Why 2021 is the year for sonic branding

Paul Reynolds, Managing Director at MassiveMusic on the power of a brand’s sonic identity and why it is no longer just a nice-to-have.

Paul Reynolds

Managing Director MassiveMusic


Both brands and agencies are more aware of the value of music, sonic branding and identity and the breadth of technologies that now exist meaning the number of places where a brand can live is increasing. There are currently one million active podcasts globally, 320 million people worldwide on Spotify, and TikTok has already secured more than 800 million monthly active users. Pair these numbers with the growing number of smart tech devices, and it becomes clear that the power of audio and the science behind its effectiveness is hard for marketers to continue to ignore.

It’s become far more apparent that having a cohesive and compelling sonic strategy is no longer a ‘nice-to-have’ but is part of a strategy that fuels positive recall and steers behaviours. This has led to more conversations about sonic branding, more sonic agencies appearing, music production companies diversifying, and a heavier emphasis placed on this element of the brand.

It certainly didn’t surprise us when earlier in the year an Ipsos report confirmed that brand assets such as sonic brand cues are more effective than assets leveraged from wider culture, such as celebrities. And, while less frequently used, audio assets are on average more effective than some visual assets. This poses the question, why are marketing budgets often weighted towards assets that are less effective?

Brands are looking at the power of sound and voice more because it’s contactless, opening up the opportunity for huge potential and creativity.

Paul Reynolds

The creative, and somewhat less so, sounds of 2020

Despite the limitations 2020 has brought with widespread home-working and reduced budgets, we’ve seen some amazing creative sonic branding appear by brands, really fuelling the belief that it’s being prioritised. For example, the stunning creative execution from Adelphoi Music for Vitamin, or our own work at the start of the year for O2 where our challenge was to reimagine the human breath in sound and music.

Early this year, Mastercard, arguably one of the new leaders in sonic branding, took its sound identity a step further by unveiling its first-ever music single, positioned as the evolution of its sonic brand identity for the next decade and a critical component for how people recognise and experience the brand. The objective was to curate an audio experience that brought new meaning and purpose to the brand, showing its flexibility and strength.

When COVID hit, we saw the flipside of the coin. Strategy went out the window and brands quickly responded with sombre, melancholic music that they felt positioned them as understanding the mood of customers and were with them in this time of need. However, what was meant to feel personal ended up being incredibly generic as they all fell into the same trap.

This is why when we meet with brands and agencies, the first thing we do is look incredibly closely at the overall business and brand objectives. What do they want to do? Differentiate? Reposition? We start to form an internal map of the business and understand the brand personality e.g. the tone of voice, language, who they are talking to and who they see as competitors.

This forms an essential element of the strategy, ensuring the key benchmark is the brand itself rather than competitors. If brands look at the sector to see how they should sound they fall into the common trap of matching their sound to the sound of an industry rather than the brand’s own personality and values, which is how you see many brands sounding the same. This was obvious in September when Netflix unveiled its new cinematic sonic brand. Rather than sounding cool and disruptive, they looked at the sector and copied, resulting in something quite underwhelming and not representative of who they are as a brand.

Is voice becoming the new ‘swipe’?

As we navigate a world that’s going in and out of lockdown and adjusting to tiered living conditions, brands are looking at the power of sound and voice more because it’s contactless, opening up the opportunity for huge potential and creativity. With people spending longer indoors, marketers are looking to solve the challenge of remaining visible and encouraging recall.

With technology driving the audio revolution, our Global Director of Growth Charles Gadsdon was spot on in his observation that voice is becoming the new “swipe”. More and more brands have an opportunity to ‘own’ certain moments during the time a customer spends listening and engaging. Brands are realising that working with experts to strategically create a suite of sonic assets provides immense opportunity for different variations of the brand sound to live on different platforms and in different forms, all rooting back to the brand.

We are already seeing brands innovate. For example, Nars got a lot of attention this summer for launching a voice-activating sampling campaign partnership with Spotify, allowing customers listening through a smart speaker to vocally request an order. The potential is growing more obvious as traditional advertising and marketing methods prove less effective.

Pressing the snooze button on sonic branding is now putting brands in a weaker position as competitors innovate to match changing consumer behaviours. If brands are willing to acknowledge that we are increasingly engaging with devices by speaking and listening it should form a key part of marketing plans in 2021 and beyond. By stalling, brands are missing the opportunity to own the sonic space in their sector but there is time to still make a marked impact with the right strategy.  

Getting that right is crucial. You could play a sonic logo over and over to consumers which will give your brand consistency and recall but it won’t necessarily add any value. So, ensuring you invest in building real brand assets that contribute to the brand building as well as positively engaging with customers, is what will be crucial to the sonic effectiveness and success.

Guest Author

Paul Reynolds

Managing Director MassiveMusic


Paul’s career in music started in the late 90s producing and DJing in the dance music scene. After a brief hiatus in the advertising photography world, Paul returned to music production where he managed major international productions for broadcast branding, promos and commercials. He quickly moved up to Head of Production & Business Development, managing a team of producers and composers. In 2011, Paul set up the London operation for international music agency MassiveMusic. He entered the company to the UK and Europe's sonic branding & strategy, music production, supervision, and talent management industries, quickly becoming one of London's leading music agencies. For lovers of 90s house and drum'n'bass, Paul can still sometimes be caught dusting off his decks for a nostalgic vinyl trip.