Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Sonic branding : Turn it up to eleven

One of the most rewarding aspects of being in a creative field is integrating external interests into my design work. Creating music falls into this category for me. Sonic branding is currently receiving more and more attention as brands move further into the sensory arena. In the oversatured visual market, utilising more sensory paths establish a brand's positioning in the consumer's mind is essential. As Lisa Lamb, Head of Sonic Branding for Interbrand, pointed out, sonic branding allows ‘increased brand recognition across a variety of platforms, since people will hear things where they are not necessarily looking. One does not have to listen to hear, whereas one does need to be looking in order to see.’

The objective of sonic branding is to create a memory trigger, intrinsically linking a product name, service or benefit with a pleasant memory. This is done by identifying the strategic and emotive aspects of your brand that resonate with consumers, then building relevant auditory cues. The flexibility of sonic branding over visual branding can also be reflected in the style of delivery; for example if a retail environment identified younger consumers frequented the store in evening hours, in-store music could be more contemporary. Older consumers would be presented with a slower more mature mix. Customised to the appropriate demographic, the same ownable song or notes can be played in a rock, jazz, classical or funk style just to name a few without dilution of identification or brand association.

Sonic branding can incorporate an experience far broader than just an ‘intel’ style audio mnemonic as well. Environmental and workplace music, website/multimedia applications, advertising jingles, even ringtones and the vocal qualities of client facing personnel are all touchpoints that sonic branding can influence. Some aspects can be direct and powerful (eg the intel sonic brand) while others act as a peripheral note in your customer-experience offering (eg the background music played in Starbucks). All these aspects help to establish the brand personality and enhance the overall brand experience. As a starting point, three sonic touchpoints to consider for most brands are environmental, a sonic logo and brand vocal qualities.

We all know the power of music in combination with visual stimulation. Any cinematic experience is heightened by the combination of visual, auditory and emotional connections. You only need to turn off the sound when watching your favourite movie to see how much impact is lost. By using sonic branding as part of a brand's delivery we can help to create a more sensory experience for the consumer and ultimately, improve brand recall.

There are many applications for music in environmental settings. Research has shown that listening to music can improve working conditions. Baroque music (around 60 bpm is an optimal tempo) is often claimed to accelerate learning, reduce anxiety and improve retention of information. Binaural beats is an audio form that can alter the wavelengths in the brain and help induce relaxed and enhanced learning states. Using music appropriate to the demographic in retail environments can also keep consumers happy and aid in increasing sales. Happier more efficient workers, faster learning and consumer's buying more? We should all be paying attention.

Sonic Brand
In short, and as defined by Bill Nygren of Boom Sonic Branding, ‘A sonic brand is the aural equivalent of the graphic logo. A hybrid of voice, sound design and original music, the sonic brand works by harnessing music's power to trigger an emotional response.’ I couldn't have said it better, so I didn't. Probably the best known immediate example is Intel. With a product that lacks any visual appeal, the sonic brand of Intel has become it's most valuable commodity. Immediately identifiable in advertising and branding contexts, it shows how powerful an association with a recognisable melody can be.

The other exciting part of sonic branding are the available touchpoints a sonic brand can move across. From websites to mobile phones to television to radio and more, a sonic brand can stand alone or play happily in most mediums hand in hand with visuals. It can also be regularly updated for market relevance through style, tempo and other methods without changing an underlying melody or music scale.

Branding Vocals
The first moment a potential client walks into your office or reception area an impression is being made upon them about your company. Every time a salesperson makes a pitch they are representing the company's brand. And when an initial introduction is made, people will often form a first impression (in the first four minutes on average) that is difficult to alter. Vocal qualities that reflect a brand's personality and values is an area many overlook. A receptionist may be the first brand touchpoint they interact with. What someone says and just as importantly how they say it is integral to lending professionalism and credibility to an organisation.

Introductions, presentation skills and phone manner are all available for branding to name a few. For example, nearly all of us can recall a poor phone experience. Only recently I called a company to inquire about a product and was greeted with a single word 'yes?'. I was unsure whether I had even called the correct number and the disinterested tone of the speaker left an immediately negative impression of the company. More positively, I later booked a hotel and the difference in service was striking. The vocal delivery was considered and even, tempo was kept at a pace easy to understand and the tone was friendly. The sentence order was also clearly structured; company first, introduction by name, an offer of assistance followed by reassurance of a follow-up. A simple guideline that reflected the service orientated nature of the brand also created confidence in the organisation.

Sonic and sensory branding is upon us. Implement or miss it at your peril.

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