Crafting an audio brand requires a similar holistic, comprehensive approach as does creating a visual brand. Alexander Wodrich, MD of why do birds, discusses the impact a cohesive audio brand can have on a wider brand system
When the topic of audio branding comes up, there still seems to be some confusion on what exactly we are talking about. It starts with the name. Audio branding is often referred to as sound branding, sonic branding or sometimes as corporate sound. But there’s no need for confusion. If you google the different terms, they will all lead you to very similar results.
But what is audio branding? Most people have jingles or sound logos in their minds; a short sequence of notes that gets stuck in your head. This, of course, leads to a certain expectancy among marketers when they brief an audio branding project to their agency or design studio. They are looking for an easily memorable 2.5 second long piece of sound that will quickly be recognised, liked and associated with the corresponding brand by millions of people.
There are some prominent examples of globally well-known and highly acclaimed sound logos from brands like Audi, BMW, Intel or T-Mobile. They all work well and give the brands a unique audio stamp.
However, reducing an audio brand to just a sound logo is like reducing a corporate design to just a visual logo. A well-conceived corporate design consists of colour palettes, typefaces, different forms, a design-principle, an imagery style and – yes – a logo. After the initial strategy phase graphic designers usually start their creative processes by collecting inspirational ideas, designing mood boards and combining the different design elements to get an overall feeling for the tonality of a brand. It’s often easier to evaluate the big picture to see if it captures what a certain brand stands for rather than evaluating single design elements. The logo design would then follow in the next step and emphasise a certain aspect of the overall design or be the condensation of the visual identity.
Reducing a corporate design to just a logo is also virtually impossible as a brand needs to communicate on websites, brochures, on business stationary and ads. A logo on its own won’t be enough. Somebody needs to decide what typeface, imagery and colours should be used.
Similarly, a sound logo on its own won’t do. Brands communicate in audio channels for more than just two or three seconds. Imagine a telephone on-hold loop consisting of a permanently recurring jingle? Having an audio identity only consisting of a sound logo could result in an on-hold line having a 45 second loop of Mozart’s ‘Kleine Nachtmusik,’ interrupted by the sound logo. That’s a little bit like using Arial in a print ad and putting your visual logo in the bottom right corner.
A well-conceived audio brand should consist of a brand music theme, a brand voice, distinct sound design elements, a defined audio tonality and of course a sound logo. Once the strategic goal and direction of the brand sound has been defined, the creative process begins with the production of sound mood snippets that find their way into a piece of music. The client can then examine whether different aspects of the initial brief become audible. The sound logo is usually produced after other parameters have been set. It can then be the encapsulation of the whole brand’s sound identity or translate a certain aspect of the sound identity that the client wants to highlight. Either way it needs to be part of a holistic approach, so it won’t feel like a foreign body disrupting a piece of music. Wherever you encounter a brand in sound you should at best be able to recognise it by its sound.
But it isn’t simply about catchiness and recognition. A good brand sound should communicate the brand’s identity. It should fit to the overall tonality of the brand and it should go hand in hand with the brand’s corporate design. It needs to mirror the brand’s guiding principle and communicate its target messages.
"Reducing an audio brand to just a sound logo is like reducing a corporate design to just a visual logo"
Last year, Siemens introduced a new brand sound globally. It had an existing audio brand dating to 2003, but with a shift in its positioning it was necessary to change that sound. Siemens has always been an engineer-driven brand; in the past this led to an ‘inside-out’ approach, in which engineers came up with inventions and products for Siemens to sell. The subsequent audio branding focused strongly on the engineering heritage and sounded rather technical and cold.
Around four years ago, a paradigm shift took place and Siemens turned its approach toward the ‘outside-in.’ It was not about innovative products as a self-purpose anymore but about finding solutions to people’s problems. The new approach is more focused on people’s needs mirrored in the Siemens claim ‘Ingenuity for life’. It shows that Siemens’ technical expertise circles around real issues – the things that truly matter in life.
To illustrate the shift a radical change in its communication was necessary. In the audio brand, this was reflected by a female voice in the music and sound logo demonstrates the new thinking distinctively and conveys proximity to the customers. The engineering, aspect is not denied, but it is not executed in such a technical and dominant manner. Siemens’ constant quest for new solutions to match clients’ needs is translated into sound through the use of restless, seemingly eternally searching piano themes and by driving rhythms.
To connect ingenuity and life, a gradient between real and synthesised sounds has become a central element of the new brand sound – just as the ‘dynamic petrol’ colour gradient is the prominent element of Siemens’ visual appearance. The morphing gradient sound is a direct translation of this colour gradient from the corporate design. It finds its way into all of Siemens’ audio applications and thus has become a central guiding principle for the overall brand sound.
The whole story and the sound gradient are packed into the 2.5 second sound logo where the female voice starts synthesised and turns more and more into the natural voice.
The Siemens brand voice for voiceovers and the spoken brand name and claim were chosen to be male to contrast the female voices in the sound logo and brand music. A typical, highly professional, corporate, low-pitched voice would rather have fitted to the old Siemens and was consciously declined in favour of a natural voice, symbolising the proximity to the outside world.
Before the implementation process started, the sound moods and sound logo drafts were tested in the U.S., in Europe and in Asia to see if the conceptual ideas of the new brand sound were understood and if the sound mirrored Siemens’ strategic positioning.
To ensure a holistic brand sound experience across all media, music library tracks, event sound kits, soundscapes, ring tones and audio branding guidelines have been produced. To guarantee an easy implementation, a Siemens sampler-instrument, featuring all relevant brand sound elements has been created, enabling professional music producers around the world to work with the original Siemens sounds and principles.
For the Siemens sound logo to become as well known as the ones from Audi or T-Mobile it will still be a long road. As a B2B brand, its advertising will not be perceived by the public quite as much. And the big secret behind Audi’s and T-Mobile’s successes is their consistency. Both brands have introduced their sound logos almost 25 years ago and have used it consistently since then. But, for Siemens and those brands that focus on an all-around approach to sound design, as they do to visual design, success and recognition will be more achievable.