If you are sitting in your workplace right now, close your eyes and just listen. What can you hear? Listen carefully. Note the sounds down. How do they make you feel?

What did you hear? Sounds coming from colleagues? Customers? Machines? Faraway mumbles? The air conditioning or heating system kicking in? Or perhaps your company uses music in the workplace? If so, which? If it’s the radio, is it tuned to the right channel? How does it fit with your brand values?

Sound is becoming more and more important in marketing brands because we are living in a world of content marketing and brand storytelling, and what better way to tell stories than through sound and vision. We all know that when a film is dubbed, the film just isn’t the same because we don’t have the same emotional connection with the actors. So why are so many brands still unaware of the potential and strength of audio or sonic branding?

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The IV Interactive Group has been running a series of interviews called ‘Great Minds on Music’ and this quote is taken from their interview with Tham Khai Meng, Worldwide Chief Creative Officer & Chairman, Ogilvy & Mather:  “Music is as much as 60 or 70 percent of a film. It’s visceral, it’s emotional, it communicates to us. It cuts across generations, across diversity. It connects.”

Nicolas Lordier, composer and associate director of French “music and sound creation agency” Ohmwork, said in an interview with Fast Company:  “It’s obvious that classical music evokes luxury and quality, while electronic music is suited to technology and rock equals youth. But you should try to break the mould. If we come up with something that disturbs the client slightly, we’re on the right path. Strange is memorable.”

Sound can be linked to many parts of your brand’s persona. It may be the way your staff is trained to speak in your call centres, your receptionist’s voice, your sonic logo (think Intel inside), the music playing when someone is put on hold, or the narrators, singers, songs and lyrics used in your advertising. I’m not going to go into the theory of audio branding, I’ll just take a look at the more practical stuff.

So how do decide what your brand should sound like?

Think about your brand’s core values. What is your brand’s personality? Is it relaxed and casual? Serious and reassuring? Sexy and alluring? These aspects will obviously influence your brand’s audio identity immensely.

How can you differentiate your brand through sound?

First, carry out a sound branding audit. Look at your competitors. What do they sound like in all of the areas above? Ring their office, watch their advertising, visit their reception area, order something by telephone or through their web-site. Then, you can decide how to differentiate your brand from theirs’ through sound.

Do you opt for specially composed pieces of music or do you licence your audio?

From the 1980s, here’s one of the most memorable ‘licensing’ successes – a classic ad, Levi’s 501 Launderette, which Levi’s licensed via their ad agency, BBH. Listen to the music:

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And in this beautiful piece of storytelling from Dior, J’adore The Perfume, we hear the sumptuous voice of Charlize Theron. They were lucky to find someone that looks and sounds just perfect for the brand.

Audio brand specialists, IV Audio, state:  “There is a trend towards licensing tracks because the belief is that this somehow imparts authenticity or a ‘cool factor.’ But brands should realise that it’s always shared equity: you’re attaching your brand to the brand of the artist. Plus you’re essentially ‘renting’ an audio asset that you can never own.”

However, licensing can be extremely useful in companies quickly changing marketing and brand strategies.

What sort of voice should your brand have?

Did you interview your last receptionist by their voice or by their looks? Usually it’s the latter, but, of course, their voice is extremely important – perhaps you should be selecting them by their inflection, pitch and tone? It’s the first person your future or existing clients may talk to in your company, so what first impression do you want them to have? Will your receptionist speak to them in the right way, will it be the voice they imagine from having seen your publicity?

Joe Beckerman, author of the new book The Sonic Boom: How Sound Transforms the Way We Think, Feel, and Buy states in an interview with Fast Company:  “As human beings, we experience sound, for the most part, subconsciously. You’re completely aware of the visuals but not the sound underneath. If you’re having a horrible time at a restaurant or a horrible shopping experience, pay attention to the sound—maybe that’s it.” This subconscious effect is the most important. When you go to the hairdressers, do you want to listen to the radio or some relaxing music? It can really affect the moments when you feel like a change of pace or a relaxing head massage…

The most important part of your audio branding is to have a cohesive strategy. Sound can be everywhere, but for a lot of companies it’s nowhere.

So, in addition to your promotions and advertising, there’s also your products. What do they sound like? You can always tell a PC keyboard from an Apple one – the Apple one is pretty much silent. But Apple uses sound in other interesting ways. Think about the Apple Woosh sound when you send an email. It’s reassuring. You know that it has been sent.

What do your products sound like when they open and close? When the top is securely fitted on the base? Is there a click? Is it reassuring? As Martin Lindstrom’s book Brand Sense: Sensory Secrets Behind the Stuff We Buy states, “Kellogg’s trademarked ‘crunch’ is generated in sound laboratories and the distinctive click of a just-opened jar of Nescafé freeze-dried coffee has been developed in factories over past decades.”

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And then there’s interior design and architecture. How can you incorporate sound into your building? How do you want people to feel when they arrive in your reception area? Can you make your meeting rooms less stressful through music, so that your meetings can be more fruitful? Can you use music to energise your staff down in the fitness area and generate more productivity?

The Nike Fuel Fest was a good example of this, using the two towers of Battersea Power Station to judge whether the ‘girls’ or ‘boys’ were using more energy by dancing and moving. The music here played a huge part in enticing everyone to dance and jump around more, and it transformed the building back into its origins as a power station.

In Heartbeat International’s book Sounds Like Branding, Jacob Lusensky talks about the four strategic steps in sound branding:  The first is a company’s unconscious use of music, ‘play-as-we-go.’ The second is where the company is “conscious of the power of music and has developed its own musical identity through sounds, matching carefully with its chosen brand values.” The third is where the company is “involved in music” and the fourth is where it becomes a music platform collaborating with the music industry (i.e. through co-branding or by functioning as a record label).

So where are you (she said, in a softly spoken voice)?

Image: fensterbme via Flickr