You are what you listen to

Wired for sound – the power of sonic branding

Earlier this year we were asked to build a sonic identity for a conference. This usually comprises of a set of musical stings, themes, and segments that give an event a unified musical and sound identity. We were excited. Our client, an agency, really got it. They loved the work. They saw how it all fit together. They guided us on style and helped us shape the sound in tandem with the visuals and on-stage moments.

But their client, the business … not so much. They preferred to act on their personal tastes.

“The CEO likes the music from Gladiator, let’s just use that!”


The result? A mess! Sure, the music we created formed a thread throughout. But, by including a random, taste-based approach to other tracks, the business missed out on the unifying power of sound.

Your sound matters

Most businesses understand the power of good branding. Some of them even understand that their brand is more than just a set of consistent colours, fonts, and a logo. But sound? That can just be random, right?

Not really, no. The way a business sounds to audiences matters. And not just in the tone and language it chooses. The way brands use music and sonics can play a significant role in how a business is perceived.

“Sound is one of the most powerful tools we have for creating emotional connections with consumers.”

Daniel Jackson, author of Sonic Branding

Sound is not just something we hear, it’s something we feel and remember. Sound is physical vibrations. It can influence our emotions, our decisions, and our sense of loyalty to a business or brand.

“Sound is incredibly powerful because it goes straight into our emotional brain.”

Julian Treasure, sound expert and TED speaker

What’s a sonic brand?

A sonic brand is a set of sounds or musical themes that connect to a brand’s identity, imagery, and personality. It’s most often associated with a short and catchy motif, much like a logo or a slogan. It can help consumers recognise a brand just by hearing it, without any visual cues.

For example, think of the McDonald’s jingle “I’m lovin’ it” or the Intel sound logo that plays at the end of their commercials. These sounds are instantly recognisable and evoke certain feelings and associations with the brands. There are plenty of other examples of sonic brands that you may be familiar with:

  • The Netflix “ta-dum” sound that plays before every show or movie
  • The Skype ringtone that signals an incoming call or message
  • The Mastercard melody that plays whenever you use their card or service
  • The Coca-Cola tune that accompanies their slogan “The pause that refreshes”
  • The MGM lion roar that introduces their movies

Why is sound important for brands?

Sound is important for brands because it can capture consumer attention, boost distinctiveness, and build mental availability (when a consumer notices your brand when they’re considering a purchase). According to Roscoe Williamson of MassiveMusic, sound assets are the most effective and distinctive for gaining brand attention, beyond even celebrity endorsements and brand colours. And yet, an Ipsos shows, sonic cues are still significantly underutilised by marketers and barn managers.

Sound can help brands establish meaningful differentiation and connect with their audience in context. For example, Spotify advises brands to use sonic branding to communicate their brand personality and identity in the same way that a logo or a font does. But they also suggest that brands should establish clear guidelines for audio to maintain consistency across media channels and audio touch-points. Internal and external. Just like a tone of voice or colour palette.

Sound influences consumer behaviour and decision making. According to Jacopo Paoletti of Forbes, sound marketing enables companies to create memorable identities and improve brand recognition by targeting a sense in addition to vision or sight. He also claims that sound marketing allows businesses to differentiate their marketing campaigns from others that only focus on visual promotional activity.

Studies support the anecdotal evidence.

  • Leicester University found that playing music in stores increased sales by 9.6 percent.
  • A survey by PHMG revealed that 60 percent of callers who were put on hold with silence felt more negative about the company.
  • A report by Veritonic showed that Mastercard’s sonic logo increased its brand recognition by 77 percent.

How can you create your own sonic brand?

Creating your own sonic brand requires some research, creativity, and testing. It’s probably worth speaking a specialist (ahem!) But, here are some steps you can follow if you want to go it alone:

  • Define your brand identity and values. What do you want your sound to convey? How do you want your audience to feel when they hear it?
  • Research your target market and competitors. What are their preferences, needs, and expectations? What sounds are they already exposed to? How can you stand out from the crowd?
  • Choose your sound elements. These can include music, voice, sound effects, silence, etc. Make sure they match your brand identity and values, as well as your audience’s context and mood.
  • Test your sound with your audience. Get feedback on how they perceive and react to your sound. Is it memorable, distinctive, relevant, and consistent? Does it elicit the desired emotions and associations?
  • Refine and implement your sound across all touchpoints. Make sure your sound is integrated with your other brand assets and consistent across all platforms and channels. Monitor and measure its impact on your brand awareness, recognition, loyalty, and sales.

The sonic edge

Sound is a powerful tool for brands and marketers that can help them create memorable identities and differentiate themselves from competitors. Music and sonic identity can connect you to your audience in context – where they are at the point of purchase. Sound can even influence behaviour and decisions.

It‘s important for internal audiences as well as your external. Hey, look, I love Don’t Stop Believin’ as much as the as the next person, but do I need to hear the CEO walk up on stage to it for the tenth time? Maybe not. Find something more meaningful. Commission a songwriter or composer. If you do, you’ll own the rights to the sounds and music. No need to get permissions from a rights company (that I’m sure you requested for that video you’re playing at the next All hands, right?) Find a way to integrate sonics meaningfully into your content and events.

As with all great brand strategy and content, you need to follow a robust process to get it right. Don’t just wing it! It’ll be worth it, we promise.