A space for sound
Savvy brands who venture into sonic branding – and own their own sounds – will find vast opportunity in this relatively uncluttered landscape, says Michele Arnese of WPP’s amp
There is nothing new about sound as part of branding. But only now do brands understand why – given the slew of intellectual property issues surrounding third-party music – they should own their own sounds.
The impetus to do so is on the up. “Brands are increasingly realising the opportunities for engagement with customers through sound,” says amp’s Arnese. “This is especially the case when the visual world is so crowded. Sound gives brands the opportunity to stand out. It’s a differentiator.”
And sound is effective – it has impact. “The spoken word and visual communications transmit very little information when you compare it with the impact of sound,” he says.
amp is now 15 years old and has been part of the WPP stable since April 2023. Arnese terms the acquisition “a milestone for the entire sound industry”. For him, the acquisition was a recognition that sound has come of age and is now a firm component of branding.
Measuring the subliminal
There's so much about sound that is subliminal. Often, we don't even know that we're listening to something until it goes quiet. So how do you measure the impact of sound?
“For one brand – an amp client for five years – when we measured the impact of the sound amp developed for it, we saw that the level of trust in the brand by the consumer doubled or even tripled,” says Arnese. “We also found that 80% of customers were likely to go back to the store where they heard that sound.”
amp can also demonstrate that, when a brand changes the way in which it interacts with consumers, the emotional comfort that results from the continued use of a sound can assist with transition. “Sound can convey reassurance at a time of change,” he says.
“This is a very different scenario to the perceived value of sound in marketing 20 years ago. At that time, sonic branding was understood to be the last three seconds of a commercial when the logo appeared, and a jingle was played. But consumers rarely stay focused until the last three seconds so there is no point delaying the use of your sonic brand until the end.”
Today, brands rightly use their sonic branding during the first five seconds of a commercial or at the moments when consumers truly interact with the brand through a product, app or an entire ecosystem. “Measuring these moments, and measuring the impact of sound on these moments, is measuring the business impact of sound,” says Arnese.
“This is why we created a tool that can measure the impact of sound in pre-market conditions. It enables you to test the different creative options against each other, and also measure brand fit, memorability, authenticity, uniqueness, purchase intent and so on. These are all add-ons to the classic design process.”
amp’s Sonic Hub toolset is already being integrated into WPP Open – WPP’s end-to-end AI-driven marketing operating system. “This toolset allows users to research, test, implement, and even create sonic assets using generative AI. The toolset enables brands and key stakeholders to create new music (based on existing music) that is on brand,” he says.
And being part of the Landor family within WPP is also a differentiator. Arnese says that sonic branding, as part of an overall branding strategy, makes so much sense: “Launching a new brand or strategy on mute is always a worse idea than launching it with sound because the addition of sound creates so much more impact.”
How to get it right
The sonic library (all the sounds that, when combined, achieve the sonic brand) must knit together and that takes flexibility. “When you design a visual brand identity, you don't just create one element, one colour and so on. And yet you are able to use that visual brand identity everywhere,” says Arnese.
“Sound is a younger discipline of branding. You must be able to translate the sonic branding so that it can speak to all your audiences. And there is nothing more beautiful than translating music. However, you must be able to convey the same emotions in spite of the translation. This is why amp created the idea of the Sonic DNA of a brand.”
But it all takes talent – both tech and creative talent. “After all, music is based on patterns and systems but, when combined with emotions, you get something truly memorable that causes people to respond,” he says.
“We have a creative team that translates the brand into sound and creates the storytelling around the brand, but we also have a co-creation process with artists globally to keep what we do authentic,” says Arnese.
Of course, the beauty of sound is that it enables the recognition of a brand across different touch points. “And sound is everywhere. The number of audio touchpoints of a brand is exploding. What we do is connect them through a musical thread,” he adds.
Horses for courses
So, what could a portfolio of sounds comprise? There are mnemonic sounds which help consumers remember a brand through a very short sound: the sonic logo. Even shorter sonic elements can be used to accompany UX/UI experiences, such as a WhatsApp notification. Then there are very long sounds used, for example, when entering an airline lounge. Then there are all the different sounds used across digital channels and linear TV. All these sounds will require very different formats.
But, importantly, Arnese warns against borrowing part of your brand identity. “The sheer complexity of sonic branding means it makes sense for brands to develop their own sound and not borrow from existing music in culture,” he says. But sonic branding also needs to be authentic to the location at which it is targeted. That might be very different from one part of the world to another. It is why the sound must be translatable. Only then will it sound authentic.
These are exciting times for brands looking for new ways to engage with their audiences. As we increasingly call on all the senses to connect with communities, the only question remains: why wouldn’t you want a sonic brand?
09 February 2024
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