Sonic Branding: Designing and Hiring Your Perfect Brand Voice
If you’re still thinking of commercial jingles and brand mascot voices when you hear the term, ‘sonic branding,’ this guide is for you.
With so many sonic channels emerging, from smart speakers, to podcasts, and everything in between, the ‘era of voice’ is upon us, and your brand’s audiences are listening. Smart speakers are in nearly half of all American homes, audiobooks are the fastest growing sector of publishing, and one third of Americans aged 25-54 listen to podcasts monthly.
Now is the time for every brand, big and small, to take their knowledge of sonic branding to the next level, and hone their unique sound.
In this article, we’ll focus specifically on the vocal aspect of sonic branding, exploring how you can uncover your literal brand voice via two different exercises, and walk you through how to articulate your voice clearly through artistic direction.
What is Sonic Branding?
Broadly speaking, sonic branding is composed of the unique sounds that echo the emotion of your brand, and create a connection with the listener. These sounds could be of a musical quality, embodied by the voice of a particular individual or synthetic vocalization, or both.
Sonic branding is leveraged throughout various avenues and channels, from the sound of a company’s hold music, to backing tracks and voice over in commercials, and beyond. Some brands, like Apple, are iconic for the sound their product makes upon start-up, while others, like MasterCard, have thoughtfully designed their sonic branding so it crosses every consumer touchpoint, all the way down to the point-of-sale terminal.
Voice Apps and Sonic Branding Channels
The emergence of voice technology and its rapid adoption across America, have opened up new avenues for sonic branding. However, studies show that brands are still finding their footing when it comes to voice apps in particular.
A 2019 survey, carried out by Voices.com and Voicebot.ai, examined the practices and attitudes of marketers and agencies across the U.S., towards voice technology and discovered that:
- Marketers are under-participating in a very important marketing channel: Despite the fact that 63% of marketers view voice assistants as a very important marketing channel, only 24% had launched an app, and half stated they have no plans to launch an app.
- Mobile and automobiles offer the most exciting placement for voice: Smartphones and automobiles rank as the two most important channels for brands to have a voice presence, followed by smart speakers.
- Disproportionate use of the ‘default’ in voice app could be harming engagement: Of those who have created a voice app, 74% (or 3 out of 4) have opted to use the default voice. However, those who opted to hire a voice actor (15% of app creators), ‘creating engagement’ was the top reason for doing so.
Discovering Your Literal Tone [Exercises]
To take your brand tone from the figurative to the literal, it requires a little visionary exercise.
Let’s personify your brand.
Brand Voice Exercise 1: Reconnect with Why You Communicate and Who You’re Talking to
Without a listener, your brand’s voice and tone would be meaningless. And without a strong message and an intended emotional response, any communication with your audience would just be noise.
That’s why it’s always best to start this series of exercises off with reconnecting to your company’s vision, and your audience.
Take a few moments to revisit and re-familiarize yourself with any documentation that you may have on hand that describes your raison d’etre, and whose lives you are impacting. Some examples may include your:
- Mission and vision statement
- Customer service guidelines
- Marketing materials
- Content guidelines
- Public relations materials/company boilerplate
- And any other documentation that guides your company goals, aspirations, and communications.
Pay attention to the brand language and note:
What are your core values?
How do you live your core values (how are they expressed in behavior, speech, etc)?
What words are being used to describe the aspirational side of your business (who you aim to be, the change you’re attempting to make, etc)?
Who is your target demographic? Where do they live? How old are they? What approach do you use to connect with them (to motivate, inspire or drive them to action) through written, audio and visual materials?
What makes your brand different from others in your market – and how is this difference communicated to your target market?
As you’re reading corporate guides or materials, what emotional vibe do these internal documents convey? Or, said another way, how does the written language make you feel?
Brand Voice Exercise 2: The Restaurant Meeting
Pretend that your brand has arranged a meeting at a restaurant with a very important client. The client arrives before you, and takes a seat facing the door so they can see when you come in.
We’re going to describe how you (the brand) would look and behave, and what your client would see and feel when you arrive, walk towards them and sit down together.
Consider the following questions and feel free to be unique in your answers. The included examples are meant to be just that, examples. They should prompt you, but not inform how you answer. Respond authentically for your unique brand.
The Restaurant Meeting
You arrive at the restaurant, and spot your client sitting at the far table:
How do you acknowledge them from across the room (e.g. With a respectful nod or a beaming smile)?
How do you walk over (e.g. Do you saunter casually, or with measured and professional steps)?
What do they feel when they see you approach (e.g. Does the client feel a sense of awe at your impressive presence, or are they instantly put at ease)?
