Sonic Branding: Designing and Hiring Your Perfect Brand Voice
People are developing habitual listening lifestyles as their visual attention is increasingly in demand, occupied by the plethora of visual stimuli around us. So how are advertisers for any company size supposed to break through the visual noise?
Digital. Audio. Advertising.
We’re on our final digital audio advertising piece of the mini series. If you’ve been following along, you know the creative outlets of digital audio advertising are accomplishing big things for the companies brave enough to try something new-to-them!
So far, we’ve covered how companies are using sympaphonic ads to dynamically change the background music during their ads, how brands are tapping into smart speakers with voice-activated ads, and how 3D audio ads are increasing memorability and engagement.
All three of those stellar tactics fall under the umbrella of our fourth and final topic:
What do these videos have in common?
They’re examples of sonic brands, of course.
In this article, we’ll walk you through two different exercises to help you uncover your brand voice by getting back in touch with your brand origins, values, and aspirations.
Then, we’ll talk about finding the proof in the pudding—the testing and research you can do to know with certainty the sonic brand you’re developing will have its intended effect.
Next, we’ll walk you through hiring and directing a voice actor so you’re prepared for when a vocal component to your sonic brand is needed.
Finally, you’ll find gems of inspiration from others who have successfully brought their brands to life with a sonic identity throughout this piece.
Want to skip ahead? Use the links below to jump to sections of the post:
- What is sonic branding?
- Enhancing your brand voice
- Bringing your brand voice to life in 3 steps
- Sonic brand building exercise 1: Connect to your brand voice
- Sonic brand building exercise 2: Describing your brand sound
- How these big brands brought their brand voice to life
- Testing sonic brands
- Hiring voice over for your sonic brand
What is Sonic Branding?
Your sonic brand is the unique soundscape that drives home the tone and personality of your brand voice. This collection of sounds can be of a musical quality, embodied by the voice of a particular individual or synthetic vocalization, or both.
A sonic brand can be composed of everything audio, whether that looks like a sonic logo featured in commercials and digital ads, the sound effects produced when a customer uses your app or website, a company’s hold music, and beyond.
Some brands, like Netflix, have become iconic for their product’s startup sound. Others, such as Avon, have carefully deliberated their sonic brand so that it spans every consumer touchpoint, all the way down to the point-of-sale terminal.
Using the right mix of sounds for your sonic identity can create connections and feelings about your brand through sound. It’s the added element to digital audio marketing that makes your brand recognizable over your competitors.
SmileDirectClub is a perfect example of this. A case study provided by Veritonic—the leader in audio creative research and analytics—showcased how the right combination of spoken word (the brand name) and musicality can generate brand lift. For SmileDirectClub, the sonic logo boosted brand recall by 25% among families with kids. And thanks to Veritonic’s powerhouse AI that tests sonic logos for emotional attributes, among many other things, SmileDirectClub was able to proceed with a sonic brand that received 17% higher ratings for eliciting feelings of happiness than other brands in the consumer packaged goods industry.
Sonic Branding Enhances Your Overall Brand Voice
Your brand voice is how your brand’s personality comes to life through all modes of expression, from the written word to visuals and audio. It is how your brand’s core values are expressed and acts as the joining force between all of your content, ensuring that your brand seamlessly feels ‘like you’ and creates the right emotional reaction, no matter the channel (audio, visual, digital, in-person, etc.).
Today, sonic branding is recognized as a unique identifier, just as distinct and carefully crafted as a brand’s visual logo. The intentional selection of sound elements is meant to create consistency throughout every touchpoint of the customer experience.
AudioDraft showcases the sonic branding of Outotec in the below video. It perfectly captures the thoughtfulness and intentional choices the brand made to develop their sonic identity and alludes to how the audio is used for multiple touchpoints throughout the marketing mix.
Because of its importance, sonic branding needs to not only mirror, but enhance your brand voice. Luckily, showing personality and striking an emotional chord is exactly what audio is good at: bringing your values and intended emotional reactions, quite literally, to life.
Every year, Veritonic publishes the Audio Logo Index. The report is the result of its AI that processes hundreds of thousands of audio files using proprietary algorithms to identify trends, along with survey data collection and interviews—a truly empirical and qualitative representation of the state of audio logos in the UK and US markets.
The 2021 Audio Logo Index proves just how imperative it is for companies to move beyond considering making a sonic brand, and actually doing so in 2022.
The Index also highlights brands that are breaking into the audio logo space with their very first sonic identity. This means brands that were not able to be recalled or recognized just last year are making legitimate awareness gains through sonic branding only one year later. These stars include brands like Michaels craft stores—its first sonic logo became more recognizable than much more prominent brands like Honda.
Considering launching your sonic brand? Read our 2022 Voice Branding Trends Report to learn about the 4 key trends influencing the industry.
