Sound Data: Sonic Branding Research on Top Car Companies

by Lauren McGuire, President of Made Music Studio


Data is sexy.. 

People look to good data to help them understand, or tell, the story – to help make sense of things, to create convincing arguments, to justify their purchasing decisions, and more. This is true across all industries, from politics to medical research to marketing. Brands increasingly depend on data analytics to inform their creative, marketing and product designs. And in our world of sonic branding and audio logos, our brand partners frequently seek an audio research solution to help them better understand the impact of their logo or audio identity on consumers and audiences. But, not all data is created equal. And this is definitively the case when it comes to the blossoming world of audio research.  

First, the basics. We know our reaction to sound is primarily subconscious, yet there is a growing number of audio platforms, technology groups and agencies that are marketing research soley based on conscious response to sound and other qualitative data. Unfortunately, these methodologies are flawed. Basing brand decisions on incomplete and selective research undermines the importance of our efforts at Made Music to create quantifiable value and connection between customers and brands.  

It may surprise you to learn that conscious consumer response to a sonic logo (“Do you like this sound?” or “Would you want to hear it again?”) has little correlation to how it will affect overall brand appeal 

The reality is, a sonic identity (even a sound people say they like) can actually hurt your brand 

What brands need is a methodology that isolates and quantifies the subconscious response to their sonic identity in the context of their overall brand: identity, experience and perception. The reality is, a sonic identity (even a sound people say they like) can actually hurt your brand 

With our research partner, Sentient Decision Science, we employ implicit association testing through the patented technology, Sentient Prime, to measure subconscious reaction to sound in combination with conscious metrics. Our initial work showed that 86% correlation between subconscious response and your conscious desire to engage — or not — with that experience or brand again.  

If you want a deep dive into the methodology and tech, I’ll send you to the experts at Sentient there is so much to dive into there. But here’s a look into our automotive research study as an example of how implicit association testing really works.  

These studies were designed to measure the increased emotional appeal of auto brands who have both sonic and visual logos, in combination and individually.  With 100 being neutral emotional response, here is the subconscious response data as it relates to the visual logos in isolation of five top car companies: 

Almost all in positive territory, but varying degrees of emotional appeal. 

Here is the data set on the sonic identity only: 

All positive in isolation! Wellcrafted sonic or musical designs that are found appealing as an element alone. 

Now put them together: 

  • Check out BMW. Sound can trigger a positive emotional reaction in isolation, but decrease the appeal of the brand in context. While the moody BMW sonic logo is pleasing and well-crafted, it feels more like a Batman sound effect than a luxury car brand’s sonic ID and it damages brand appeal. They stopped using this logo, and you can see why.  
  • Look at Ford. The opposite is also true sound can trigger a neutral response in isolation, but deliver a lift in brand appeal when paired with a visual logo. That metal hitting the bed of a truck, yeah, that feels like Ford.  
  • Nissan and Audi – very different brands with very different sonic approaches that elevate the emotional appeal of the brand, higher than a visual logo alone. Who doesn’t want an overall lift in emotional appeal? 

This is just one vertical and a toe in the water of the methodology. Different verticals require nuanced strategies, because subconscious response varies by industry. Insurance, for example, is a whole different ball game. Shopping for insurance may not trigger the same positive emotions as car-buying affecting the brand perception and emotional appeal. Consumer emotions toward the vertical itself may impact their subconscious feelings about the brands within them.  

The simple takeaway that I find so exciting and challenging is that a sonic identity has consequencespositive and negative. Does believing in this methodology make Made Music Studio’s job harder as creators of sonic identities? Yeah, it does. But, understanding the importance of consumers subconscious responses in the context of brand experience is doing what’s right for our clients. And it’s what makes our work iconic and enduring. Like the iPhone or the Eames Chair, we want to create commercial art worthy of our clients’ time and investment for years to come.  

Anything else is a musical crap shoot. 

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