What’s Your Sonic Brand? (We’re Not Talking Cheeseburgers)


Let’s talk about your sonic brand.

I get a lot of “huh?” and blank stares when I introduce sonic branding into a conversation. It’s a term many are unfamiliar with, but it’s also one that after five minutes and a few examples everyone gets. The concept behind sonic branding is super simple. Whether you realize it or not, you’ve been exposed to sonic branding since the day you started watching television. Or listening to the radio. Maybe even before then. We all have.

What is sonic branding and how does it apply to your marketing efforts? Give us five minutes and we’ll tell you everything you need to know.

Start the timer.

Sonic branding refers to everything from a ringtone to your company’s hold music to a full music theme. It’s a piece of audio content you create to serve as a signature sound to reinforce your brand’s identity. The intent is to create an association between the brand and the audio that a consumer is unable to separate.

When they hear the audio, they think of the brand.
When they think of the brand, they hear the audio.

Music has a deep impact on the human brain. Melodies and sounds penetrate and linger, affecting us in ways that speech or visual content just don’t. Remember the last time you had THAT song stuck in your head that you HATED but couldn’t shake? You may not be able to recite all the lyrics to every Beatles song but, if tested, you could probably hum the melodies, right?

Let’s test the power of sonic branding. Hit play below and close your eyes. How many of these brands do you instantly recognize solely through sound?

Freaky, right? That’s the power of sonic branding.

Another favorite example is NBC. I don’t need to add a link; you already know the chime. The origin of this earworm is an interesting story. The three notes were not created to catch your attention but rather the attention of local affiliate stations at the top of each hour to signify their cue to air the local ID as mandated by the FCC. In the 70s, some geniuses automated that process making the chimes unnecessary. However, some even geniuser geniuses (IMO) recognized that these tones had become part of NBC’s identity, thus they have continued the usage still. Think about it. Could you imagine NBC without the chimes?

Not likely. You can’t separate the audio from the brand. Or the brand from the audio.

When we talk about brand many of us immediately think of visual branding – like your brand colors or your company logo. Consider the usage of your company’s logo – it’s probably been with your company for a long time. Anywhere your brand appears and anywhere your brand has an opportunity to catch your customers’ eyeballs, you make sure your visual logo is there. It’s on your website, on letterhead, on business cards, in your email signature, etc. Over time, your audience begins to recognize that logo and begins to associate you with it. It becomes familiar.

Your sonic logo serves a similar purpose, and should be used every time you have the ability to connect with your audiences’ eardrums. Lucky for us, these opportunities are growing rapidly as the online and mobile experience becomes more video and audio-centric.

Incorporating Sonic Branding Into Your Marketing

How can you incorporate sonic branding into your existing marketing? There are endless opportunities. Every television, radio, cinema, and web ad should incorporate your sonic logo — a musical tag your customers will come to associate with you.

If you use music throughout the ad, take control of that as well. Don’t just use stock audio; that’s a lost opportunity and carries no extrinsic value whatsoever (you wouldn’t use a stock image as your visual logo, would you?). Instead, develop the sonic logo and incorporate it into a longer music bed that you own and that represents and identifies YOU. This same music or a derivative can be used as your hold music on the phone, played in your lobby, storefront, ring tone, etc. There are many opportunities to further strengthen your audiences association with your brand. Take advantage!

You don’t need NBC’s spending power to recognize and implement a simple and effective sonic branding strategy. Why more brands aren’t taking advantage of sonic branding is puzzling, but use their lack of awareness to your benefit. Create that signature sound that will not only get your brand stuck in the minds’ of your customers, but that will help associate your brand with your industry and whatever it is that you do.

You wouldn’t skip using your visual logo on your website, so why would you use audio not specifically tailored to your identity to speak for you? Every brand wants to be recognized and remembered. The power of sound might just be your best option to accomplish that.

Did you know that five minutes ago?