When I joined Publicis in 2000, I traveled the world to meet with Publicis agencies and their clients to dive into the core of their brand communication and to discover new ways of thinking about marketing. Much of our work centered on finding a common brand essence that would be understood globally, but could be interpreted relevantly at a regional level. I found that our agencies’ approach to expressing their clients’ brands was predominately visual, and that our use of music tended to be more campaign-oriented, not brand-oriented. Music was often chosen as a final consideration, not planned from the start. It wasn’t seen as a key element of a brand content strategy but, rather, as a somewhat insignificant aspect of a campaign.
It wasn’t until late 2011, when a friend invited me to attend the Audio Branding Congress, that my eyes — and ears — were opened to the power and potential of audio branding. I felt as if I had discovered a deeper way of connecting with an audience through a sense that was as old as the human race.
Content marketing’s continual evolution
As content marketing strategists, we are responsible for the creation and multichannel publication of an organization’s content (text, video, audio, animation, etc.). One of the difficulties of managing a brand content strategy is making sure that, despite the various messages and methods used, all efforts consistently reflect well on the brand — providing an opportunity to create coherence and meaning in a distinctive way.
At its core, music is a language — when used well, it can convey meaning with great clarity. To get started with audio branding, it’s essential to first clarify what our brand stands for — i.e., its essence and values — and then evaluate the sounds that might help translate those values into the language of music. From there, we define our current positioning in the market in order to build a creative content strategy around our audio communication.
To do this, ask questions that will help you understand the qualities you want to convey through your audio branding, such as:
- What are the core values of my brand? “Innovation and entrepreneurial spirit” will suggest different music than “familiarity, ease, and security” would.
- What does my brand’s voice sound like? Is it playful and casual? Authoritative and reassuring? Those aspects, too, will influence your brand’s audio identity.
- What brands in your own world appear to design their sounds rather than leave them to product engineers or licensing managers? What do their sounds convey?
These aren’t the sorts of questions that you come across in your day-to-day duties. Nor are they likely to be ones that you’ve posed to your marketing partners. But today more than ever, we’re operating in a noisy, crowded, and competitive marketplace. Finding the heart of what your brand represents and then expressing it in your content — through text, visuals, sound, or any other medium — should be your top content marketing strategy priority.
How audio branding works
Audio branding’s approach uses unique and proprietary sound and music to convey a brand’s essence and values. It provides a consistent system of sound that connects people with a brand at a profound level.
To determine the audio branding elements that your signature sound should include, start by conducting an audio audit based on your brand’s marketing strategy. This evaluation’s purpose is to identify the components and priorities in your brand content plan, so you can optimize their impact with the audio branding elements you choose.
- Define your brand’s current positioning in the market, and characterize how it differs from that of your competitors. The audio audit will consider, among other things, whether any current sounds and music you are using:
- Are consistent with your brand values
- Are unique and original
- Leave a memorable imprint
- Examine what audio elements competitors are using, as well as the audio themes, formats, or features that your target audiences are more likely to engage with. For example, if you are marketing a coffee brand, here are some common sector marketing themes that audio branding can enhance:
- Sensuality/Seduction: Orchestrated in more or less a cinematic, romantic, or symphonic fashion, this has been a recurring and repeated theme in coffee marketing for many years. Musical sounds: A closely linked, romantic mixture of string instruments, a noticeable reverberation of the sound; the presence of a trumpet or other brass instruments; an intimate rhythmic base (muffled cymbals); a marked bass line.
- The Family; The Everyday: Several brands have adopted this positioning, characterized by friendly, accessible, and jovial musical tones. Musical sounds: Simple guitar or ukulele music; a childlike chorus of voices; jazz rhythms.
- Indulgent Pleasures: A commonly used, recurring theme in many coffee advertisements, this mood can be brought to life through sexy sounding music — often funk or lyrical. Musical sounds: Similar to the sounds found in those of the sensuality / seduction sound, but orchestrated in a more dramatic and cinematic manner.
- Take a look at brands outside your sector that embody the feelings you want to convey with your audio brand — especially ones that could serve as inspiration for your own brand’s best audio practices.
- Create a touch-point analysis: What sound, if any, is currently heard at each of your brand’s touch points? What does each sound convey? Does it carry a positive sounding message? Does it align with your overall brand positioning and values? Are there other sounds that might communicate these qualities more powerfully or more directly?
- From there, an audio brand strategist can create initial “audio mood boards” — musical demonstrations of different ways to express your brand’s core values. These boards are developed by the audio brand team into sample audio DNAs that can then be selected, evaluated and refined to your satisfaction.
- After the DNA is finalized, you can begin to adapt its use to suit each content marketing touch point it will be used in.
The combined power of audio branding and content
Today people are conditioned to take in sight and sound together. Studies have found that attention spans have declined, and that people today often operate in a state of “continuous partial attention.” Given this landscape, you’ll need every tool in your kit to reach through and transmit meaning.
Audio branding lends coherence and continuity to your messaging, so what your consumers hear when engaging with your content is always clearly and distinctively recognizable as a part of your brand. The technique provides brand strategists and CCOs with the tools to make every content marketing touch point a relationship-builder and to get consumers to form positive associations with your brand’s values.
It’s particularly critical to bring your Audio DNA to your entertainment content or instructional content, to subtly remind your audience who’s behind the messaging without overwhelming the experience itself. It’s also important to note that your audio strategy should not be left until the last minute — for maximum impact and continuity, it should be planned at the outset.
Other critical factors to always keep in mind include:
- It’s not about entertainment — it’s about brand enhancement: Articulate what your brand stands for before addressing what the music must do. Investigate what audio approaches your competitors are using, so you can stand out.
The audio branding agency’s job is to create a core audio DNA that remains consistent, while allowing flexibility for adaptations to multiple touch points over many years — including what consumers will hear when they are on hold with your salespeople, visiting your trade show booth, viewing your videos, opening your branded mobile app, etc.
- Impact without meaning can be distracting and counterproductive: Decide if you need the audio branding to underscore or to add to the messages conveyed by your other brand content efforts.
You don’t want to develop and/or choose a piece of music and audio content just because you like it — it must clarify what your brand stands for. Are you carefree, festive, and mobile? Trustworthy, supportive and comfortable? Innovative, surprising, and friendly? As we mentioned above, when music is used as language, it not only creates a bond, it helps tell your story.
- Don’t neglect a measurement mechanism: After you’ve incorporated your signature audio elements in your brand content, you will want to test their impact. For example, consider surveying loyal customers (as well as prospects and other consumers) directly or via social media to see if — and where — the incorporation of audio in your brand content has helped to improve their perception of your brand.
Have you used audio branding in a content campaign? Or, are there some brands that come to mind that use audio in an easily recognizable way? Let us know how audio might play into your brand content efforts in the comments below.
Looking for more advice on helping your brand stand out in a competitive marketplace? Read Joe Pulizzi’s book, “Epic Content Marketing: How to Tell a Different Story, Break through the Clutter, & Win More Customers by Marketing Less.”