Sonic Branding for Sound Branding

April 5, 2017 | blog | By Mike Sullivan

The sizzle of fajitas or the soundtrack of Jaws evoke distinct and strategic emotions. Will your mouth water or will you hide your eyes? Both are effective, and challenger brands can also leverage sound and music to make a memorable experience with customers.

The book, The Sonic Boom: How Sound Transforms the Way We Think, Feel and Buy by Joel Beckerman offers best practices for sound branding. As challenger brands strive to make their mark, sound is one way

Our Brains and Sound
You may not believe it until you see it, but our brains react to sound first. In fact, the brain reacts faster to sound than all other stimuli in this order:

  • Sound
  • Touch
  • Sight
  • Taste and smell (tied for fourth place)

Even the sound of white noise at 80 decibels (about as loud as a blender or washing machine) has been proven to override our sense of taste, dulling our perception of flavor. In the study, white noise reduced the taste of salt and sugar, but boosted the sound of crunchiness. Maybe airplane food isn’t as bland as we think.

Principles of Sound Branding for Challenger Brands

  • Use sound to create experiences

How do you know if a sound is worth its weight in decibels? Only if it evokes emotion. Avoid thinking that just because your target audience likes a certain genre of music that it’s an effective style or song choice. It may or may not be, depending on how you want them to experience the brand.

  • Make sound matter: create anthems, not jingles

You may refer to you brand’s theme song as a jingle and that’s okay, but at its core your jingle should be more. It should be an anthem with all the heart and soul deserving of such a word. A jingle is shallow unless it represents your brand story. Pair your strategy with an anthem to create a sonic-identity that you can use to enhance customers’ experience every time they interact with your brand.

Disney’s, “When You Wish Upon a Star” is a great example of sonic branding. The same seven notes show up at the beginning of movies, the Disney cruise ship horn, and more. It’s instantly recognizable as the brand’s sonic signature and conjures all of the positive experiences associated with spending time with family, childhood, watching movies, going on vacation, and seeing your favorite characters and timeless stories.

  • Curate your soundtrack

As Beckerman explains, “Sound is really the emotional engine for any story.” What emotion do you want your brand to trigger? Use this as a guide for music choice.

Consider how film scores evoke different emotions for the same scenes. The only difference is the music.

  • Make sound work harder

Sonic triggers convey a lot of information in an instant and our brains are designed to process stimuli this way. The best sonic triggers surprise the mind by breaking expected patterns and call to mind a positive association or experience. Brands can leverage the recognition of everyday sounds and transform them into something unique and unexpected. These brand navigation sounds are both functional and emotionally satisfying.

  • Silence is power

You may think it’s quiet, but isn’t. Birds are chirping, people are chatting, or your computer is humming. Fortunately, our brain effectively filters out much of the distractions to keep us focused on the task at hand. The lack of sound can also be effective at awakening the senses. Just as the right sound at the right time can produce significant emotional connections to your brand, the absence of sound at the right time can also be very effective for this purpose.

A good final test for sonic branding is to test the brand experience with and without sound. If you don’t miss the sound, it never should have been there.

  • Dump the sonic trash

Some things just shouldn’t make too much noise. As Frito Lay discovered with its biodegradable Sun Chips bag. The noisy bag gained so much negative attention that a CBS report investigated and found that shaking the bag was louder than a lawn mower or motorcycle. Sound is never neutral; it either adds to or detracts from the brand experience.

Inappropriate song choice can also do more harm than good. Check alignment with the audience, the brand story, the song story, and the performer before settling on a tune. Bad accents are also an annoyance and can remind customers that they are experiencing something inauthentic or at the very least un-relatable.

  • Avoid common sonic-branding mistakes
  • Integrate sonic branding into your creative process from the beginning. It should never be an afterthought.
  • Promote the essence of your brand with every song and sound choice. Aim for consistency.
  • Align every choice with your brand strategy.
  • Choose songs and sounds that match your brand strategy, not just a few lyrics or a beat. The meaning of the song and the performer should not detract from what you stand for.
  • If it works, keep doing it. And do it consistently. Sonic branding should permeate advertising, the in-store experience, and product functionality.
  • As counter-intuitive as it sounds, it’s best not to make sonic decisions based on focus group feedback. Studies show people cannot provide good conscious feedback on experiences intended to act on the subconscious.

Cha-ching! That’s the sound of customers flocking to your challenger brand.

Jacy Cochran is director of public relations at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency. For more information on challenger brands check out some of our recent blog posts: 

Loyalty Programs for Challenger Brands 

Patio Perfect Dining for Challenger Brands 

agencybrainsknowledgeLoomissoundThe Sonic Boom

Mike Sullivan

President at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency


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