Are you a brand? You probably shouldn’t have a sonic identity.
You may well have had music companies battering down your doors, briefcases stuffed with shiny promises about what a complete audio branding package could do for you.
You may already have managed to fend them off. Well done. Pushy blighters.
That audio branding process takes time, attention, commitment. They tend to be very insistent on, you know, “If this is going to work, we want to involve all the brand stakeholders from the start…” You can see the justice of that – you’d want to end up with something that the whole company can rally around. But that’s a lot of effort, and time is money.
Yes, it is. Of course, you’ve probably spent even more time and money on your graphic logo, but I’m not trying to read you a moral lesson here. In fact I want to agree that maybe your graphic logo is all you need. Probably. More likely than not.
I mean – just to cover all the bases – you may be tiny. You may not have an office, or staff. You may be on the verge of bankruptcy. Statistically, that’s probably a significant chunk of businesses. I know, I know. Just saying.
Seriously, though, you may just not be big enough to make the audio-branding thing worth your while.
It’s hard to imagine a brand even existing without a graphic, and every brand, however small, needs something to put on a letterhead, or business card, or packaging. But getting a sonic identity is a bigger statement and signals greater ambition; and maybe, if your brand doesn’t have the heft, or at least the ambition, then a sonic identity would come across as just, well, ludicrous. Wouldn’t it?
You could always try a jingle. I love jingles. I’ve heard some great little jingles for small businesses: short, sharp and memorable – do the job and leave you with a smile on your face. Not quite audio branding, of course, because that’s about consistency over the long term, building an association between brand and sound. A jingle might evolve into part of an audio brand, of course, but that’s a thought for another day.
Maybe you don’t advertise on TV, radio or any medium that carries audio. Fair enough, I say. I’m sure there are some who would argue that even you would benefit from a full-on audio strategy, but I reckon, nah, forget it. A company anthem is all very well; by all means give some thought to your telephone-holding music. But hold back on full audio branding process till you know you want to advertise.
Suppose you are a brand with the heft and ambition, and you do advertise. Should you be looking to create a bespoke audio identity? Can you, in fact, afford not to have one? I don’t see why not.
Music is great for advertising: we’ve always known that, intuitively, but it’s only in the last decade or so that psychological and neurological studies have begun to lay bare how alarmingly effective it actually is. It gets under the skin; it bypasses logic, and appeals directly to the gut, where consumers’ decisions are really made. The right music can hoist a brand out of the shadows and propel it to the top of the league. Do you want some of that power? Of course you do. Do you need audio branding to get it? Maybe.
Cards on the table, the main asset you expect to get out of the audio branding process, as generally practised today, is a ‘theme’ – a short piece of melody that will represent the brand wherever and however it is heard. You can use that theme as a building block for longer, more developed pieces of music, but what you’re really after is a quick spurt of sound that will conjure up the brand to the ear as effectively as a logo does to the eye. And it seems to work.
More than once I have found my attention drawn by this or that sonic logo coming over the radio in my local cafe. You too, I’ll bet. Sound seeks you out around corners, and pounces on you even when your eyes are closed. That’s an impressive quality.
Mind you, sonic logos aren’t particularly new. Even before Intel’s bongs, TV advertising was perfectly well acquainted with the power of audio end-devices: short sung jingles (Smash, Fairy Liquid); instrumental versions of same; longer brand theme-tunes appearing over a packshot in truncated form; and sound effects used as signatures (InterCity’s train horn). For radio, the need was even more obvious, and that’s no different today.
What is different now, apart from the new terminology and a lot of eager rhetoric, is the emphasis on consistency: consistency over time (using the theme to build up a long-term brand identity) and across touchpoints (using the same theme, in various incarnations, wherever conceivably possible). There are reasons, in other words, why you have to get it right. Lots of eggs are going into one basket.
On the plus side, the process offers you every rational means of getting it right – workshops and consultations, market research and brand analysis, and a scientific methodology designed to take the guesswork out of finding a theme with the best fit. The audio-branding companies do their homework. And none of them would be able to offer such a service if they didn’t have an impressive roster of composing talent at their disposal.
But you’re entitled to have doubts. Audio branding is like a marriage, with all the positives and negatives that implies. That commitment to a single theme is both its great strength, and its great weakness. Some brands will continue to cherish the freedom of being able to pick and choose from whatever takes their fancy. Others will embrace with both arms the opportunity to build into the future.
With commitment comes stability, growth, but the danger of stagnation. With freedom comes the short-term fun of discovery, but also the danger of never fully connecting.
By all means play the field, if you’re the kind of brand that would find a unique theme too restrictive. There are lots of exciting ways to harness the power of music for advertising which aren’t audio branding; plenty of ways, indeed, to establish a musical identity which don’t involve fidelity to a single brand theme. Keep those audio branding companies at arm’s length: you don’t need them.
But for the brand that knows what it is and where it wants to be over the long term, audio branding will have a rightness about it that is more easily felt than explained. Perhaps that’s you. Perhaps you are just at that point where getting your own sound makes all the sense in the world. And if you are, don’t waste another minute: get to work on your audio identity at once.