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How To Build A Brand With Sound

December 9, 2019

MGM lionIn the ancient, old pre-internet days, only a few brands were able to use sound as part of their brand-building efforts. They all had to be either on TV or up on the silver screen. I’m thinking of sound signatures like the roar of the MGM lion, the Avon-calling doorbell or NBC’s three-note chime. Advertisers made frequent use of jingles. “Winston tastes good like a cigarette should.” just popped into mind. It has to be about 40 years since I last heard it but I remember it well. (Kinda scary.) In today’s world every business is on a screen somewhere. So there’s really no excuse to overlook sound as an important part of any brand identity system. Sound signatures, music, even background noises can all be used to augment a visual identity system and boost memorability. It’s a fun and mostly inexpensive way to build and maintain brand awareness, keeping the brand at the top of its market’s collective mind. Moreover, these sonic tools are not even on the radar of most businesses. So they can serve as very effective differentiators. That is, until everybody starts doing it. But by that time, your signature sound will be as memorable to your market as those old jingles are to me. Let me share one example of how it can work.

I’m a little reticent to share this because it’s a brand identity project that we did not get. But, although it never came to pass, we had a great idea on how to use sound to terrific effect.

Some years ago we were in discussions with a trucking called Palway. Mostly, they delivered huge spools of cold-rolled steel to manufacturers. One of the first things they stressed to us was their stellar on-time record. Palway didn’t promise to deliver faster than anyone else. But they took great pride in arriving exactly at the appointed hour, right down to the minute. If they promised to arrive at 8:16, they arrived right at 8:16 – not 8:15, not 8:17. Their customers really valued their skill at this because it helped them do a better job managing inventory.

Over the years, I’ve learned not to start thinking of solutions before you put in some work and gain a complete understanding of the problem. But sometimes you just get a great idea and can’t stop thinking about it. That’s what happened here. I couldn’t Budway herestop thinking about outfitting Palway’s trucks with a musical horn, just a three-note signature that would serve as an announcement of the vehicle’s arrival. That way, the driver could sound the horn upon pulling onto their customer’s lot and everyone in the building would note their on-time arrival, not just the guys on the loading dock. The same three notes would sound each time someone logged onto their website, reinforcing the effect. In my head, I even heard the tune. Two quarter notes and a half note, one skip (two steps) apart. I thought it could “translate” into an announcement of sorts like, “Palway here!”

Let Boardwalk develop a sound signature
to augment your brand identity.

I did not propose this idea to the client. I knew that once we started the brand exploration work and got a much better understanding of the business and its market, we’d have a more comprehensive plan for them. And there was, at least, a chance the musical signature would not fit into that plan. But I was pretty certain it would; so I kept the idea in my back pocket to reveal at the right time. In the end, it never came to be. Palway had a sudden change in management and they ended up doing their own rebrand in-house. But I still believe the concept would have been a great use of sound to help build a tremendous brand.

If you’re considering whether sound can help build your brand, first think about how sound may fit organically into your business. Are you a trucking firm like Palway? Do you have any unique sounds related to your business like, for instance, livestock auctioneers do? How can you use these sounds …

… in a way that doesn’t annoy people?

Annoyance is a very real issue when sound is involved. Most people watch online videos with the sound off. (That’s why they should always be captioned.) They do this because they don’t want the sound to bother their coworkers. Or, perhaps, they don’t want their boss to know they’re watching videos. In the case of our proposed Palway sound signature, it was a short, three-note tune that would be over before anyone could have a chance to react and become annoyed. If you decided to use background music on your site, you must give visitors an easy and obvious way to turn the sound off.

But, if used judiciously, sound is an excellent addition to most brand identity systems. Where it makes sense, I heartily recommend it.

Best Branding Reads – Week of December 9, 2019

How to Win Sonic Market Share from Industry Heavyweights
An important “How-To” for a new era that’s about total customer experience.

Sonic Branding — What Do These Two Words Really Mean?
It means including audio in your brand identity system.

The Brand Naming Strategy Behind Cheerios
A trademark attorney I know tells me that whenever a brand has to change its name for legal reasons, it usually gets a better name – case in point.

The State Of Brand Management
Derek Daye provides an amazingly accurate, and comprehensive, overview of brand management today. Excellent read!

Nascar finds its identity as it rebrands and moves to a new sponsorship model
NASCAR misses an opportunity to do something wonderful, instead, opting for a ho-hum refresh of an awful logo.

Typeface Marks the 30th Anniversary of Berlin Wall’s Fall
Be sure to watch the two-minute video.

Brands To Watch In 2020
The inimitable Denise Lee Yohn puts out her annual list. Interesting perspectives.

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