How Sonic Branding Transforms Brand Experience

Technology now touches almost every experience we have. Smart tech is increasingly how brands target, find and captivate us, which makes humanizing it so important. Sound is one of the most powerful tools we can use to do this, and getting it right matters more than ever.

In the new age of audio-first and audio-only experiences, the paradigm of connecting to people has dramatically shifted. In a smart speaker, voice-assisted world, things will only get noisier. So now we’re in a new Wild West of sound where invisible brands are competing in whole new territory.

Adding to the confusion are the many new players entering the marketplace, making it a challenge for marketers to educate themselves. Platform-based solutions and technology companies ranging from Google to Pandora, from Apple to iHeartmedia are all now in the voice and Sonic Branding space. Some of these players, along with some agencies, are focused on tactical solutions over concept-driven, creative approaches to the work. It makes for a confusing landscape.

Many miss the point. Sonic Branding is notabout trying to find the perfect three or four notes to add onto a commercial. It’s not a science project or a musical thesis. Real Sonic Branding is about uncovering the ‘soul’ of your brand and using sound in a distinctive, expressive way to help people feelyour brand, everywhere. And the truth is, it’s actually notabout the sound. It’s about the experience that it creates. Sound is the medium.

Real Sonic Branding is the creation of compelling commercial art that people live with every day — the sonic equivalent of the Nike Swoosh, the iPhone or an Eames Chair. The only work that matters is work that is iconic and stands the test of time.

Now, you may be thinking, I know I have to invest in sonic branding, but I don’t know the first thing about sound or why it’s valuable. But you know more than you think you do. Think about the development and use of a sonic identity system the same way you think about a visual identity. Everything you know about the impact of visual branding runs parallel with real sonic branding.

And much like the process of creating best-in-class visual brand identities, iconic sonic identities are composed, recorded and produced with the same rigor and creative excellence. Great Sonic Branding helps brands score experiences in ways that are useful and emotionally satisfying to people. It’s scoring brands just as composers like me score a movie, moment to moment.

We’ve been over-saturated with visuals, but sound is more often an afterthought, even though when done right, it creates a deeper level of experiential, emotional and connection to who we are as human beings. From an evolutionary perspective, before we learned to make fire in order to seewhat was behind the brush, we first heard twigs snapping and learned to differentiate between friend and threatening foe. We’re revisiting something primal — the need for sound to be how we perceive and absorb the world. There’s an opportunity now to get it right; to use sound in meaningful ways before the soundscape becomes even more cluttered.

As we fully enter the age of audio and audio-first experiences, how sound is created as part of these experiences will be the factor that makes or breaks emotional connections with audiences and customers.

We’re using voice and gestures to activate everything, which means the familiar visual symbols that are typically used to help us navigate the world have disappeared. Without employing sound, there are no opportunities for brands to get credit for what they provide. A more tech-intertwined existence means designers and marketers have to bring sound into focus.

Think about mobile and online pay options. Before credit cards dissolved into digital wallets, you saw the logo of your bank or credit company a few times a day — when you pull out a card to pay for coffee, groceries or make an online purchase. Now, you may go the entire week without needing a tangible method of payment. Several financial institutions have moved quickly to roll out new sonic identities as the need for the physical card diminishes. Where is brand attribution and awareness when it’s masked behind a double-click, facial recognition or a voice skill?

Apple, Disney and AT&T have been at the frontend of scoring their brand experiences for years, and are among the most beloved and admired brands in the world. This isn’t coincidental. By looking at sound and music as integral to their brand’s identity, they consistently provide memorable and special experiences for their customers.

When you score the brand experience, you’re taking the time to think about telling your story moment-by-moment. By doing so, you’re creating a visceral, emotional connection to your brand. Akin to how a film score helps unfold a narrative arc, we often look at scoring the rest of the world the same way we score movies and TV to support and drive storytelling.

From a human perspective, scoring experiences can also downsize the amount of explaining you need to do to help people understand a product or service. Humans experience voice as a foreground sound that demands our attention and generates a heavy cognitive load. We don’t juggle a ton of this kind of input very well.

Imagine if every time you unlocked your door, it said, “I’m open!” A world where every inanimate object talks to us would be terrible. More voice is simply notthe answer.

We need to design from humans outward. Technology should be designed and adjusted to the human experience, and not with the expectation that the burden is on us as humans to constantly adapt to unnatural, inauthentic behavior. By humanizing technology, we can have richer, more nuanced and personal experiences in the world. It’s not about producing ear candy, it’s about curating the experience. We can create beautiful sound and music, but if it doesn’t create experiences that people desire to repeat over and over again, it’s useless.

When you get it right, it’s both form and function. Your brand can help people simplify their lives, help them know what it is they like and how to get to it — without ever being seen.

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