Chapter 4 –The Principles of Sonic Branding
Make Sound Matter: Create Anthems, Not Jingles
Getting the right attention and keeping it requires a commitment to a meaningful aesthetic experience. This is true whether you are developing a workout or party playlist, a soundtrack for a video game, or a sonic strategy for a multibillion-dollar company. The latest pop hit might make your heart skip a beat, or a novel or loud sound might grab your attention for an instant, but unless you are clear about the experience you are trying to create, people won’t remember it and you won’t forge a connection. In the words of Maya Angelou, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
If you’re looking to associate your story with music or sound already out in the world, then you really need to know what your story is —why it’s important, how it’s different than someone else’s story, how you want people to feel.
If you’re looking to create an original, ownable sonic identity for your story or your brand, and you’re not creating an anthem, you’re missing a huge opportunity. Think of the way national anthems can inspire people. Many sonic logos, especially in the form of snippets of sound dropped in almost exclusively at the ends of ads, are meaning-less. You might remember them or recognize them, but they tell you nothing because you feel nothing. Without an associated long-form anthem, a sonic logo has no emotional memory to trigger. There’s no context, no story, and usually no strategy.
It’s important to understand the distinction between jingles and anthems. A jingle can be catchy, but only an anthem can carry a complete, emotional story. It packs the sonic themes that can be distilled, adapted, and reinvented into all sorts of musical styles. It’s part of the glue that holds together movie franchises like the Harry Potter, Star Wars, James Bond, Lord of the Rings, and Pirates of the Caribbean films. In a sonic-branding process done right, logos and jingles are distilled from anthems.
If you haven’t done the strategic work of truly understanding your story and creating an anthem that’s adaptable for all kinds of actual experiences with your brand, your logo probably reminds listeners of . . . your ad. Or, worse, it packs no emotion or memory at all. A logo or a jingle alone doesn’t tell a whole brand story. And if that’s all you have, you’re doomed to fail. At the very least, you’ll miss out on a lot of opportunities to help people feel your brand.
Once you have a strategy and an anthem, the basis of a sonic-identity system, then you can map the true DNA of that anthem and start using it to heighten people’s experiences everywhere your brand goes. Where can sound make a big difference for your customers, your employees, or your partners? Be more like a big movie franchise and score the brand experience.
Make Sound Work Harder
Short sounds are all around us all the time. I often refer to them as sonic triggers, because they can be the sparks that lead to physical actions or memories or feelings. You’ve probably responded to one in the past few minutes.
Memory is a big factor here —what experience, recent or distant, do you associate with that short sound? New moms and dads will tell you they suddenly have heightened reactions to the sounds of babies crying—they hear it everywhere and it almost always startles them.
When sound is working at its highest potential, it surprises the ear.
As listeners, we tend to hear music in moments. They delight us as they extend the story of a song we think we know, and they break an expected pat-tern in our brains.
Effective sonic branding often involves creating or facilitating sonic triggers that break expected patterns, get the listener’s attention, and then using that attention to call to mind positive experiences with the brand or story.
We already recognize these kinds of snippets in the real world, and we pull information from them all the time. After all, what is a car horn, a referee’s whistle, or a shot-clock buzzer? How about the school bell? Think about the satisfying sound a golf ball makes when you sink it or the clean successful swish of a perfect three-pointer in basketball. Each of these causes a thrill while confirming something or telling you what you need to know in the moment. They’re almost Pavlovian, except they’re initiating something far more complex than physiological reactions.
When used in gadgets, short sounds are typically called user-inter-face sounds. In my business we call them brand navigation sounds. The term reminds us that they must be both emotional (the brand part) and functional (the navigation). The sound has to work harder, creating a sense of identity with the brand and making the technology more intuitive for the user.
All of these pioneers know a secret: we’re entering an era of hard-working short sounds that help guide our experiences with everything.
Silence Is Power
Sound anchors us in our world, gives a sense of what to expect, and completes our picture of ourselves in space. When that’s gone, we can be left without any context and that can be terrifying. That can be useful if terror’s what you’re after. But pulling the sound out can also provide a break, a respite from a barrage of sound that allows our brains to reset before we crave sound once again. When adding sound to an experience, always be sure to pull it out one final time before you’re finished. If you don’t miss the sound, it probably shouldn’t have been there in the first place.
Avoid Common Sonic Branding Mistakes
Don’t wait until the end of your creative process to begin considering sound. Include it right from the beginning, when it can inspire everyone and help build consensus on the right communication, emotional payoff, brand personality, or tone.
Sound and music are not only tactics; they’re part of a strategy. Don’t settle for unrelated music that fits each individual project. Instead, call back to the essence of your brand with every sound choice. Spending a ton on advertising is too costly a way to compensate for this mistake.
Don’t base your music choices on your gut instinct alone. When you just add music that you like and that you think makes the ad better —with no strategy—you’ll find yourself endlessly arguing with everyone in your company who has his or her own opinion about the music. There won’t be a clear goal or agreement on the values the music is trying to convey. Lots of big brands make this mistake. They’d never develop a visual identity or a campaign or business plan without a strategy; why would they create a sonic identity with-out one?
Don’t make the even bigger mistake of picking music because you think it makes you or your brand seem cool or relevant. If you choose a song because you like some of the lyrics and you don’t pay attention to what the song is really about, your potential customers will spot the disconnect in a hot second. They might even tune out your brand forever. Likewise, don’t attach an artist to your brand solely because you like the performer’s audience. The message that artist puts out to those fans might not fit your brand’s story.
Avoiding these pitfalls and heeding the principles of effective sonic branding open the way to all kinds of sonic possibilities. When you learn about all you can achieve and exactly where you can go wrong, you can start to develop your unique sound —for your brand, your message, or yourself.
About the Author
Hailed “equal parts Philip Glass and Don Draper” by Details magazine, Joel Beckerman is a pioneer of sound and music and its transformative power. Beckerman is the founder of Man Made Music, a strategic music and sound studio that creates sonic identities for brands such as AT&T, Deloitte, IMAX, and Nissan. Work that began in television, creating the themes for Entertainment Tonight, HBO Feature Presentations, CBS This Morning, NBC Super Bowl and ESPN 30 for 30 evolved into a pioneering musical approach for brands in an increasingly post-visual world. Beckerman is the author of The Sonic Boom, a Fast Company Most Creative and featured on stages such as Cannes Lions, SXSW, London Design Week, C2 Montreal and Future of Storytelling.
About Man Made Music
Man Made Music is a global sonic studio dedicated to creating iconic and enduring music and sound to solve creative, human and business challenges. www.manmademusic.com