Sound is the largest unexplored territory in the new world of multisensory branding. It's the second major sense after sight, because only through video and audio can marketers broadcast to large audiences - and only in these two senses can they deliver specific messages. Sound is rated as a key element of brand communication by 41% of consumers - and yet just 12% of the world's marketing communication budgets are spent on it. According to Lindstrom and Millward Brown, Congruent sound increases the impact of visual communication by 1107%, while incongruent sound reduces that impact by 86%. That's an entire order of magnitude up or down! Any major brand should be very concerned about the degree to which the effect of its budget is being watered down by incongruent sound.
At The Sound Agency we have identified eight expressions of a brand in sound. We call them collectively BrandSoundTM. BrandSoundTM is "all the intentional sound which communicates and/or reinforces the qualities, tones and values that are best aligned with the brand promise, and which enhances and amplifies the desirable aspects of the brand experience." The key word in there is intentional. In a perfect world every business would generate only BrandSoundTM, but right now it's almost certain that the vast majority of business sound is unintentional and accidental - and a lot of it is counterproductive, or even downright unpleasant.
1. Brand Voice
How a brand would sound if you spoke to it. Is it old or young? Male or female? Lively and bubbly or laid back and professional? These and many more questions define a default Brand Voice, which should inform every vocal interaction with the brand - call centre staff, receptionists, operators, recorded announcements, live PA announcements, advertising voice overs and so on.
2. Brand Music
Licensed commercial music or specially composed music that's strongly associated with the brand, like British Airways' use of the Flower Duet from Delibes' opera Lakmé.
3. Sonic Logo
A short sound that resonates the brand's values or essence and is highly memorable. Intel is possibly the most famous example, though Nokia's default ring tone Nokiatune is now the world's most-played melody: with a billion Nokia handsets in the world, 20% of people not bothering or knowing how to change the default ringtone, and the average mobile phone ringing nine times a day, that's a staggering 1.8 billion plays every day - so Nokiatune is played somewhere in the world over 20,000 times every second!
4. Advertising Sound
The film and advertising industries know how important sound is and they use it well, but all too often advertising sound (which powerfully combines voice art, music and effects) is designed campaign by campaign, or even ad by ad, undermining the consistency of a brand.
5. Branded Audio
A vibrant new category, this includes sponsored podcasts and streaming or downloadable websound such as teleseminars. Nike offers downloadable workouts for your iPod where top sports stars' voices direct and encourage you; Mercedes gives regular compilations of the best of cool new music to play in your cool new Mercedes.
Most commercial spaces are fully designed for the eyes but the soundscapes in them are accidental, incongruous and often downright hostile. If marketers think about this at all, they tend to install mindless music, which is like putting icing on mud; it may be superficially attractive but it is absolutely not a good cake. I believe generative sound has a major role to play in creating effective and appropriate soundscapes for places like shops, offices, transport termini and corporate receptions. This is an area we enjoy specialising in at The Sound Agency.
7. Telephone Sound
Many brands interact almost exclusively in this modality and yet the accountants have inverted the whole approach to customer phone calls. Instead of being the life blood of an enterprise, they are seen as a cost to be minimised - hence call centres are tasked with reducing ‘time to clear'. This is madness! Telephone sound is an increasingly critical element of brand experience, and those brands that rediscover the gold in this mountain of consumer pain will reap huge benefits.
8. Product Sound
This is everything for some brands (for example music or instruments), vital for many (car doors and engines, domestic electrical appliances, mobile phones) and always worth considering, even where it's indirect and not obvious. We have done workshops for shampoos where great richness has come from the question: what sound is associated with using this brand?
Every brand should consider all eight expressions, mapping its strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats in each, and then producing a set of BrandSoundTM Guidelines, which will usually also act as a solid brief for creating a whole new set of powerful tools to use.
Thus equipped, a brand can venture out into the new world of sensory marketing as a leader, making those competitors who continue in just one dimension look (and sound and smell and taste and feel) like the dinosaurs they are.
Julian Treasure - a global expert in the evaluation, strategic planning, implementation and deployment of sound in business; the chairman of The Sound Agency - a leading audio-branding consultancy; the author of Sound Business, a seminal book on how to apply sound for business benefit, and the creator of BrandSoundTM : a strategic framework for the effective use of sound in brand management.