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How to use sonic branding in your marketing

How to use sonic branding in your marketing

By Peter Matthews, Managing Director of Nucleus Limited.

It might have been around for some time but sonic marketing is becoming an increasingly important tool for marketers as they strive not only to get their messages in front of targeted consumers, but also to keep them there.

This is particularly so today as traditional channels of advertising and promotion grow and expand into non-traditional areas, such as the Internet and mobile telephony.

A good way to describe sonic branding is the aural equivalent of a graphic image. Just as McDonalds has been hugely successful with its stand-alone ‘golden arches’ image so, too, has Intel™ with its three-second “Intel Inside” soundbite.

Such was the importance to Intel of its catchy mnemonic that it invested million of dollars annually to ensure the jingle was heard continuously around the globe. It took the company from a relatively unknown supplier of computer components to one of the biggest names in corporate history.

Ask virtually anyone what the Intel logo looks like and it’s highly probable that they won’t be able to tell you. But play them the jingle and it’s equally probable that they will give you the name Intel.

However, in sonic branding there is a big difference between using catchy melodies and pop songs to promote brands, and short combinations of notes (such as the Intel signature) to evoke a particular response.

That’s not to say that music can’t be used effectively in promoting products and services. Indeed, for many years advertising agencies and film producers have used existing sound tracks or commissioned new compositions to great effect. But this is not the same as sonic branding.

Since sonic branding is really the concept of creating a sonic logo, the problem with using distinctive music as the logo is that songs are just too complex to make an instant, and lasting, impact on our grey matter.

And since it is a logo we’re talking about it has to be simple with the notes or chords combining to create instant recognition and positive associations with the brand. Additionally, to be effective it must be short and snappy: it must not run longer than just a few seconds.

The rapid advances in technology, such as wireless communication, mean that companies have the ability to reach their target audiences virtually anywhere. The mobile phone is just one example. How much this industry has changed in just a few short years!

From rudimentary pulse-coded modulation to embedded soundcards with polymorphic tones, all of a sudden ringtones have become very personal. Sonic branding has become a lot more interesting and, potentially, considerably more effective.

From a marketing viewpoint, since we spend much of our life using our sense of hearing (without necessarily listening), sounds have a distinct advantage over visual forms of marketing. Although companies have used graphic images successfully alongside soundbites, Direct Line Insurance and the red telephone as a good example, the imagery created by the sonic logo is developed in our cerebral matter.

With Intel’s “Intel Inside” logo, the most likely image conjured will be that of a computer. But to Intel, that’s not a problem. They key for them is the association of its name with the technology. Additionally, sonic branding has another big advantage over visual branding in that it can transcend the language and cultural barriers associated with visual forms of communication.

So powerful can the effect of sonic marketing be on both our logical and emotional minds that the US Government banned the use of sonic branding with tobacco products back in the 1970s. Imagine what the tobacco industry might look like today if that ban had not been introduced!

Just like our sense of smell, musical sounds can have a strong memory trigger that enhances the brain’s ability to recall, irrespective of whether the sound is hybrid or not. Sound can shape our thoughts, our feelings and our behaviours.

With the sophisticated technology we now have to enhance images and text with very distinguishable audio features, the future of sonic marketing, particularly in online advertising, looks very promising.

Developing a product’s (or service’s) sonic signature first requires the clear identification of the emotional touch points of the target audience. As would be expected, these touch points will differ widely influenced by age, the type of product and the market in which the product competes.

Additionally, all the requirements, constraints and environments where the sonic logo is to be deployed must be clearly defined. Then comes the creation of the acoustic “image”; a blend of sounds that could include original and new music, voice and individual musical chords or notes, all of which gel and work well together.

However, it is imperative that the brand message is interwoven within the tune and that the sound is harmonious and fits comfortably with the product or service being marketed.

Like all design elements, music can be a valuable part of the brand. However, unless it is specifically commissioned it is unlikely to become a lasting trade mark, owned and protected by the brand. This is a fundamental corporate requirement of any sonic logo.

The aural signature must be original enough so that the intellectual property can be protected by copyright. Sounds can be registered as trademarks provided that they meet the registration requirements of any trademark.

These include the ability to clearly distinguish the goods or services of one party from those of another, and they must be capable of being presented graphically. Good advice is to obtain the services of a knowledgeable trademark attorney.

The strategic significance of sonic branding is gathering pace. We have a long way to go in understanding the role of neuroscience as a marketing tool but we are getting there. The future is very promising!

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