Are they glad to see you? Are they exuberantly excited? Or feeling relieved? Are they intimidated by the meeting?
How would the client describe what you’re wearing (e.g. are you dressed immaculately, or in a company golf shirt)? Describe what you’re wearing from shoes all the way up to your accessories.
When you speak, what is the first thing you say?
How do you say it (e.g. Is it with warmth, or cold reserve? Is your voice bright and booming? Or low and respectful?)?
Why do you say it (e.g. Are you following formalities, or are you trying to create an engaging interaction right off the hop? Are you funny, or serious?)?
Brand Voice Exercise 3: The Celebrity Test
One of the most popular ways to describe the voice that we hear in our head, is by giving it a celebrity reference. This of course is one of the reasons why celebrity spokespeople are a popular choice for many top brands.
Here, we’ll explore your brand’s celebrity persona, and examine what qualities make your chosen star a great fit.
Your Brand’s Celebrity Persona
If your brand were a celebrity, who would it be?
What does their voice sound like?
How does their voice make you feel?
What personal characteristics do they have?
Is your selection based purely on vocal qualities, or are you also drawn to that celebrity for other reasons (e.g. their personal brand, personality, previous work, etc)?
Brand Voice in Context
Now that you have an idea of what your brand sounds like, who you’re speaking to, how you approach them, and the emotional vibe that you’re conveying, it’s time to put your voice into various contexts.
After all, a voice has a spectrum of expression, and may convey different tones in different contexts. For instance, how you sound when you’re selling someone on your products and services is likely to be different from the tone you take when you’re helping someone through a customer service issue.
Your literal brand voice needs to operate in the same way.
Answer these questions to put your brand voice into context:
When we are pitching a product or idea, we sound:
When we are assisting an upset customer, our tone should be [description] because it needs to convey [this sentiment]:
When we are congratulating a customer, for instance, when they make a purchase, selection, or reach a milestone, we want our language to make them feel:
When we are explaining a process, or how our product works, our voice needs to be:
When we pick up the phone to answer a client call, our tone should be:
Get the Vocal Delivery You Need
When we are pitching a product or idea, we sound:
One of the most common mistakes that brands make when attempting to source a voice is that they provide insufficient vocal direction in the job posting, or in the call to audition.
Here’s how to get the best voice for your project:
Writing a Good Voice Over Job Description
Your voice over job should always include an overview of your project, what the intended usage is for the voice over, and any technical requirements and special requests, as well as great vocal direction.
Great vocal direction can include:
- The action you’re trying to drive through your project.
- The feeling you want to evoke.
- Who the target audience is, and how the voice over should connect with them.
- Vocal qualities you’d like to see reflected.
Family Feast To Go is a service specifically geared towards families and individuals who want to order in larger quantities, including those who wish to have leftovers the next day. Through the Family Feast To Go Alexa Skill, you can order dinner for pick-up or delivery. We offer meal choices to our customers that are healthy, easy to serve and of course, delicious. Food servings come in meals of 4 servings, 6 servings and 8 servings.
Our brand is known for providing incredible value, along with supporting healthy living. However, we also pride ourselves on our technology. We are the first company of our kind to offer wholesome, quick meal ordering and delivery nationwide, via our Alexa Skill. As such, Family Feast To Go is a company that’s positioned at the intersection between traditional values and new technology.
Our main demographic is composed of older millennials, who are parents of young, school-age children. Our clients mostly come from dual income families, where both parents are working outside of the home, and great value is placed on creating an easier way to feed their families healthy meals.
For this role, we’re looking for a voice actor who can serve as the brand voice for an Alexa Skill.
The right voice for this Alexa Skill is a friendly voice that appears to remember the customer each time the skill is launched. However, our brand voice also needs to embody our values and sound like our target demographic. For this job, the voice is described as middle-aged, however, consider this range to be approx. 35-45. The tone of voice should convey warmth and be caring with a smile, in an approachable, down to earth tone.
How to Describe a Voice Over
You can also consider using key words to describe your voice over, such as those associated with:
- Values (conservative or liberal)
- Tone (from serious to conservative)
- Delivery (from fast to slow)
- Volume (high-pitched to low)
Conclusion: Discovering Your Sonic Brand is Within Reach
While sonic branding may be a rapidly growing topic of interest, getting started doesn’t have to be daunting. By walking your brand through a few simple exercises, you’ll quickly develop a solid understanding of your own unique persona, sound, and intended emotional response.
The time to dive into our audio era is now. Whether you’re designing ads for Pandora, creating an audio blog, launching your first Alexa Skill, starting a podcast or more, you’re in good company.
Do you have experience honing your brand voice? Let us know more about your experience in the comments below!