What is sonic branding, and how can you make the most of it?

We come to know most brands visually – through their ads, banners, logos and packaging. This isn't going to change anytime soon, but sight isn't the only sense people have.

Hearing is just as important for creating memories and experiences – and if you're neglecting the power of sound in your brand-building, you're losing out.

Previously, we've looked at the ways you can use sound to increase sales in your retail store. But sonic branding isn't limited to one location. It's a wider use of sound that spreads your message throughout society and culture. And that means it can seriously enhance your profitability.

Whether you're a retailer, online seller, cultural institution or public service, you've got a big opportunity for growth by using sonic branding.

We'll take a look at what it is and the different ways you can use it. We'll also take a deeper look at the ideal home for sonic branding – the retail store.  

What is sonic branding?

Sonic branding, also known as audio branding, is the expression of your brand through sound.

It most commonly appears through a 'jingle' – a short, instantly recognisable piece of music or sound that customers link to your brand. Popular global examples of this are McDonald's ("I'm Lovin' It"), Apple (the startup sound their computers make), Amazon (the voice of Alexa, the interactive assistant), and Microsoft (the Windows startup sound). You might think of these as 'audio logos'.

But it has a much wider scope. Just like a brand's visual assets consist of their logo, visual style, typeface, animations, product, product packaging and more, their sonic branding exists through lots of different channels.

It's all about creating a distinct audio identity that's deeply intertwined with your brand, and the messages and feelings it promotes in the minds of your customers.

The sounds involved in audio branding are designed to reach your customers' ears wherever they hang out. These touchpoints could consist of:

  • Public spaces (like train stations)
  • Retail stores and shopping malls
  • TV advertising
  • Social media ads / content sponsorships
  • Website banners
  • Podcast sponsorship
  • In-app advertising like Spotify

It might consist of a single audio logo or advert, or it could be a wider extension of your brand identity, covering your audio 'style' or approach to sonic messaging.

What are the benefits of sonic branding?

By embracing sonic branding alongside your other marketing activities, you'll be able to influence various customer behaviours. These are the main benefits:

1 ) Improve brand recognition and recall

Audio branding can really help link your brand to certain emotions, experiences, and facts.

According to a study done for Spotify in 2020, audio ads are more memorable and motivational, driving 24% higher recall than display ads, and were 'twice as likely to lift purchase intent'.

Sonic branding through direct ads (like podcasts) is 'hot media', according to tech writer Alex Danco – it's densely packed with information, rewards high engagement, and is more memorable because listeners and subscribers pay more attention to it.

On an average day, you'll probably hear fewer sonic branding messages than you see visual ones. (Think of how many logos you see per minute travelling through a city centre - it can be thousands.) This means audio messages can have a bigger impact if they catch your interest – or that of your target audience.

2 ) Enhance the impact of visual branding

Visual merchandising in retail stores (or public spaces) is a key part of influencing purchases and building your brand. An eye-catching display that holds shoppers' attention is the best way to provoke an emotional response.

By adding sound to the mix, you can amplify the message that a display has. Whether that's through ambient music, the spoken word, sound effects, or something even more creative, well-designed sound will really make a difference to the impact of it.

As a branding exercise it's even better. Visual merchandising that uses the same messaging and creative as your targeted online ads, for example, will create a unified brand representation – a much more integrated experience for customers.

3 ) Influence purchase decisions in-store

It's true that sound is an under-utilised medium for the shop floor. But simply broadcasting radio ads to every department in your store isn't the best way to make use of it. (Plus, this can have negative effects).

Your brand sound can be used alongside point of purchase displays for a more unified shopping experience, and you can deploy targeted sound in different areas of your store for different purposes.

The possibilities are endless - and as we'll cover below, there are plenty of creative opportunities to deploy your brand voice within your retail store.

4 ) Extend your reach

Musical branding (like in the examples above) can transcend language and culture to be recognised all over the world.

Once a brand message reaches your customer and connects with them, it can travel wherever they do, becoming more of a meme than a message. This can't happen with a visual logo for example, or other parts of graphic design, but it can for your copy and audio.

Sonic branding can enhance the way people engage with your brand, making experiences more immersive and strengthening their connection with your values, ethos and purpose.

Photo by Mohammad Metri on Unsplash

How to build your audio brand

If you're a really small brand or startup, you should be able to make a start with audio branding by hiring contractors or freelancers. Music producers and voiceover artists are available to hire from sites like Upwork, and if you choose the ones with positive reviews, you should end up with some great creative content to deploy across your marketing channels. There is a balance to be had between affordability and quality, of course – choosing the cheapest option probably won't cause great results.

If you've got a larger budget and you're looking for a more strategic relationship, we'd recommend working with a sonic branding agency.

They'll combine your brand expertise and passion with their creativity and audio mastery to produce something really memorable. But they should also have the strategic marketing knowledge to research your customers and craft something finely tuned to their persona. As well as the creation of jingles or sonic logos, they'll handle the technical side of things, providing you with pro quality files which you can broadcast directly from your equipment.

How to use sonic branding in your retail store

Firstly, there's the classic method of broadcasting it through the store by using conventional loudspeakers. Some stores will do this with pre-recorded announcements, like informing shoppers that there's a promotion on, followed by a branded sound or jingle.

This integrates nicely if your brand audio appears elsewhere, like on radio, TV or web advertisements. It helps with familiarity and brand recall. But it's an easy option, and not always the most effective.

Broadcasting messages throughout the whole store can reduce shoppers' willingness to spend more time there. If it's intrusive, annoying or too loud, it becomes a form of noise pollution. It's distracting and stressful, and contributes to a less than enjoyable shopping experience. So you have to be careful how you deploy this kind of sound.

Instead, we recommend a more targeted approach to building your sonic identity. By using directional speakers in your store, you'll be able to limit sound playback to specific areas.

This means that you could create much more creative and engaging branding experiences:

  • Give additional information for products when customers interact with them
  • Make the entrance / exit of your store more memorable with sonic branding as customers enter or leave
  • Enhance your visual merchandising displays with creative branded audio elements
  • Improve your accessibility by directing customers around the store, perhaps with the same voices you use in your ads

With directional sound, you can segment your audio branding into different areas of the shop floor, playing multiple audio files that don't interfere with one another.

The result: multiple different sonic branding opportunities around the store, and a peaceful environment without sound pollution. Pretty good, right?