Designers and marketers talk a lot about visual and verbal language. But the time has come to start talking a lot more seriously about audio language.

When it comes to defining (or redefining) a brand, creatives usually operate in the visual and verbal, often overlooking the audible or considering it as a bolt-on at the end.

But what if we followed a similar process for defining brand sound as we do for defining its visual aspects? And what if we considered the benefits of sound on brand experience from the beginning of the creative process?

I, along with my colleagues, are on a mission to advocate the use of “earcons” over visual icons and more broadly to show the power that sound can play in enriching brand expression. A brand with an audio language that genuinely taps into and brings to life its values is a brand worth noticing. Whether it’s deployed center stage or more subtly, sound can direct our interactions and affect our mental state.

And brands are starting to tap into the power of audio expression to make a deeper impact on their consumers. From healthcare, fashion, and luxury car brands to product interactions and experiential, the days of “look and feel” are being superseded by a new phrase: listen and feel.

So, what’s the listen and feel of your brand? What musical genres suit who you are? And how can your brand values be translated into sound?

There’s something tangible – and, dare I say, emotive (an overused word of recent times) – about brand values being represented through sound. There is a direct correlation between tone of voice (TOV) and tone of sound (TOS). TOV is the written articulation of how a brand speaks. TOS is the sonic articulation of how a brand feels. Music, sound, and voice have the ability to cut through and communicate to the inner core of who we are quicker than the visual – up to 20% quicker, according to the University of Groningen. They have the power to influence how we feel, aid decision-making, and (ultimately) enrich our lives.

This fits in perfectly when considering that brands are moving further and further beyond promoting themselves, choosing to think outwards and more holistically (e.g., by benefiting a cause, promoting consumer wellness, or empowering a new generation). Levi’s work with grime artist Skepta to develop a community youth music space is a great example of this, as is IKEA’ s sleep concert campaign developed with composer, Max Richter.

Throughout my career, many of the brands I have worked with have been mute – sound was simply not considered a part of brand expression. A set of comprehensive sonic guidelines have often been overlooked. By sonic guidelines, I don’t mean how to execute the timings of a sonic identity at the end of television commercials (TVCs). Brands (from SMEs to global enterprises) have been guilty in the past of not fully considering sound within a branding or rebranding process. Meanwhile, agencies have been guilty of not thinking about sound from the beginning of their own processes, but rather overlooking music until the very end.

I have empathy for the ad agencies that want to create art for their TVCs or crave the freedom to select soundtracks for through-the-line, creative content. However, shouldn’t the question ultimately be “what is right for the brand?” If the brand doesn’t have an opinion on what music and sounds best represent them, then it is open season.

Brand designers often talk about brand consistency – surely, this should be wider than visual identities, verbal communications, and the quality control of production. But a consistent and appropriate sound strategy needs to be considered as a viable way of promoting brand recall, as well. We’ve all heard about using “lovemarks” (visual icons that inspire brand loyalty beyond the product itself) as a competitive marketing strategy. Now, however, is the time for “love-notes” – the kind of thoughtful and considered sound and music that goes way beyond the limitations of a jingle or audio ident and expresses a brand’s real values instead.

So – fellow marketers, designers, creative directors, and brand directors – let’s make it our collective mission to fly the flag for a tactful use of sound and music within the strategic brand design process. Why? Well, to say it simply, as we enter a “fourth screen” mentality that lacks the visual, music and sound will play bigger roles in driving customer engagement and brand consistency in new and exciting ways.

Cover image: Spencer Imbrock