There is a rising tide of awareness in the world of sonic branding, and 2022 could well be the year of the Sonic Boom – the year in which branding experts and marketers finally get to grips with the power of sound and start to capitalize on its subconscious ability to engage with consumers.

This is being driven by technology, such as the relentless growth of voice interfaces, and vocal influencers such as Raja Rajamannar at Mastercard and Mark Ritson. There’s also a palpable fear of missing out, with more and more brands committing to creating a sonic identity. And the improvements in quantification play a role, with a growing academic rigor being used to test brand music.

As a result, this year is shaping up to be the one where brands and agencies finally embrace sound as a powerful and distinctive strategic brand asset, rather than a marketing afterthought.

The implications for the industry could ultimately be huge and this will lead to a number of ground-breaking outcomes.

1. Branding agencies will increasingly muscle their way into offering sonic branding services

Until recently, the major agencies have typically subcontracted a specialist sonic branding agency when a client required a sonic identity. Demand was limited and did not justify a dedicated in-house capability.  However, this is now changing. Most sonic branding agencies were born from teams with music production capabilities who, over time, added branding expertise. Similarly, agencies with existing brand expertise will increasingly hire or partner with music production experts to offer a full suite of music branding services. Where demand grows, so does competition and there will be plenty of room for many new players on the stage.  

2. TikTok will drive a wave of music investment

TikTok’s confirmation as the fastest growing social app will drive an increased interest in music from brands keen to make a connection with its audience. A billion people are now using the app every month – more than Google and Facebook and around three times the global audience that Spotify pulls in. TikTok has rightly put sound and music at the core of their marketing strategy – and this is already paying dividends, both as a launchpad for new artists and also for brands who want to forge deep connections with the TikTok generation.

3. Technological trends are the friends of sonic branding and marketing

It’s not only TikTok that’s driving the shift to sound – according to Juniper Research, an estimated 55% of American households are expected to own a smart speaker in 2022, and that figure should keep climbing as 5G networks come online. This growing prevalence of voice assistants and smart speakers means that screens are becoming less dominant over the way we interact with brands. As brands increasingly lose the ability to interact with consumers through visual mediums, audio engagement will become ever more critical. This will drive a rising wave of brand investment in brand-matched music, voice, and in-app sounds.

4. The subconscious power of music will reign supreme

Sound is the ultimate emotional influencer and as brands better understand this, they will increasingly harness this. But sound, and music in particular, principally operates at a subconscious level. It is overwhelmingly a system-1 (subconscious) rather than system-2 (conscious) response – particularly when paired with visual content (e.g., a commercial). The ability to quantitatively measure this implicit response will become critical in assessing sonic effectiveness. By subconsciously influencing consumers’ perceptions, brands will build stronger relationships with customers, ultimately leading to enhanced brand salience and increased brand equity.

In partnership with Goldsmiths, University of London, we are close to the completion of a major 12-month project in which we are mapping the implicit DNA of music. The outputs from this project will enable brands to find and test music that triggers the desired subconscious response.

5. Smart brands will get more tactical with sonic branding

Brands will get smarter about how they use their sonic assets. Delivering a branded sonic cue at the most appropriate consumer touchpoints is a highly effective approach to rapidly building brand salience. Think of the Netflix ‘Ta Dum’ delivered at the precise moment that the consumer is in a relaxed but hyper-receptive state, or Mastercard adding their sonic logo at the exact moment a purchase is confirmed. Contrast this with brands that mechanically drop a sonic logo at the end of a commercial when the consumer has all but zoned out and you should get the idea.

6. Strategic sonic branding will extend to strategic sonic marketing

As more companies create sonic brands/identities, they will learn and understand the true power of sound.  It is only a matter of time before many brands will extend their newfound sonic knowledge to the assets they use in marketing. Matching their sonic marketing to their overarching brand personality is not only smart marketing but will also contribute to building brand salience and equity with every consumer interaction.

7. A growing divide between the haves and have nots

As a result of the shift towards a strategic musical approach for brands, I expect to see a growing value divide between brands that have a sonic strategy and those that do not. Those that ensure their investment in music creates distinctive brand asset status will ultimately supercharge their brand salience through a consistent sonic approach that resonates with their desired brand personality. Those that do not risk confusing consumers and leaking brand salience to competitors.

It is important to note that for brands with little intrinsic personality, or those with similar personalities, there will be little differentiation. But for those brands that have clear and well-defined, consistent personalities, the music will be distinctive to them. Just as some visual logos are more distinctive than others, the same applies to sonic logos.

8. More advanced sonic testing will mitigate the risks associated with subjective decision-making

Given the rise in investment in audio, and many of the other issues I’ve raised above, there will be increased use of specialist consumer testing to reduce the level of subjectivity in audio branding/marketing decisions and increase the certainty of a healthy return on investment. Sonic testing won’t replace creativity, it will inspire it. The ‘gut feel’ approach to music will become more directional with reliable tools optimizing final decision-making before launch. These tools will also help to underpin and justify sonic branding investment, helping to accelerate the growth of strategic sonic marketing.

9.  Major music publishers will introduce brand personality search to their catalogs

Publishers with sizable catalogs currently use a plethora of music-tagging approaches to help them navigate their catalogs and match music to client briefs. Sometimes, this is done manually and others use AI tagging (computers listening to music and emotionally tagging the catalog at scale – some with more success than others). As music joins the top table of brand assets there will also be a requirement for the music to also align with the core brand personality. The need for a brand personality filter will become increasingly important for those brands pursuing a holistic and strategic approach to brand management. 

10. There will be a wave of VC and M&A activity in the sonic branding and marketing sector

If sonic identities and sonic strategies are destined to become de rigor for the majority of brands worldwide, 2022 will represent the starting gun for rapid consolidation and innovation within the sector. It will not be Spotify, iHeart Radio, or Universal Music that emerge as the sector leaders – it will be companies that primarily understand branding and evolve and translate existing branding strategies into the music medium. 

Some will simply be adding sonic capabilities to round out their service offerings. Others, like Songtradr, are already focused on building a brand/music ecosystem through acquisition and innovation, to ensure they are in pole position to profit from a wave of sonic investment in the years ahead.  

Whatever your current view of the importance of sound in branding and marketing, the growing sonic rumble is set to become a sonic boom. You should not be deaf to the opportunity – for your brand, your clients, or your career.

Cover image source: Oleg Laptev