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03 October 2023

Business can boom on right notes

By Reena Amos Dyes




In today’s world where consumers are wooed by hundreds of firms selling the same product or service, creating a brand image is key to the success of any business. A few weeks ago Emirates Business highlighted the importance of choosing the right brand names and colours, keeping the global business environment in mind.

Today we look at another aspect of branding: sonic or audio branding.

According to research, companies that match their brand to music are 96 per cent more likely to be recalled than those that don’t use music, and 24 per cent of consumers are more likely to buy a product from a store that plays music that they recall and enjoy.

Peter Matthews, Group Managing Director, Nucleus, a branding company, says: “As branding becomes more sophisticated, we realise the need to engage consumers in different ways and not just rely on the visual media.”

Only a decade ago, some companies started looking at sound and music as a global tool. Now there is more awareness of the power of sound.

Sonic branding, like visual branding, has many components. Sound can be used as an identifier of a brand, like the Intel chime, or it can be used on the device itself to accompany certain actions like Windows and Apple operating systems or the sound of the Harley-Davidson engine that has become an important part of the brand experience.

According to Olivier Auroy, Managing Director of Landor Associates, branding and design consultancy: “A brand is an experience that involves the five senses, and sound and music are part of this.”

However, contrary to popular perception, sonic branding is not restricted to a jingle. A jingle is just part of it. These days firms create a consistent sonic experience across the brand expression because sound is everywhere: in the lift, in the office, on the phone and on the computer.

A good example of this is the use of music by technology companies such as Intel, Windows, Apple, ICQ and Nokia. They have raised the profile of sonic branding through continually promoting musical chimes in their communications and on their devices.

Every time consumers start up a computer and watch an advertisement that has Intel as a co-sponsor, they are hit with familiar musical logos.

On the importance of sound in creating brand recognition, Aaron Shields, partner at Brandinstinct, says: “When brands use sound in their marketing activities, customers begin to associate the melody with the brand, enhancing recall, which helps keep awareness high.

“Strong brands are built through a compelling message told consistently to the market. Firms can use sound to join several parts of the customer’s journey. British Airways uses the Viens Mallika classical song composed by Howard Blake for them in its TV adverts, in the executive lounge and on the plane.”

Research shows sound can evoke emotions or associations. For example, the sound of the ambulance triggers curiosity and anxiety, the sound of the alarm clock causes stress, the sound of the klaxon is usually associated with aggression and the sound of water is relaxing.

Giving an example of how sound affects people, Olivier Auroy, of Landor Associates, says: “We did an experiment with some of our clients during a workshop. We played two different types of music and asked them to draw on paper what they were feeling while listening to the music. The first tune was the Adagio of Barber. As you can imagine, the drawings were quite dark and sad.

“To explain to our client the style of music is important, we sometimes show the same movie [someone driving a car in the countryside] with different music. It changes the perception about the car. Heavy metal makes it sporty, while classical music makes it family oriented.”

Market research at Leicester University, the United Kingdom, shows companies that match their brand to music are 96 per cent more likely to be recalled than those that make use of irrelevant music or no music at all.

Further research demonstrates 24 per cent of consumers are more likely to buy a product from a store that plays music they recall and enjoy.

Also, research by Commercial Radio Advertising conducted in the UK shows sonic brand recognition is highest among younger listeners, with people in their teens and mid-30s significantly more aware of sonic logos than people above that age group.

But experts warn that not all “branded sound” is a success, so companies need to be careful what sound they use.

“For a while, companies were using famous sound tracks for their sonic identity. In some cases, it has been unsuccessful. In France, some years ago, a David Bowie’s song was used to illustrate the Vittel water communication. After a few months, consumers remembered Bowie but forgot Vittel. David Bowie was a stronger brand than Vittel. We, therefore, recommend not to use famous songs. It is also very expensive,” says Olivier Auroy of Landor.

Also, different cultures prefer different types of sound, because each culture has its instruments. Auroy says: “We did another experiment with our clients. We played different instruments and asked them to locate the instrument on the world map. Drums led to Africa, harp to Ireland, the accordion to France, the mandolin to Italy, nay or qanoon to the Middle East and bagpipes to Scotland.”

However, Aaron Shields of Brandinstinct says international players prefer sounds that are not culture specific.

“While many melodies are culturally specific, most chimes contain only a few notes and can be relevant across the world. Big, global companies like them since they often contain no words and can be used across different languages.”

On sonic branding in a multicultural society like the UAE, Auroy says they have to blend the sounds. “The identity has to be Arab for sure, but not to the point you exclude other audiences. That’s why a lot of companies use one specific instrument to retain the Arab identity (oud or flute) and mix it with a more universal, mainstream tune.”

“Firms in the UAE need to realise a sonic identity is more than a simple jingle. Also, it is not a movie sound track. All sonic identities in the Middle East tend to sound like the music of Lawrence of Arabia. Firms must be innovative. People will remember you for that.”

However, recall, brand association and awareness depend on impact and repetition. A billboard advertisement must be seen a number of times by people to remember the brand.

Sonic branding follows the same criteria for success. First, the melody needs to relate to values it is trying to communicate and it needs to be distinctive.

“Often, composers achieve distinction through strong chords. Second, customers must hear the tune many times before the benefits of recall kick in. The investment required to create and communicate a sonic brand is considerable and, therefore, has been largely the dominion of multinational brands.

“But, as competitive pressure increases in markets, small companies are beginning to experiment with sound in the hope of making a bigger impact,” says Shields.