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Why we’re half-way to a world of audio branding

05 Aug 2019  |  Michele Arnese 
Why we’re half-way to a world of audio branding

Brands must acknowledge the need for a 360 audio strategy which can stand on its own feet, writes Michele Arnese - instead of one that's just “nice to have” in a visual world

Sound has always been a vital part of the brand experience, with numerous academic studies showing that brand engagement is far stronger when audio is treated as an equal and essential aspect of the brand.

However, with audio communication on the rise (Gartner predicts 30% of our purchases will be screenless by 2020), the demand from consumers for audio brand experiences is only going to increase. As such, even those brands with well-established visual identities will find they get lost in the ether if they cannot make these translate sonically.

That’s not to say brands aren’t beginning to acknowledge the potential benefits audio communication can offer. The number of brands using Amazon Alexa has doubled since last year, while recent research from Dax said that digital audio investment is set to ‘grow significantly’, with a particular focus on podcast advertising. At the same time, our own research found that brands are beginning to think about sound branding in the same way as logos and brand images – i.e. with strategic and creative intent.

There’s still huge scope for improvement though. In fact, of the world’s Top 100 brands – including Disney, Apple and Intel – our analysis showed that just 22% can be said to be using sound efficiently.

So, what do we mean by ‘’efficiently’’? Take McDonalds for instance. The fast food brand – known for its ‘I’m Lovin’ It’ jingle - has been utilising sonic branding practices for decades, contributing to its joint first place in the Best Audio Brands 2019 Ranking.

But while jingles worked well for a time, people need to hear brands as they interact with them - so sonic branding must work across many different scenarios. And with the rise of voice interaction and audio signposting for digital experiences and media content, single sound assets like this are no longer able to offer the quality and flexibility brands need to achieve this.

So, what’s the answer? Well, instead of focusing on the short term, it’s time brands start thinking about the long game.

That means creating a coherent audio strategy which compliments the brand’s visual, social and cultural equity, across all their touchpoints; a soundtrack or score that’s so true to your brand that, should your consumer hear a piece of audio collateral for the first time (an advert soundtrack, for example) the integration of the core sonic DNA makes it identifiable immediately.

This is a relatively new way of looking at sound branding. But when you think about how the movie industry uses sound, it makes sense. Take James Bond for example - each time a new Bond song is revealed, it is immediately clear it is a James Bond asset from the moment the audience listens to it. Despite this, each new version also manages to capture the current zeitgeist. This is because it is drawing on a core sonic DNA, which keeps it anchored but allows for creative flexibility at the same time.

Within the ranking, there are also several brands (such as AXA, Siemens, Coca-Cola, and Shell) that have started to consider the strategic implementation of multiple, owned audio assets that work in unison, resulting in a higher efficiency score. Brands that commission owned music and adaptable sound assets are investing money in their long-term audio identity, instead of simply renting it, as would be the case if they used a popular song or stock music licensing.

The more owned assets a brand uses, the more adaptable and efficient their sonic identity becomes. This is because they are able to flex their assets to different touchpoints more easily, whilst remaining recognisable no matter the context. In order to ensure long-term effectiveness, brands must ensure they are able to adapt their audio assets for different stories, touchpoints and use cases so they aren’t forced to choose between customer experience and customer trust.

We are entering the golden age of audio, where brands have begun to think seriously about how they sound. As sound branding continues to gather steam as a crucial marketing platform and the technology improves, this is only going to get easier. But the first step is for brands to acknowledge the need for a 360 audio strategy which can stand on its own feet, instead of just being a “nice to have” in a visual world.

With this in mind, these are the most important things brands can do to ensure they're ready for the audio revolution: 

1) Think long term – in order to future-proof your brand, it’s important to create an all-encompassing audio strategy that can be tweaked and re-vised for various audible touchpoints, rather than relying on single assets to communicate your identity.

2) Be original – avoid using pop songs for representation, as this does not promote long-term brand salience. Instead, think about what you want to say, and create something unique.

3) Work with experts – the focus from brands up until now has been on refining their visual identities, especially as the digital market has evolved, and the sonic branding market is still in its relative infancy. As such, it’s vital to work with a partner that has kind of experience and expertise required to prepare you for the next frontier of consumer-brand experiences.

Michele Arnese is CEO at amp

Mediatel are the audio experts operating at the centre of audio trading, distribution and analytic processing. Contact us for more information on J-ET, Audiotrack or our RAJAR data engine.

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