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.