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Identity, Values and Emotion: How Sonic Branding Became a Marketing Essential


As an ever-growing number of brands develop their sonic identity, Pickle Music’s Alexis Estiz and Gustavo Stecher tell LBB why it’s time for marketers to turn up the volume

Identity, Values and Emotion: How Sonic Branding Became a Marketing Essential

Ironically, there’s been a quiet revolution in the world of audio. As Fast Company declared last month, we’re now living amidst a veritable ‘Audio Renaissance’ fuelled by modern media consumption habits. 

Whether it be the explosive popularity of social media platforms which work best - or even exclusively - with the sound turned on, or the seemingly unstoppable rise in popularity of podcasts, audio has become an indelible part of the way we experience the world. For brands and marketers, then, the long-established concept of sonic branding has taken on an unprecedented level of importance. 

For Alexis Estiz and Gustavo Stecher of Pickle Music, the only surprise is that it’s taken this long for brands to cotton onto the trend. Together, the duo represent the two worlds which collide in the conversation around sonic branding: Alexis is an experienced musician and sound designer, as well as the founder of Pickle Music. Gustavo, for his part, has his expertise grounded firmly in branding and communication. Perhaps most notably he designed the shape and imagery of the two peso coin of his native Argentina (“of course I insisted they pay me solely with two peso coins”, he laughs).

Combined, the pair are perfectly placed to chart the rise of sonic branding as a trend - and map out a formula for sonic success. 

“One of the first things to mention is that there is often some confusion over the difference between sonic branding as a whole and a sonic logo”, explains Alexis. “The iconic jingle of McDonalds, for example, is precisely that - a sonic logo. And there’s nothing wrong with having a sonic logo! In fact it’s really important. It’s just that ‘branding’ encompasses a lot more than just your logo. And the same is true with sonic branding”.

A Deep Melody

“A great logo means that you should be able to identify a brand without needing to see its name”, says Gustavo. “Great sonic branding means you should be able to identify them without needing to see anything”.

Both Alexis and Gustavo acknowledge that, in order for sonic branding to be truly successful, it needs to run deep.

“Lots of brands have what we could call ‘a sound’”, says Alexis, “but not many have an identity matrix which is mapped onto sound. In other words, a sonic identity. That’s the bar which we’re aiming to hit”.

For brands, there is danger in trying to find shortcuts or quick fixes when it comes to sonic branding. “One of the things which you see time and again is brands paying for pre-made, licensed music”, observes Gustavo. “As someone who has worked in branding for a long time, there aren’t many more frustrating things for me to see. Imagine choosing to rent out a previously-drawn logo rather than designing your own. It would be madness! And yet that is precisely what brands do in the sonic world when they pay for pre-made music tracks”.

Listening to Alexis and Gustavo, one recurring theme is the need to take the all-encompassing approach which is commonly applied to ‘branding’ and replicate it with sonic branding. “The confusion we mentioned previously between ‘sonic branding’ and your ‘sonic logo’ really illustrates that point”, says Alexis. “In a branding system, your logo should be about 10% of the total work. Everything else - the typography, the visual language and identity, the tone, and all the other elements - makes up the other 90%. What applies to visual branding must also be applied to sonic branding. The logo is the final step - the culmination and expression of all the work you’ve done up to that point”.

Tune Into Your Identity

As more and more brands tune into the possibilities of sonic branching, there is an ever-growing number of examples which set the right tone. 

“An example which comes to mind is work we’ve recently been doing with Pizza Hut”, notes Alexis. “In the brief, they had a set of values which they wanted to express - speed and action (showing their relevance in the always-on digital world) and the freshness of the food. So our task was to translate that into the world of audio”.

Above: In their sonic branding, Pizza Hut wanted to express themes of ‘speed, action, and freshness’.

In order to address those values, Alexis and the team at Pickle leaned into sound design rather than music. “You can hear it throughout the work and in the audio logo at the end”, reflects Alexis. “The sound of the motorbike and the business of the kitching combining to represent the visceral action and the freshness of the food. When I hear the sound of the bell, I can almost smell the pizza!”. 

That strategy worked for Pizza Hut - but there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to sonic branding. “Perhaps on the other end of the spectrum is a brand like Coca-Cola”, says Gustavo. “The company’s ads elicit clear emotions which you associate with the brand. Namely happiness, the desire for fun, and sharing memories with friends”.

“Music and sound can generate chemical reactions in the brain - which then translate into raw emotions - in a way that no other creative medium can achieve”, says Alexis. “One of the reasons Coca Cola remains the world’s most successful brand is because they understand that fundamental truth”.

And yet, sonic branding isn’t necessarily about eliciting emotion. “If your brand is already associated with core emotions - as is the case with Coca Cola - then that’s great”, explains Gustavo. “But if not, that’s also fine. Sonic branding can communicate an atmosphere, or bring to mind a certain place or experience as we see in the Pizza Hut example”.

Ultimately, the real rewards for getting your sonic branding right will be greatest for brands with a holistic approach to every aspect of their communications. “I see modern brand-building as a three-legged stool”, says Gustavo. “One of those legs is about how you are seen in terms of graphic design. That’s always been important, and of course it still is. Another leg is about the tone of your communications - how are you expressing your personality or values through your words and your messaging? And the final leg in today’s industry is how your brand sounds. It’s essential to carve out a space for your brand in the sonic world, and your stool will eventually fall over if you don’t”.

“For me it’s like watching a horror movie without the sound on”, suggests Alexis. “It’s amazing how quickly it turns into a comedy. The tone is all over the place and it’s very hard to engage your audience without that audio. It’s not optional - it’s essential”.

Above all else, however, sonic branding is about providing the best possible tool for a brand to cut through noise. “The world of 2021 is full to the brim with noise”, notes Gustavo. “So brands need to avoid becoming part of that white noise - a kind of audio wallpaper. That’s why so many are running away from noise, and towards sound”.

Clearly, the immense popularity of audio mediums and platforms suggests a significant appetite for music and sound. For brands looking to differentiate themselves and stand out, there’s nowhere else to turn - the age of sonic branding has arrived. 

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Genres: Music & Sound Design

Pickle Music, Mon, 13 Dec 2021 10:50:58 GMT