Amp sound branding’s Michele Arnese: why brands investing in sound climb higher up the scale

Could your brand currently be recognised if it cannot be seen? Even pre-Covid, consumers were flocking to ‘brand invisible’ environments, through their smart speakers and voice devices – the pandemic has only accelerated touchless and mobile interactions. A rise in streaming and audible content such as podcasts has pushed marketers to shift spending and boost digital storytelling strategies. A sonic strategy that considers all of these touchpoints and makes a brand heard in an authentic, immersive and contextually relevant manner, can be a real differentiator.

Technology is increasingly challenging brands to communicate with people through sound and digital technology is now deeply rooted in culture worldwide. That’s why the Best Audio Brands (BAB) 2021 report is so timely, as it reflects how global brands have had to adapt to changing consumer behaviours and the new realities for customer experience, retail, and brand strategies impacted by COVID-19.

Drawing from Interbrand’s highly respected Best Global Brands Index, it aims to capture how a brand is performing in terms of how it uses sound effectively each year while considering what it has done previously, analysing and ranking 100 brands including the likes of Netflix, Disney, Mercedes and Google.

Best Audio Brands results

This year, BAB shows evidence that companies investing in developing high quality and owned audio assets – such as sonic logos and music specially created for their brands – have gained significant ground on their rivals and have even increased ROI.

The top 25 brands in the ranking have been placed on these pedestals because they scored highly against the following criteria which amp sound branding uses to measure audio investment performance: customer recognition, customer trust, customer experience, customer engagement and customer belonging.

Out of these top 25 brands, fifteen now have a sonic brand identity, with 37% of sonic logo usage for the top 25 while the average for the following 75 brands is 6%. An ‘audio advantage’ chasm is opening up whereby many brands are struggling to cut through the noise, especially those without any recognizable audio identity. Furthermore, brands have realised that having just a sonic logo is not enough. Five of the ten most efficient brands have a holistic sonic identity. In other words, they incorporate their identity at more audible touchpoints, rather than just at the end of an ad.

Mastercard (above) leads the ranking for the second year in a row due to its consistent expansion of the use of sound across all its global digital platforms and further growing its audible footprint at physical and digital retail services. Other brands such as Coca-Cola jumped well up the index by spending a little more on bespoke music, such as its partnership with Tyler the Creator for a global campaign, while Netflix jumped 27 places by using its infamous “ta-dum” more extensively.

The highest climbing brand sector was financial services, where as well as Mastercard, HSBC, American Express and JP Morgan all increased their ranking significantly. This was due to an increase in customised audio and, for HSBC, the creation and roll-out of its sonic identity in 2019, which has propelled its audio branding presence over the last couple of years.

Stock music a no-go

Studies have shown that sonic logos that consistently utilise melody strongly outperform those that don’t when it comes to memorability. Many brands that dropped in this year’s ranking increased their short-term use of generic stock music. Google dropped 16 places and Amazon (scored as the overall brand including Alexa) dropped 12 places for this reason.

Brands are increasingly featuring across apps, smart speakers, in-store POS, marketing and other digital platforms, and trust has now become a critical issue for all brands as our world becomes increasingly challenging.

Consistent recognition of a brand through sound allows the brand’s personality attributes to shine and resonate with the consumer, building a wall of trust that is integral to the relationship between brand and consumer. Stock music often has no artistic emotion and if a brand does find a commendable piece, it’s likely it’s been used by 100 other brands already.

The future of sound branding

Sound branding is not new. Forward-thinking brands like McDonald’s and Disney have created sonic logos or jingles for the past several decades to encourage the public to subconsciously recall them when they hear the specific sound. The future of audio branding sees an integrated sonic branding that requires a truly multi-dimensional sonic expression of the brand, or as amp calls it ‘Sonic DNA’. Audio must run throughout every touchpoint of a brand, instantly recalling positive associations within the consumer to make a difference.

Technology like immersive audio, which has not yet been seized by brand marketing leaders, will also come to the fore. Now brands are even starting to jump on the commercial music stage as investment in bespoke music and sound branding is proving to be successful – as shown by BAB 2021. Could we start to see more brands such as Amazon or Mercedes entering the Grammy’s or the charts?

The next decade will be framed by a duality in visual and audio brand strategy investment. Best Audio Brands 2021 indicates that brands from a wide range of industries – financial, automotive, energy and tech to name a few – are increasingly investing in bespoke music to identify their brands across a growing range of digital channels and real-world interactions.

While many brands have developed a sonic strategy this year, for most there is still an opportunity to either start that journey or to expand their current strategy to a more holistic approach. This will become increasingly crucial as we move into a ‘more heard than seen’ branded world with its numerous audible touchpoints.

Michele Arnese is founder and CEO, amp sound branding.

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