We’re living in an Audio Renaissance right now. You might not have noticed yet, but your ears certainly have.
Everyday life is full of soundmojis, voice assistants, and IoT devices that speak in sonic languages. Social platforms like TikTok and Clubhouse only work with sound. Amazon even sells “You’re On Mute” T-shirts. And the global sound-on movement isn’t simply anecdotal. Sixty-seven million Americans listen to podcasts every month, audio streaming has increased 32% year over year, and 41% of people in the U.S. use voice search every day.
Of course, whenever there’s a seismic shift in consumer behavior, it’s followed by a seismic shift in brand behavior. Marketers need to constantly pivot to meet their customers where they’re at. So, it should come as no surprise that the number of global companies investing in sonic branding is increasing exponentially.
In 2021, our research shows a 22% jump in brands launching audio identities for the very first time. It’s a phenomenon happening across industries, from financial services and autos to tech and retail. Global giants such as American Express, Frito-Lay, Colgate, General Mills, and Walmart have significantly increased their sonic investments in the last 18 months.
Sound has become a secret weapon for modern brands. When it’s done right, audio branding has the power to improve performance and sales. If your brand is on mute, it’s a lot easier for consumers to ignore you.
Sound builds emotional connections
A study by the research company Sentient Decision Science found that sound can influence a person’s desire to engage or avoid a brand by 86%! That’s because people think about what they see, but they feel what they hear.
Why? Sound also elicits a hyper-fast human reaction—30 milliseconds faster than visual reaction times, in fact. So even before you may be aware of a sound or how it makes you feel, you have an instinctive emotional response. That split-second advantage for sound is vital because it establishes our emotional state and colors our expectations for a brand experience—positive or negative.
The world’s most iconic and memorable brands live rent-free in our heads because they know how sound connects on a subconscious emotional level. Appealing to the heart is essential for growing brand equity.
Take one of the early adopters, AT&T, for example. Theirs is a case study in enduring appeal. We developed their sonic identity in 2011 and—after only three years in the market—their mnemonic became the company’s second most identifiable brand asset after the AT&T Globe. Why? Because not only did their four-note mnemonic express the brand concisely, it also struck an emotional chord with consumers and became instantly recognizable. As the company has evolved, so has their sonic branding. But the iconic notes have remained because their internal research continues to track high awareness, recognition, and appeal.
Other telecom companies followed suit. T-Mobile and Cricket have also invested in successful sound identities. Cricket’s chirpy two-note sonic logo has masterfully echoed the parlance of “hi-iii” and “bye-eee” at the top and tail of their commercials (maybe you can hear it in your head as you read this?).
Measurability puts confidence in your sound
Another reason for the uptick in brands investing in sound is the ability to measure impact and success. After all, if you’re going to wrestle with your COO for funding, you need both qualitative and quantitative data to back the investment.
Since 2019, many companies have quadrupled their media buys on audio-first platforms, such as podcasts and streaming audio. So, it’s been increasingly important for companies to have the right brands assets (and data) where consumers literally can’t see their branding.
Last year, an Ipsos study found that commercials using sonic branding cues performed eight times higher in recognition and attribution. Of course, you won’t see that uplift by just slapping a few notes on your ad. Savvy marketers are using cutting-edge research and data analysis to quantify the impact of their sonic branding prior to launch.
One popular tool is SonicPulse, by the research company Sentient Decision Science. Their subconscious research methodology combines implicit association technology with facial coding to test for emotional appeal and uplift across specific brand attributes. Another research group, Veritonic, has developed an audio intelligence platform that can cross-reference your assets against their audio database and provide rank, recall, and predictive performance.
New audio technology solves for scalability
For global giants like American Express—with a brand ecosystem that spans everything from commercials to mobile payments, event sponsorships and airport lounges—personalization can be incredibly difficult to scale. A lot of the technology that makes it easier to reach consumers has simultaneously increased the expectations of those consumers. One size doesn’t fit all, so how can you help your marketing content feel more authentic for every customer? This is where sound can make a real impact.
Brands with the personalization dilemma are investing in technology solutions such as VentureSonic AI—an artificial intelligence engine that can create hundreds of contextualized tracks, to fit any consumer in any environment. AdsWizz clocked an impressive 238% increase in engagement for commercials using contextualized music—meaning, the listeners didn’t tune out or skip the ad. That’s because, for consumers on the receiving end, those brand messages feel like less of a commercial “interruption” and more like something that fits into the fabric of their lives.
It’s not too late
What leading brands have already figured out is that an investment in sound is a powerful way to keep their competitive edge in the marketplace and make meaningful emotional connections with consumers. And yet, according to Veritonic and Ipsos, only 41% of audio advertisers, and a mere 8% of television advertisers, are currently leaning into sonic branding. Which means there’s a lot of white space for ownable branded sound.
It’s not too late for brands to make a sonic impact, even if they’re late to the game. With even more data to de-risk investment and the growing adoption of audio-driven platforms, we anticipate the demand for sonic branding will continue to grow from nice-to-have to must-have for companies in virtually every industry.
John Taite is EVP of Global Brand Partnerships and Development at Made Music Studio.