Power of sound in branding

Sight is a powerful sense, but sound can be even more powerful.

And in marketing, sound is being used more and more in branding campaigns as a way to reach consumers through their computers, MP3 players or iPods, and cell phones. Sonic branding, as it’s called, allows a company to create an auditory identity, leading consumers to equate that particular sound with a particular product or service.

“The consumer is much more available in the sonic interface today,” says Vijaykumar Krishnan, assistant professor of marketing at Northern Illinois University. “You can shut your eyes, but not your ears. Sonic interfaces are always available and, therefore, a sonic branding message tends to work harder. At the same time, it is less obtrusive, allowing consumers to process the brand message even when they are otherwise engaged.”

Smart Business spoke with Krishnan about how to develop an effective sonic branding campaign to create both short- and long-term financial impacts at your company.

How does sonic branding work, and what are the associated benefits and risks?

Sound can be innately suggestive of certain brand situations and experiences. For example, we automatically associate a shutter sound with a camera. Many cell phones produce the pseudo-shutter sound accompanying the click, even though they do not have the shutter mechanism, to create an authentic brand experience. Here, the shutter sound is innately associated with the category so that the consumer experience is fluent. The consumer is not consciously aware of the sonic element. However, a sonic branding element that is not congruent to the product category can attract undue attention and lead to consumer annoyance. Thus, it is important to consider appropriateness of the associated sonic elements.

In what industries would sonic branding be most successful?

Overall, it’s relevant in any situation. However, sonic logos, or ‘sogos’ as I call them to rhyme with logos, might be more beneficial in situations where brand/product visualization is difficult — such as for ingredient brands. For example, the special Lycra stretch in the garment cannot be visualized, but sonic branding may be able to bring it alive and draw attention to that ingredient. Corporate branding, where the brand value is more abstract and intangible, is another strong candidate for sonic branding.

You may also use it in service branding, where services cannot be seen in the same way that a product can be seen, felt or touched. How do you brand the service of a law firm, doctor, hospital, etc.? These are the type of situations where sound brings alive and amplifies the brand experience.