Our world has never sounded better. The synchronous mass adoption of digital assistants, podcasts and streaming music services has put audio in an omnipresent consumer engagement role, bringing a new challenge to creative agencies that will be compelled to develop sonic branding of the same breadth, rigor and detail that has been historically reserved for visual design.
From Alexa skills to radio ads, the intent of sonic branding is simple: achieve effectiveness while maintaining brand consistency at every aural intersection with the consumer. The reality isn’t quite as straightforward, though.
With 2020 planning season in full swing, here are five things every marketer needs to understand if they are to succeed with sonic branding creative over the next year.
Establishing comprehensive sonic brand design is essential. Absent of design rules, a brand will drift in and out of consumers’ ears without any connection to other visual or sonic touchpoints. Complete audio design rules cover TV, radio, social, podcasts, web video, voice assistants, apps, third-party platforms, experiential and everywhere else a brand is heard.
The adoption velocity of voice-activated digital assistants and smart speakers has compelled brands to focus on apps and voice SEO, often resulting in platform-specific tactics launched well before a sonic strategy is in place. In the best uses of voice, brands are targeting consumers ready to interrogate digital assistants in a conversational give and take. The rest of the sonic world is much more passive. A complete sonic branding strategy unifies experiences where the consumer speaks and where they just listen.
The most popular consumer devices give brands a sonic shortcut that allows content to be read in a native digital voice. While convenient, it results in the most important brand messaging being read in the same computer-created voice as content from competitors and unrelated sources. Custom voices create distinction in the sonic world and allow brands to maintain aural consistency with their TV, radio and video assets.
Almost every brand already has some established aural rules or preferences to build upon. Although they were likely considered one-offs or simple tactics, a jingle or mnemonic can seed an entire sonic branding strategy. An aural design book can grow over time as new platforms are implemented, but only if the brand has the discipline to put strategy ahead of new tactic creation. It should be noted—given the marketing industry’s haste to champion new tech while prematurely announcing the death of the status quo—that radio never really went away. It just got buried under the crowd clamoring for new digital platforms. Podcasts, the darling format of our age, are nothing more than radio on demand. Existing radio strategies may be the simplest foundation for growing sonic relevance.
Sound is as much of a specialty as video and visual design. It comes with its own science and unique demands on its practitioners. A brand’s sonic future relies upon an understanding of how music, the Foley effect and voice performance affect a consumer’s reaction to the content. True sonic artists are masters of these variables.
Unlike entirely new technologies where a conservative crawl-walk-run approach might be prudent, the audio world is here, and the time to get in the game is now because consumers are already there. Any barriers to success a brand might face are more likely to be self-inflicted rather than reflective of the marketplace. Everything is in place. Are we ready for the challenge?