Bringing Your Brand Voice to Life in 3 Steps
Here’s how you can bring your brand’s voice to life through audio:
Step 1: Reflect on your brand’s ‘why’
Take a long, hard look in the mirror, and ask yourself why you’re in the business that you’re in. Think back on your origin story. Remind yourself what your company initially set out to accomplish. What problems are you solving with your products and services, and why is your brand the most desirable option for your customers? What is your M.O., and how does this purposely differentiate you from your industry competitors?
As you rekindle the passion that fuelled the founding of your brand in the first place, the underlying characteristics that define your brand will begin to emerge—whether they’re grit, determination, empathy, or the desire to make the world a better place.
Step 2: Focus on the emotional connection you want to create, and then test it
When you have a distinct brand voice, you open yourself up to the possibility of achieving a strong emotional resonance with your audience. But first, of course, you have to ask yourself what kind of emotional relationship that is.
Do you want to inspire feelings of health and sustainability for being globally conscious? Do you want to convey toughness? Or maybe build a reputation for being fun and lighthearted? Once you’ve brainstormed the emotional connection just right for your company, testing it for effectiveness is up next.
Damian Scragg, International General Manager at Veritonic, spoke to how critical this stage of preparation is.
“If you’re a telecom company and your sonic logo evokes a childlike emotion more suited for a toy company, it’s safe to say you’re missing the mark. Testing for these key emotions and attributes will help to uncover that information before your sonic brand goes to market.”
There’s more to say on testing. We’ve addressed it as a stand alone item below. You can skip to read more about it now, or continue on!
Step 3: Integrate your sonic brand through every customer touchpoint
The emotional relationship you create with your customers should span:
- Direct engagements (e.g. walking around a physical store, speaking with an employee over the phone, etc.)
- Emotions that endure long after a transaction (e.g. hearing a podcast ad, watching a commercial, etc.)
To do that, you need to ensure your sonic brand is woven through all of your branded materials.
Start by building a list of branded materials that would involve a sonic component. For instance, your podcast intro, your app’s startup sound, the close-out on your YouTube videos, your social media reels, etc.
Update those existing assets and ensure that your sonic brand guidelines are well-documented and adhered to the next time an asset is being produced.
Remember, sonic branding doesn’t necessarily mean that you use the exact same sound file in every piece of branding, but that consistent sonic components are included somehow.
Cut downs or extended versions of the sonic logo are the perfect way to expand the portfolio of your sonic identity. You want audio files that can serve multiple purposes moving forward, so if you’re outsourcing the production of your sonic logo, be sure to make this a part of the deal.
Sonic Brand Building Exercises
Especially in the era of social responsibility, every brand will need to ensure that its sonic brand is built around its core values and expresses how the brand positively impacts its community and the world at large.
This series of exercises will walk you through creating a sonic brand that will hold up against today’s consumer audiences from start to finish.
Sonic Brand Building Exercise 1: Connect to Your Brand Voice
Without a listener, your brand’s voice and tone would be meaningless. 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 audience.
Take a few moments to revisit and/or familiarize yourself with any documentation you may have on hand that describes your reason for being and whose lives you are impacting. Some examples may include your:
- Mission and vision statement
- Customer service guidelines
- Marketing materials or handbooks
- Content guidelines
- Public relations materials/company boilerplate/media kit
- Any other documentation that guides your company goals, aspirations, and communications
Remember, the language we use matters.
Pay attention to the brand language and note:
How are you living out your core values (how are they outwardly expressed by way of behavior, speech, etc.)?
What words are you employing to describe the aspirational angle 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 through written, visual, and audio 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, put another way, how does the written language make you feel?
Sonic Branding Exercise 2: Describing Your Brand Sound
Once you’ve connected with your brand voice, the time has come to bring it to life through sound.
In order to describe your brand sound, you need to think about how your brand’s personality would be embodied in a real person, and/or expressed through in-person interactions. That brings us to two exercises to help you describe your brand sound:
1. The Restaurant Meeting
Pretend that your brand has arranged for a meeting with a very important client at a restaurant. The client arrives before you, and takes a seat facing the door so they can see when you come in.
You’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? (Are you addressing them with a warm opening like “It’s so nice to finally meet you,” or are you apologizing for being late because the taxi took three wrong turns?)
How do you say it (e.g. Is it with warmth, or cold reserve? Is your voice bright and booming? 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?)
2. 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 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, the causes they support, their previous work)?
We utilized all of these exercises ourselves when developing the Voices sonic brand. Check out our blog post on how we developed and produced our own sonic logo.
Strong and Innovative Sonic Branding Examples
Now that you’re equipped with a few exercises that will help you uncover your brand voice and bring it to life, why not investigate how it panned out for these other big brands? The following are but a few brands that made waves with their sonic branding when it came out and continue to perform.
