The Untapped Potential of Sonic Branding
Published on: January 2 2024

Brands face an increasingly difficult challenge connecting with consumers in a crowded and noisy marketplace. Thousands of major companies have established visual brand identities, instantly recognizable logos that pop into one's mind when thinking of that brand. However, the opportunity still remains wide open for brands to make an impression through customized sonic branding.

Sonic logos can evoke the attributes and feelings that brands aim to project, but these audio cues may not become strongly tied to the brand itself without proper attribution. This highlights one of the key benefits of doing research when developing a sonic branding strategy: testing not only whether a sound elicits the desired associations and emotions, but also whether it has potential to be meaningfully connected to the brand in consumers' minds. Implicit type research methods are well-suited for this, as they capture listeners' intuitive, gut-level responses to audio cues. Including whether they feel like a good fit for the brand.

The most straightforward way to cement a strong connection between a sonic logo and a brand is to overtly state the brand name or slogan, at least during the initial launch period. Clearly pronouncing the brand name overlaps the sound and verbal name in listeners' brains, imprinting the association. However, many brands want to avoid this approach as it may seem uncool or old-fashioned.

The good news is, you only need to use the brand name/slogan overlay for a short time (e.g. 3-6 months) when first rolling out the sonic logo. Once firmly established in people's minds, you can drop the verbal reference and retain only the audio cue. People will still automatically connect the melody to the brand, singing or saying the brand name to themselves when they hear the sonic logo.

Often, sonic branding is confined to the last 2 seconds of advertisements. But it is better to think holistically about the full audio mix – music, voiceover, sound design – for the entire ad duration. Two seconds is very brief to build an effective association.

Even with a strong sonic logo and audio mix, the overall sound balancing is critical. The sonic logo can get drowned out or muddled if not properly mixed with other audio elements like voiceover and background music.

Most sonic branding for ads ignores more interesting brand-owned touchpoints like retail stores, websites, YouTube channels and more. These channels provide cheap impressions to imprint the audio cue.

Frequency builds effectiveness and attribution. People need to hear the sonic logo very often, ideally on brand-controlled channels, to drive home the brand association through repetition.

Brands can build platforms to let audiences actively seek out and listen to the "sound" of the brand whenever and wherever they want. This could include a soundboard on the brand's website, sonic logo ringtones, playlists that capture the brand's audio essence and more.

Below are some additional tips and best practices for developing an impactful sonic branding strategy:

  • Test sonic logo concepts extensively with the target audience before launch. Gather feedback on both the audio itself and the brand association.
  • Consider how the sonic logo will sound on various platforms - TV, radio, websites, in-store, mobile devices. Optimize accordingly.
  • Build flexibility into the sonic logo to work across many applications without losing brand recognition. Develop complementary audio brand assets like ringtones, hold music, branded playlists that align with the sonic logo.
  • Ensure legal protections like trademark registration for the sonic logo.
  • Prominently feature the sonic logo wherever possible - ads, websites, retail, events, across social media.
  • Partner with influencers and employees to organically amplify and share the sonic logo.
  • Occasionally reinvent the sonic logo to keep it fresh while retaining brand equity.
  • Monitor data and metrics to gauge the impact and recognition of the sonic branding.
  • Train staff, especially customer-facing teams, on the importance of the sonic branding.

With continual sensory bombardment from countless brands, cutting through the noise is no easy task. But a strategic sonic branding campaign can attract consumer attention in a distinctive way. Sonic logos tap into emotions, memories and associations that visuals alone cannot. An effective audio identifier, woven consistently through the customer journey, can become a brand's soundtrack, evoking the essence of that brand each time it's heard. Brands would be wise to explore this under-utilized territory.