“Ok, Google. What is the Whopper Burger?”
Recently, those seven words created quite a buzz around a consumer touch point that, up until now, few brands were considering. Regardless of what you think about Burger King’s controversial hack, one thing is certain: voice activated advertising is on the rise and with it, a new audio channel for brand communication.
Once upon a time, we “heard” a brand primarily through commercials that were broadcast via television and radio. It could have been a spoken phrase with a memorable rhyme that became a positioning line easily remembered, or a jingle that stuck in your head and kept you humming a brand name through the day.
That was then. This is now.
Audio Takes Center Stage for Branding
The unprecedented growth of voice activated search and conversational assistants is just the latest example of the importance of audio in brand communication. In today’s media rich environment, where audio-enabled touch points are increasingly available, there is no question that the impact of sound on brand messaging is significant. There are hundreds of empirical studies proving that sound has the power to increase attention, facilitate brand/message recall, improve brand perception, drive purchase intent, elicit physiological responses, increase likability, build positive associations, prime implicit responses and produce chemical reactions in our brains.
The implication is clear: brands need a strategic approach to their use of audio, particularly when it’s an expression of their brand identity. This goes deeper than simply using sound as a touch point. It requires the intentional use of sound, designed to align brand intent with consumer perception. Making audio an afterthought is something brands do at their own peril.
3 Questions To Ground Your Brand Sound
When working with our clients on developing audio strategies, we ask a number of questions that help frame our discussion about sound. Take a moment and think about your own brand. Are you using music, voiceovers or sound design in your brand communication? If so, you might want to consider a few of these questions yourself.
- Does your brand have a recognizable voice? In a global study linking branding and sensory awareness, Martin Lindstrom and research agency Millward Brown found that 83% of all brand communications only appeal to our sense of sight. If your brand is going to compete in a sonically rich environment, it should have the capacity to be recognized – even when it’s not seen. You probably have a clearly defined visual identity for your brand. Can you say the same about your audio identity? How would you describe your “brand sound?” Can you claim a unique sonic space?
- What drives your audio choices? When it comes to your brand’s audio identity, congruency is key. Do your audio choices reflect your brand essence and values? Do they align with your brand’s visual and verbal communications? Having a set of guiding principles to consider will help your audio choices become more objective and efficient. Most brands have visual style guides. Very few have audio style guides. The process of creating an audio brand is similar to any design process. Begin with understanding brand intent, then explore your brand sound through phases of discovery, design, creation, evaluation, implementation and management. In the end, your audio identity should be a reflection of the brand itself: congruent, distinct, recognizable, likable and ownable.
- Are you consistent in your use of audio across multiple channels? Would you change your visual logo or your brand colors with every campaign? Of course not. It’s the consistent application of those visual identifiers that burn your brand image into my memory. If the sound of my voice changed with every conversation we had, what would happen? You’d wonder if I was crazy. You should think of your audio identity the same way. Does a singular strategy influence every brand touch point that uses audio? Once you’ve defined your brand voice, you should consider how you’ll manage that voice across a variety of touch points and marketing campaigns. The consistent pairing of sound and brand is key to creating trust and recognition.
Voice interactivity is an exciting new opportunity for brands to leverage their audio identity and create deeper connection with consumers. Burger King’s experiment was a clever stunt, but the real challenge is to find a way to make your brand voice a natural part of the conversation, one that is recognizable, congruent, and distinct. It used to be about having a good jingle or memorable voice over artist. Today that audio strategy extends to conversational interactions on Amazon Echo and Google Home.
So, go ahead and give your brand a voice. Then teach it to sing.
Steve Keller is CEO of iV, an audio consultancy dedicated to exploring the power of sound to shape perceptions and influence behavior. He blends art and science into award-winning strategies and content for a long list of global agencies and brands. An in-demand speaker, Steve shares his insights and research at international conferences, professional organizations, and universities around the world. In addition to a degree in psychology, Steve has over 25 years of experience in the music industry. He is the 2017 recipient of the iHeartMedia Scholarship for Leadership in Audio Innovation, and is currently completing an Executive MBA through the Berlin School of Creative Leadership.