Mastercard’s Sonic Brand
Mastercard recognized the growing prevalence of purchases being made via audio-based platforms, from smart speakers to the Internet of Things, or ‘IoT’ (connected devices, from your automobile to your fridge, that can transfer information from one to another without human interaction), and decided it couldn’t afford to not be operating in the audio realm. So, they added sound as a new dimension of their brand identity.
Led by Raja Rajamannar, Mastercard assembled a team of composers, neurologists, and musicologists, and also sought the collaboration of world-famous musicians such as Camila Cabello and Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda. The team identified a “perfect sound” that could be interpreted in a countless number of ways that, no matter which version, conveys Mastercard’s brand voice.
“Sonic branding is not just a clever jingle or a mnemonic—it is a comprehensive brand architecture that has multiple layers and dimensions.”Raja Rajamannar, CMO Mastercard
Setting out on this undertaking, Mastercard knew its sonic brand needed to represent its brand voice: non-intrusive, pleasant, and reassuring—and it needed to be present throughout every touchpoint a customer would encounter while making a purchase with their Mastercard.
When Mastercard debuted its new brand sound, it revealed multiple variations of the sonic DNA that the team had cooked up, including the core 3-second sonic signature, a ‘sonic acceptance sound’ which is intended to play every time a successful transaction goes through with Mastercard, and a 30-second ‘sonic melody.’ The melody is extended and consists of layered variation on the sonic signature, which can be adapted for genre (e.g. operatic, playful), and localized (e.g. Mumbai, Bogota). There are currently 20 versions of the sonic melody, with about 200 versions predicted to be produced in the near future.
Everything involved in Mastercard’s sonic brand, including the ‘sonic signature,’ ‘sonic melody,’ and ‘sonic acceptance sound,’ is built upon the same foundational six-note tune.
Since the core tune never changes, the sonic brand reinforces the “seamless familiarity” that Mastercard wants to instil in its customer base.
American Express’ Sonic Brand
Amp, a creative agency specializing in sonic branding, partnered with Veritonic and other analytic companies to produce its own annual report: Top 100 Audio Brands of the Year. It developed the Audio Brand Recognition Score (a proprietary metric developed using tests of experience, trust, belonging, recognition, and engagement) and used it to rank the top 100 audio brands.
The latest report highlights the impressive gains made by American Express compared to the previous year. The credit card brand’s digital content was analyzed and found that its Audio Brand Recognition Score had improved by 32 positions!
What caused the bump? Amp says it was caused by American Express’ efforts to incorporate its sonic identity more consistently through its marketing content—a best practice mentioned above and echoed by Veritonic’s International GM, Damian Scragg.
“32% of [American Express’] videos last year did not incorporate any music and this year that number has dropped to 3%.”– Amp
Both of these credit card companies introduced their sonic brands to the world in genius ways, and with the help of solid PR strategies. Remember to make the most of your content by capturing the development process like Mastercard and American Express did to use in your PR efforts in the home stretch of sonic branding development.
Testing Sonic Brands to Create a Genuinely Effective Sonic Identity
Discovering how a business you care about translates to sound is a truly exciting experience. It’s easy to get caught up in the awe of the findings from the Restaurant Exercise, the Celebrity Persona Exercise, and the Use of Language Exercise done on your existing communications collateral.
Your team will undoubtedly feel the momentum of the sonic brand initiative propelling them into action. Is there anything better than seeing your team energized by the work they’re doing? The only thing better than that is empowering them to make decisions that will lead to the branding improvement they’re striving for.
There are a couple of ways you can go about that empowerment: testing for effectiveness.
Work With an Audio Effectiveness Firm
The question is, do you know if your podcast intro needs to be updated with the 3-second audio clip, or the 10-second audio. Do your YouTube videos perform better when the audio logo is at the beginning or end of them? Or, do your customers remain on hold longer when you update the IVR system with the audio logo?
Without answers to these questions, the addition of your sonic brand to your assets is based on what you think will work, not what you know will work.
Veritonic is a stand-out resource for ensuring that the time spent developing your sonic brand will create the impact your team is looking for. Every day, they help brands identify how audio campaigns—including audio logos—are resonating with the intended audiences through legitimate mixed-method experiments. Veritonic AI analyses audio sources and their effectiveness in terms of brand recall, recognition, sentiment, engagement, intent, and so much more.
The data is sitting and waiting to be compared to the variety of sonic logos your team has been working on (or in many instances, the sonic logos being worked on by a production agency you’ve hired). Then, Veritonic brings in the human element by allowing their clients to create customized and targeted test experiences to gather data which, when combined with the AI component, provides in-depth results on which version of the logo is likely to resonate most effectively with the target audience.
