By Colleen Fahey
Sonic branding as a discipline is still consolidating its vocabulary. For example, in 2017, I co-authored a book called “Audio Branding”, but now I use the phrase “sonic branding” for the practical reason that that’s what it tends to be called in recent RFPs.
Here are some of the words we use at Sixième Son in the U.S. and Canada:
- Sonic Branding: This is how you sound to the world. You want people to recognize your sonic brand no matter where they hear it, whether their eyes are open or closed, whether they’re listening to a radio spot, shopping at one of your locations, waiting on hold with your customer service center, or watching a how-to video. To achieve this goal, you must deploy a system of sound, music and voice that conveys the essence of the brand at each touchpoint. It should be managed so that your stores, your ads, your service line, and your customer support don’t sound like four totally different brands. Sonic branding has also been called audio branding, music branding, sound branding, and acoustic branding. The jury is still out as to where the English-speaking world will land, but today my guess is “sonic branding.”
- Sonic DNA: A short, under one minute, original composition that captures the values, personality, and core essence of the brand and defines the musical vocabulary of instruments, tempo, melody, and textures that the brand will use across multiple audio touchpoints. It’s your musical brand bible.
- Sonic Logo: The hardest working part of your Audio DNA, your logo, appears at the end of every piece of communication. It can stand alone and also makes for the perfect partner to your visual logo. To describe these short 2 to 3 second sounds, you might also hear the word “mnemonic.” But the original meaning of “mnemonic” refers to memory, not meaning, so we feel this usage is weak and doesn’t capture the goals of a logo. At other times, people say “sting,” which sounds as if its role is attention-grabbing. But a logo is more profound. It performs the aforementioned functions, but also conveys brand values and personality.
- Sonic Style Guide: This handy piece catalogs all the elements in your sonic library that are based on your Audio DNA – it gives you the rules of the road. Some Style Guides are interactive so employees, partners, and agencies can hear samples of each piece.
- Sonic Touchpoints: These are the many points of employee and customer contact that are audio-enabled and create chances for big and small brand experiences. A shared audio identity unifies them and their cumulative effect on brand coherence is greater than the sum of its parts.
- Branded Content: As with any show on TV or radio, a recognizable intro, a variety of on-brand musical interstitials and a memorable “outro” helps your audiences remember that your brand provided the content without banging them over the head with repetitive announcements.
- Customer Service Line: Branded music for pre-pickup and on-hold aims to give your callers brand experiences that match their needs. In the best cases, it also discourages them from hanging up. Sometimes your on-hold experiences also include ambient sounds and scripted recordings by voices chosen to capture the personality of your brand. Callers come into on-hold scenarios with varying personal situations, for example: reporting the death of a loved one, getting snarled up in tax preparation or simply requesting information. Callers may need your music to be soothing, steadying or diverting depending on your business and its audience.
- Meetings and Events: In meetings there’s a real chance to subtly immerse your employees or other audiences in the sound of the brand. As attendees walk into your meeting or join it virtually, they may first hear anticipatory background music, and later, more energetic music signaling that the event is about to begin. A further rise in energy introduces the key speaker, while branded musical transitions between each speaker let people know there’s a change coming and, finally, exit music has them walking out still feeling the emotion of the event.
- Environmental Sound Design: This refers to soundscapes for physical spaces like malls, spas, airports or expos where music and sound are used to create the environmental experience you aspire to on behalf of your visitor. For instance, the soundscape might be designed to make the audience feel comfortable, relaxed, awestruck or amused. If you already have an audio brand, you can drop hints of it into the sound of your environment.
- Licensed Music: Typically, this is music that has been created for entertainment purposes rather than for branding. To use it on behalf of a brand, you have to pay a licensing fee. One thing that prudent marketers must also do when using licensed music is ensure that competitors aren’t using that same piece as well. You can use licensed music even if you have a sonic brand, but you’ll probably use it less, because it doesn’t add to your brand equity. You can ask your sonic branding agency to create a tiny transition – possibly an atonal one – to bridge you out of the licensed music and into your sonic logo, or you can leave a small silence between the licensed piece and the sonic logo. Normally, we’d recommend scoring the communication with a composition based on your own Sonic DNA.
All of these aspects together combine to make up your brand’s overall sonic identity.
The bad news about your sonic identity is that you have one whether you design it or not. If you don’t manage it, your how-to videos may play generic needle-drop music, your TV commercials may feature 80’s pop and your customer service line may be driving callers mad with a repetitive short loop.
When you’re assessing your brand with your ears, the phrases above can help you direct your attention. We hope this glossary will help guide you to hear your brand to its fullest.