By: Dr. David Bridwell, People Scientist

Marketers often focus on communicating information through visual mediums like TV screens, phone screens, print advertisements, and billboards. But by focusing so much on vision, we often overlook the important information that sound can convey about brands. 

Sounds can influence our perception and emotion in powerful ways. One of the most striking examples comes from the movie Jaws. You can probably recall the dramatic sound that’s made as the shark approaches the boat in the film. It conveys a lot of negative emotional meaning about the threat of a shark. 

Sounds can also convey positive emotions, and many brands have incorporated sound elements into their brand in a process known as audio branding or sonic branding. 

Sonic branding can help individuals develop a positive relationship with your brand (through the mere-exposure effect in psychology) and can help create richer experiences and convey information.  

Your sonic identity serves as a distinctive brand asset, and helps your brand differentiate from competitors. One example is the snap of the Snapple bottle when you pop the cap. The Snapple company actually put a lot of thought into ensuring that this sound was distinct. And they also noted that the sound conveys safety by demonstrating that the cap hadn’t been opened yet. 

Sonic branding also helps with differentiation. For example, when Skype uses a different ringtone than other companies, differentiating themselves from standard phone services.  

And Skype did a lot of additional research about the sound experience that their users had along each sequence of the customer journey. They considered the sound of an incoming call, the sound of a call ending, and so on. 

They created whimsical sounds for incoming calls that sounded different from the traditional sound of an incoming call, which reinforced their brand values and perceptions. 

And when they started Skype Business, they changed the sound of incoming calls so that it was more formal, consistent with our notion of the seriousness and importance of “business.” 

Mastercard has also leveraged sonic branding by doing research on the sounds that their customers experience throughout their journey with the brand including when they dealt with them online, in-store, at the point-of-sale, and so on. They ended up collaborating with a Swedish artist and songwriter and producer, and they created their own sounds that collectively shaped the sonic experience for the Mastercard customer. Their research showed that 77% of customers thought the sound made their experience with Mastercard more trustworthy. 

Another example of sounds conveying complicated psychological information for a brand is Volkswagen Jetta. They made sure that the doors made a distinct “thunk” sound when they were closed because people associated this heavy sound with quality. And they actually ended up using the sound in their advertisements. 

Overall, there are many examples where companies have effectively used sounds to gain affinity and communicate distinction. However, the benefits of sonic branding are still largely overlooked and underappreciated in the marketing world. If you haven’t yet, be sure to consider adding sonic elements to your brand identity.

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