Does audio branding have a lasting impact on consumers’ perception of a brand? For The Drum’s Audio Deep Dive, we take a look at the research and find out how food brand Heck went about developing a sonic identity that will feature in its marketing for the next 20 years.
More and more brands are investing in the creation of sonic identities – some to better effect than others. This is all thanks to the explosion of audio-only platforms, from podcasts to home assistants, streaming services and the resurgence of retail media and in-store radio.
There was a 22% increase in brands launching sonic identities in 2021, with global giants including American Express, Frito-Lay, Singapore Airlines, Betway, General Mills and Walmart all significantly increasing their sonic investments. Just this week, meanwhile, Cadbury has revealed its sonic identity. In short, marketers have realized that recognition and memorability can some through sound across a multitude of different touchpoints.
“Sonic identities can be wired in our brain in the place where memory and emotions happen – so, basically, exactly where brands want to be,” says Michele Arnese, founder and global CEO of Amp, a sound branding agency.
“Moving from one platform to another, you can work on how these melodies can ’sound’, applying the platform specification to the translation of these elements from platform to platform. It’s like getting dressed for different types of events, from a sporting event to a dinner date. In this way, we make brands recognizable in products, physical spaces, digital content and the metaverse using a seamless transition of their sonic DNA into these platforms.”
Fellow sonic branding agency DLMDD and audio testing platform SoundOut recently researched the ROI on sonic logos in the UK and US. They surveyed 8,000 Brits about the 40 top UK brands, including Asda, Just Eat, Haribo, Lloyds Bank, Renault and Moonpig, while 22,000 consumers in the US were shown 110 brands.
The research found that brands that have recognizable sonic identities can see an average 5% increase in their perceived value and a similar increase among consumers for purchase intent. The study showed that when consumers make no connection between the sonic logo and the brand, there was a 7.7% reduction in the perceived value.
Elsewhere, Amp delved into research to correlate sonic identities with brand recognition, awareness and value. It found, perhaps unsurprisingly, that there was a connection that was especially strong with the technology and electronics sectors, with brands such as Apple and Nintendo performing highly.
The success of Apple’s sonic branding lies in its subtlety. There’s no big brand jingle and instead the company has carefully considered every sound that’s associated with its products, from the chime of a Mac switching on to the identifiable ’click’ of the iPhone keyboard. For its 45th anniversary last year, it created a song based on a culmination of all these little sounds, which it believes are now a core part of the brand identity.
Figure 2: Scatter Plot showing the relationship between Best Audio Brand Index Score and Brand Value (measured in billion US dollars) for brands in the Technology Sector (Blue) and the Electronics Sector (yellow)
But it’s not just the tech companies that see the benefits from a sound investment. Mastercard was among the first brand to publicly commit to investing in a sonic identity, which it debuted in 2019. Today, nearly 95% of all global Mastercard audio-visual content features some element of its sonic identity according to Amp, which it says has significantly improved attributes such as differentiation, image, identity and emotional connectivity with consumers.
“Sonic branding creates brand recall and solidifies a new element of your branding into your repertoire,“ according to Greg Boosin, Mastercard’s executive vice-president for global business-to-business and product marketing.
He told the 2020 Association of National Advertisers (ANA) State of Audio conference that sonic brands appeal “directly to your subconscious and they do that through logos, music tracks, live music events, phone sounds and computer sounds,“ and that, “if you’re not thinking about this, you ought to be“.
He added: “All of our brands can strengthen their differentiation, their image, their identity and, most importantly, their emotional connection and sense of belonging among consumers.”
Amp worked with Mastercard on its sonic strategy and Arnese explains that one measure of effectiveness it has focused on is the gain of trust during payments in a digital or physical environment. “Another metric is related to the level of engagement with branded content, associated with the branded sound,“ he says. “A growth of 300% in comments about music on the digital channels of our client Mercedes-Benz is proof of growing engagement, along with the time spent on content.“
How the Heck do you create an effective sonic identity?
Armed with this data, food brand Heck recently decided it was time to create its own sonic brand. The company is famed for its chicken sausages, but increasingly it has been diversifying its product line and needed something that would unite its brands.
“We’re always looking for new ways to speak with our customers,” says marketing director Jack Tate, who adds that “Just Eat, Netflix and Mastercard show how powerful a little bit of sound is and how it can change how you feel about a brand“.
The company worked with DLMDD, which initially treated the brief like any other piece of brand identity work – researching the company, talking to staff about its values, understanding the consumer point of view. From an on-paper summary of what Heck is, the keywords ‘iconic‘, ‘quirky‘, ‘energetic‘, ‘happy‘ and ‘genuine‘ emerged – each of which the brand then tasked musicians to create a ‘sound’ for. That then went through testing with sound research platform Ignite, which compared these sounds with thousands of others in a database to ensure they align with those brand cornerstones.
Arguably, there’s a bit of the ’cheese’ factor in the end result – a chirpy tune, dubbed One Heck of a Flavor, that comes complete with a video of staff dancing in its factories. But Erin McCullough, the agency’s brand music consultant, says that is entirely intentional and that it wanted something that would instantly stick in people’s minds. “Heck is a super fun, vibrant, disruptive brand in a traditional market, so having a song that’s a bit cheesy and references the product is fun. You’d rather have something that’s in someone’s head than not.”
For McCullough, the sonic logos that work best ”are a bit irritating”. She says: ”It’s an earworm. You’ll be able to recall it in five years. There’s a time for a classic sonic identity and then there’s a time for something fun and completely crazy.”
Multiple assets have been created to be used across different platforms and brand touchpoints, from a two-minute jingle that can be used in adverts and call center music to a five-second audio cue designed for smart speakers, like Google Echo and Amazon’s Alexa, and streaming platforms such as Spotify.
“This was built with dexterity in mind,” continues McCullough. “It has been built to last. It’s like a visual logo that people will see again and again to create a connection with the brand. We want it to last 15 or 20 years.”
Tate says that, in time, he wants the sonic logo to be just as recognizable as that logo on its packs and knows it will need to spend significant media budget to get there. “We’re in it for the long haul,“ he says.
Defining the metrics to measure how effective all this is in shifting the dial for Heck’s brand awareness and perception long term is still a work in progress, but for now, for Tate, it’s about “awareness, conversion and loyalty“.
“That’s what we want. When people think of any Heck product, we want them to hear the sound.“