Content Marketing

I Am Brand, Hear Me Roar: 5 Tips to Help Your Company Find Its Sound

Your brand just hired 20 cubicles worth of writers to concoct snappy statuses and Twitter witticisms, and there’s no doubt your brand has a “voice” on the page.

But what does your brand actually sound like?

According to Fast Company, 83 percent of the branded content we’re exposed to daily is visual, leaving 17 percent for the other five senses. Instead of looking at this 17 percent as the black sheep of branding, brands should see it as an untapped opportunity to make a crucial impact on how consumers recall a product and maintain trust.

A branded sound isn’t necessarily a jingle or a hummable tune; it can be any kind of audible signal that you associate with your consumer experience. You are probably addicted to some of them without even realizing it—the Facebook chat chime, for example. Check out this YouTube playlist to hear what other sounds brands have you hooked on.

The best fictional example of sound branding just occurred to me after watching Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Aliens brand this certain pentatonic melody by transmitting it to humans via some UFO intercom during their cardinal visit to Earth. The melody becomes a way for people to recognize and communicate with the extraterrestrials.

Down on Earth, brands can have close encounters with their consumers by prioritizing audio marketing and integrating this into their visual strategy. This is because sound is a strong memory trigger. Hearing sound is closely associated with strong emotions because music activates the entire limbic system, which is involved in processing emotions and in controlling memory.

I spoke with Steve Keller, CEO and strategist at iV Audio Branding, and a maestro when it comes to amplifying companies’ muted marketing strategies. His company has worked with some big-name clients such as Coca-Cola and McDonald’s, which have some of the most recognizable branded sounds out there. (Full disclosure: Coca-Cola is a Contently client.)

In order for a consumer to recall your brand when a sound is played, Kelley outlines several factors that must be in effect:

1. Congruency

Or how well the sound fits with corporate identity. Who your brand is trying to reach and what it’s trying to say will dictate whether you want to drop a fresh beat or sample a symphony.

2. Distinctiveness

Keller points out, “Everything has a ukulele and finger snaps, and it’s kind of developed this trend. The goal is to find something distinct enough that it rises in the category but also cuts through the clutter.”

3. Recognizability

“You want to recognize a brand when you hear a sound, that’s a matter of time… a classic conditioning,” Keller advises. “McDonald’s and Intel have been really effective with that. T-Mobile and Coca-Cola as well.”

4. Flexibility

“How easily you can adapt the audio signature,” Keller explains. “That’s important because brands grow and evolve. As the brand expands you’ll need to do some cultural adaptations. No matter how it’s interpreted, no matter where you are in the world, you recognize that.”

[Kelley sings the five-tone tune: ba-da-bap-bap-bah] “It’s McDonalds.”

5. Likeability

Is the sound’s overall awesomeness enough to make it memorable to a sizable demographic? Does it have that sonic X-factor? Kelley says this is hard to pinpoint but it’s the kind of thing that you know once you hear it.

Market research has already proven what proper sound identity can do to boost sales. According to independent research conducted by Dr. Adrian North and Dr. Hargreaves at the University of Leicester, in England, “Brands with music that fit their identity are 96 percent more likely to be recalled than those with non-fit music or no music at all.” In this experiment, when North and Hargreaves played French music in a wine shop, French wine outsold German ones, whereas playing German music led to the opposite effect on sales of French wine. They ultimately calculated, “Respondents are 24 percent more likely to buy a product with music that they recall, like, and understand.”

Keller adds that the real ROI isn’t necessarily reaped from the short-term effects of spending more on sound in advertising: “It’s about creating assets that can generate true value. The ROI comes at a sweet spot when you’re engaging consumers that are nailing the brand identity, and are producing revenue through copyright or over time. … That McDonald’s jingle is worth millions now.”

Now do you hear that? It’s the winds of change rustling your content marketing strategy. Soon you’ll be carrying your own tune, perhaps “Whistlin’ Dixie.”

Contently arms brands with the tools and talent to become great content creators. Learn more.

Image by T. Graham
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