Why You Need To Define Your Sound

A lot of time and thought went into your Brand Book. And it’s filled with detailed, carefully considered prescriptions—which typefaces to use, which colors, the ideal writing style and tone, the amount of white space that should surround your logo, and so on.

But what does your Brand Book say about sound? Is there a chapter on what kind of music best expresses your identity and evokes your brand ideals? A page that explains whether your audio logo should open the new product video, close it, or both? A section that describes why your voice-overs should sound like a wise old rancher (and not the perky Millennial urbanite your ad agency recommended)?

Unless you’ve written the Audio Identity chapter of your brand guidelines, chances are good that these questions, and others related to the aural expression of your brand, are being answered on-the-fly by various individuals, all of whom have their own idea about what kinds of music, voices, and sound effects are “right” for your brand. Does this matter? If a consistent—and emotionally compelling—impression of your brand is important, then yes. Here’s why:

Your audience is listening

Consumers are more design-savvy than ever before. They expect every “production” that comes from a marketer— from the logo and tagline, to the UI and industrial design, to the TV spots, YouTube shorts, websites, etc.—to be of a piece, purposefully designed and carefully coordinated according to specific parameters derived from the company’s (or product’s) brand identity.

This applies as well to the sounds that consumers hear. For example, when a new lifestyle video on a company’s blog features a folksy, Americana soundtrack, but all previous lifestyle videos sound like a futuristic cocktail lounge, consumers notice. And they note which soundtrack feels more appropriate to the brand. They may also conclude that decisions about music at this particular company are either made somewhat arbitrarily, without reference to any governing principles or ideals, or they’re regarded as less important, with respect to consistency and brand congruency, than decisions about color or photography style, say.

This apparent disregard for a designed aural experience, one that reinforces the company’s brand identity while producing the desired emotional response on the part of the listener, is puzzling in our audio-enabled, design-savvy consumer culture. And your customers, whose hearing is just as discerning as their vision, may consider it an inexcusable oversight.

Your audience prefers coherence

Without a clear articulation of your organizations’ audio identity, a detailed description of how your brand should sound, there is no objective way to determine what is on or off-brand. A video producer will have one idea, the person who handles your on-hold programming will have another, and your retail brand manager, in charge of the overhead music in your stores, will have something completely different in mind.

The result is an incoherent brand sound, or, worse, a lack of any recognizable brand sound whatsoever. This means that a customer will likely have different impressions of your brand (potentially, very different impressions) depending on which aural touch point he or she is experiencing.

In short, the same principles you apply to the visual expression of your brand apply equally to sound: make sure everything is rooted in your identity, authentic to who you are and what you stand for; and be consistent. Over time, this leads to a recognizable sound—a distinctive audio identity that your audiences can easily relate to and connect with.

Your audience craves connection

A lot of what we do as brand builders is try to distill and project the human qualities of our company so that our audiences can identify with and, ultimately, love us (or trust us, at least). It’s an undertaking for which music, and sound in general, is especially well-suited, as nothing conveys heart and soul—humanness—as effectively. And affectingly.

But to work, the sounds that we broadcast, from the voice-over artists we use to the music and sound design in our videos, ads, and on-hold systems, must express or evoke the same things. And they should line up with the visual and verbal expressions of our brand identity. Otherwise, we risk coming off as somewhat schizophrenic, or confused about who we are, or disingenuous. And we make it difficult for our audiences to connect with us on a deeper level.

Defining your brand sound means identifying and giving voice to the unique set of human attributes and emotions that you want your audience to associate with your company. As the term implies, audio identity is about specificity, authenticity, and constancy. Thus, when it comes to making decisions about sound and music, there is a right answer. And plenty of wrong answers that could undermine your efforts to build a stronger, more connective brand.

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