences.
3. Engagement. Robert Passikoff estimates that “the decision process in brand adoption, engagement and loyalty is 70% emotional.” Strategic, on-brand sound improves positive emotional engagement. On the other hand, selecting the “wrong” sound can actually damage emotional communication.
Talk to an expert
The Sound Agency specialises creating audio strategies for brands. Get in touch for an initial consultation about how we can take your brand to the next level.