Sadly the remainder of this article may not be as exciting as the headline. No Mark Ritson style “When I was a student” analogies about self gratification in dank living quarters, or sordid comparisons between brand activity and something altogether more auto-salacious. We are here to talk about something your brand can no longer afford to ignore. It will, I promise, make you better prepared for the future.
Why? Because now more than at any point in the history of consumer marketing, people are physically connected with, or always adjacent to, high quality sound enabled tech devices. They're in our homes (smart speaker), our pockets/bags (smart phone), our cars (smart car), our desks/laps (desk/laptop) even our wrists (smart watch). From a simple app notification to a Mahler symphony, these tech devices can effortlessly reproduce detailed high quality sound in a way smart brands have always dreamt of.
“Imagine being in the leadership meeting when the Head of Marketing piped up.”
Let me take you on a very slight but very poignant detour. There is a brand out there that makes components for computers. Now one day that brand thought to itself, I know people don’t think much about what’s inside a computer and I know we don’t sell our products directly to consumers, and folks can’t really choose what bits go in a computer anyhow. I’m also pretty sure that most buyers would be just as happy if they were told intelligent mice lived in computers, making electricity into cheese and reading from tiny encyclopedias. But, the brand thought, we’re a great company and we need everyday folks to recognise us and know us as a beacon of technical excellence and quality.
Now imagine being in the leadership meeting when the Head of Marketing piped up. “Guys, I know this is going to feel like the original meeting to discuss the plot of the film Footloose*, but just hear me out…”
Fast forward a few years and 90% of the world’s population, I’ll write that again, 90% of the worlds population, recognise the sound that was the result of that first “did he really just say that” meeting. The brand was Intel. Research has shown that roughly 6.9 billion people across the globe now know Intel, the people who make the thing that you can’t buy directly. All those people know Intel because of the audio language they designed and the way they used it in a strategic, considered and systematic way.
*The Footloose plot? A boy from Chicago who’s only love in life is dancing, moves to a small town in the Midwest, where, by some terrible twist of fate, the only thing he loves, yes, dancing, is inexplicably banned? Quite what they were thinking is a discussion for another day, or a benchmark by which all initial ideas must be measured.
The point is this, all brands need to have a strategy that deals with how consumers engage with them in a zero interface, non visual way. Try this exercise, go and seek out your brand and engage with one of your touch points, now, shut your eyes. Can you still tell it’s your brand? More to the point, could a consumer tell it’s your brand?
“Your logo, typeface, palette reflects something important about your brand. So does your sound.”
Another way to think about this is in terms of visual codes. You wouldn’t dream of letting a brand asset go out without the correct logo, typeface and brand palette. However, we routinely hear brand assets that have gone out into the world with little to no thought about how they sound, where that sound came from and how that sound reflects the brands values and purpose. Your logo, typeface, palette reflects something important about your brand, so does your sound.
How your brand engages with the outside word is going to start with its voice. We’re getting very close to the point where people are using their Google and Amazon assistants to speak directly to brands. How you sound and how you react is going to play a big part in how people feel about, and respond to your brand.
That’s just the first part. The way your apps and digital platforms sound, the audio on your social media, the sound your product makes, the idents on your TVC, the sound at your experiential events, your Spotify ads, your in-store sound, and more. All of these touch points should be connected and brought together with a seamless and coherent strategy, delivered with purposeful, well designed audio assets.
Audio has a unique ability to squeeze itself into normally unreachable gaps across the consumer day. You can’t, or more to the point shouldn’t, check out Facebook or Instagram in the bath, or when cycling to work. But you can, listen to Spotify or a podcast or talk to Siri. If you’re not sure about how sound can get in consumers heads, here’s a quick test. Hum the following, finish off the phrase and name the brand. Duh, duh, duh - duh duuh - I’m loving […].
Put those words in any other context and the meaning is lost. It’s the sound association that makes you think about popping out while nobody’s looking and gorging on foodstuffs you like to pretend you don’t enjoy.
For a brand to function effectively in our modern world, it has to use sound, and use it intelligently. That sound has to be considered and designed and made specifically for the brand. You wouldn’t let your agencies or stakeholders draw their own version of your logo and use whatever typeface and colour palette they choose. Don’t let that happen with your sound. Have a strategy and set of sound assets, have an audio toolkit with a style guide so you have the right assets with a clearly laid out set of principles that let agencies and shareholders know exactly how and where to use them.
“New capabilities will enable brands to understand customers’ moods so they can deliver appropriate messaging.”
Luckily, representing your brand in a non-visual, audio only format is nowhere near as difficult and mysterious as it may first appear. It is a design process, with many initial similarities to visual brand work, but rather than using shape, colour and typeface, we design using timbre, pitch and dynamics. Much of the discovery work is the same. Understand the brands past, present and future and how and what your customers feel about your brand. This is done in the same methodical and detailed way as a visual brand audit.
Where it differs is in output and application. Once the brand discovery work is dealt with, it comes down to designing, testing and refining the audio assets. All done from the perspective of what the consumer wants/expects from your brand and what the brand wants to project about itself. Once the design work is finalised, the assets are produced and placed in an audio toolkit alongside an audio style guide. That way everybody will clearly understand what the audio assets are and how they should be used.
The future holds amazing possibilities for brands who are genuinely willing to connect with consumers. Voice first conversational commerce via Google home, Alexa, Siri, Cortana etc is just around the corner. The ability to have your audience engage and react directly with your content, using voice interface will be a game changer. Brands will be able to engage consumers directly and feel the effects immediately. New capabilities will enable brands to understand the customers’ mood so they can deliver appropriate messaging. In fact, Spotify has just been granted a patent on a piece of tech that will enable them to do just that, serve audio advertising to users based on mood by recording and assessing the users emotional state.
It is more than just a little convenient that this article is on LinkedIn. Ask yourself this, if your company is not thinking about how the brand will sound, but your competitors are. Who’s going to gain share? More importantly for you, who’s not?
So let’s get back to what’s really important. Now, turn the lights down, slip a little Marvin Gaye on Spotify and think about how you’re really going to turn your brand on….
BANG YOUR DRUM is a Specialist Audio Design Agency.