The biggest plus side to this process: sometimes we’re too close to our own work to examine it critically. Veritonic offers companies the opportunity to see how their hard work fares in the real world without the commitment of going to market with a sonic brand that hasn’t been proven effective yet.
As the leader in audio creative research and analytics, Veritonic demonstrates immense knowledge of best practices: how many times and at what time stamps a brand should say its name within an audio ad, how to create multiple versions of the sonic logo so it can be used everywhere a brand has an audio experience, and how the use of voice impacts the effectiveness of a sonic logo compared to other variations—like a capella singing of the notes, a whistled tune, or synthesized music. And this is just scratching the surface.
What’s more, Veritonic’s dedication to educating professionals in creative careers and beyond shows in its desire to share information with us. The Audio Logo Index, its branded podcast called the Sonic Truth, its Audio Ad Search tool, and its partnerships with both AMP and Southern Cross Austereo (SCA) on other audio trend reports all underscore Veritonic’s commitment to helping the industry at large harness and optimize the power of audio and pursue sonic audio branding.
Do Research In-house
If you’re on a tight budget, the stop-and-assess phase is even more important to get right—you can’t afford to make a sonic brand that isn’t effective. It needs to work. With the budget exhausted, there are a few instruments you can use to assemble a Frankenstein-like effectiveness report that will help guide your team’s final decision on the audio logo.
Surveys to Existing Clients
Building a simple Google Forms survey and mailing it to your existing clients for feedback on audio clips is a simple way to connect with people who already have experience with your brand and can tell you if something they’re hearing doesn’t align with their experience.
Some pro tips:
- Use the customization features of Google Forms (or whichever free survey software you prefer to use) to have the survey branded to your marketing guidelines (Hex codes for specific colors and shading, import your logo, change fonts to brand fonts, etc.)
- Make sure you’re BCCing your clients, or build a custom email in your Marketing Automation Software that includes a link to the survey.
- Include a final question asking for permission to have a follow up conversation based on their answers.
Focus Group with the Respondents Who Agree to a Follow-Up Conversation
Once you have a group of people willing to chat, bring them together in a Zoom call to host a focus group and get more qualitative feedback from them. You can do this after you’ve had a chance to revisit the potential sonic logos you previously had them listen to, or you can have them listen to the same ones again to hear and see their reactions to the audio.
- If you have 20 or so people willing to chat, send out an email to each person with four separate dates. Adding the availability helps to organize and manage the logistics of the focus group. Best case scenario, you have five people in each focus group. Worst case scenario, you have 20 people in one.
Survey Other Employees
Don’t have enough clients to email, or didn’t get enough responses from the client survey? Your sales team, customer service team, finance team, and IT department are your customers, too. For the same reasons you would send the survey to clients, you can recruit employees from other departments to partake in the survey!
You may find yourself getting even more candid feedback from them simply because they’re as close to the brand as you are, but not as invested in the sonic branding initiative in the same way you are.
Hiring Voice Over for Your Sonic Brand
When your sonic branding requires a human voice, ensuring that voice fits your requirements should involve outlining the precise vocal qualities, style of read, and various other attributes that capture the way your brand is meant to speak.
The voice actor will serve as a consumer’s primary reference point for your brand and their voice will span numerous touchpoints, constantly reiterating who your brand is, how it behaves, and what it stands for. That’s a tall order!
Be deliberate in your casting to make sure you choose a voice actor who can deliver a performance suited to the task.
Here’s how to get the best voice actor for your sonic branding project:
Write a Good Voice Over Job Description
One of the most common mistakes that brands make when attempting to source a voice is that insufficient vocal direction is provided in the job posting or in the call to audition.
Your voice over job should always include an overview of your project, what the intended usage for the voice over is, any technical requirements or special requests, and 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
Sample Voice Over Job Description
Consider this Alexa Skill Voice Over Sample Script example from our sample script library, featuring a fictional company called ‘Family Feast to Go.’
Family Feast To Go
Family Feast To Go is a service specifically geared toward families and individuals who want to order in larger quantities and 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)
If you want to know more on hiring voice over for your sonic branding initiative, this client user guide builds on these tips and leads you through how best to post jobs with more fine details.
Discovering Your Sonic Brand is Within Reach
Sonic branding is where the traditional outlets for brand expression, such as copywriting and graphics, take on a new dimension with the adoption of an audio identity.
On one hand, sonic branding is built on tactics that have been a central component of marketing since the dawn of salesmanship. On the other hand, it is an underdeveloped yet widely influential arm of marketing that has long flown under the radar, only now gaining traction.
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 the audio era is now. Whether you’re designing ads for Spotify, 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!
Article originally published February 2020, by Tanya Chopp
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This part will be updated after I get all necessary equipment.