• Transform magazine
  • May 18, 2022

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Five minutes with Marco Vitali

Marco Vitali Headshot

Marco Vitali, CEO and founder of sonic branding agency, Sonic Lens, explores the new world of 'music intelligence' and the benefits of creating a solid sonic brand.

Why are so many brands suddenly thinking about their sonic identities?

This year saw a 22% jump in brands launching audio identities for the first time, a reaction to how the consumer journey has become completely 'sound-on.' In a world where people are oversaturated with visuals and screens, sonic branding has become a path of least resistance as consumers spend more time engaging with audio. This year audio streaming increased 32%, with 67 million Americans listening to podcasts every month and 41% of U.S. consumers using voice search daily.  55% of homes will have smart speakers by 2022 with voice shopping set to surpass $40 billion in the US alone.  In the absence of visual branding, sonic identity has suddenly become much more critical and brands want to future-proof themselves.  Some are rushing in just to check the box with a 'sonic logo,' but more sophisticated brands realise the world of sonic branding has evolved to become more holistic and are demanding more sophisticated processes. In both cases the basic truth is abundantly clear - if your brand is on mute, it’s a lot easier for consumers to ignore you.

Can music transform brands?

This is an important question, because sonic branding is at its heart very musical.  It isn't just about mnemonics or beeps and blips. Yes, the components of sonic branding include short sonic cues, but it also encompasses the more holistic sound of a brand in a mostly musical sense. Even mnemonics should ideally be compact distillations of larger musical ideas, and music has the ability to communicate very specific things on an emotional level - in this case who you are as a brand and what you stand for.  It can achieve this with greater depth than words, and it can play a pivotal role helping visual branding elements communicate brand purpose on a deeper level. We define ourselves with music, we feel specific emotions with music, and we actively seek out and engage with music. In fact, music is the number one passion point of global consumers - bigger than movies, parties, gaming, or TV. If you want to transform your brand or create a deeper relationship with your consumers, sound and music should play a significant part.

What role can sound play in branding?

Sonic branding is one of the most powerful ways to gain attention in the marketplace and trigger different emotions we want from consumers, and quite possibly the most effective way to gain brand attribution. A 2020 Ipsos study showed that audio branding is 8x more successful in triggering brand recall than a visual logo. In fact it's more effective than every other branding included in the focus testing (taglines, characters, celebrities, colours, fonts, packaging and creative visual style)!   Combine this effectiveness with the fact that sound is by far the least utilised of all brand cues, and we've practically defined the word "opportunity". MasterCard CMO, Raja Rajamannar, was smart enough to get in front of this and establish competitive advantage in his industry by using sonic branding from the top of the funnel all the way down to point of purchase. Now with the top ranked sonic brand in the world he's proudly advocating that "audio branding is no longer just a 'nice to have' - it's just as important as a brand's visual identity."  

Is it possible to bring more science to sonic branding?

The answer is yes. We call this process 'music intelligence' and it's been proven to outperform in the marketplace. We think great sonic branding is at its core a work of art, but it's most effective when guided by science. Sprinkling math into our sonic branding process is our secret sauce, and probably why we're up for a Transform Award and have won gold for every project since launching Sonic Lens. As my former career on Wall Street taught me, math is the key to bridging all things, no matter how unrelated they may seem. If we had to speak with an alien race, we would start with our only common language - math. Our sonic audits turn the whole competitive landscape into data (a mix of objective, subjective, and AI), which allows us to analyse, SWOT and generate an ownable sonic strategy. This eventually results in the most detailed creative brief you've ever seen, filled with sound and examples. When dealing with master brand assets, creative direction must be a perfect distillation of vast amounts of accumulated knowledge and insight. Being able to analyse data allows this to happen.  When creating the sound of a master brand, instinct just isn't enough.Getting a perfect sonic representation of your brand is way too important to rely on gut feelings, and activating an effective sonic strategy is equally reliant on music intelligence and marketing sciences.

Should sonic and visual branding systems be developed together?

I understand why the visual side of branding gets to play Michael Corleone in the world of branding, but I don't understand why sonics play the role of Fredo. "I'm smart!  I can do things!" Sound is a vast, complex and fertile medium, and with a sophisticated approach (music intelligence) it contributes just as much as visuals when it has a seat at the table. Music and sound need to be integrated earlier and deeper into brand strategy conversations often spearheaded by branding agencies like Lippincott, JKR, Siegel + Gale and Wolff Olins. Just as these world class agencies would never create a brand's visual identity system (VIS) without first aligning on purpose, goals, and a big picture strategy, the same should hold true for a brand's sonic identity system (SIS).   

I believe some of the most exciting branding work will come from partnerships between the audio and visual branding worlds. The more they intertwine to create truly holistic identity systems, the more breakthrough branding we will witness in the coming years. Sonics and visuals are two sides of the same coin and should be developed in tandem instead of in sequence.  If they can achieve greater harmony, then 1 plus 1 will equal 3 or 4 or 10. The research, insight and planning that go into either side should influence and improve the other so both work together as a duet.  Nobody will argue with the fact that sound brings motion to life and can help give it meaning and emotion. This also works in reverse.  In our experience some branding initiatives can actually be driven by sound. Think of the success of the music video age when MTV flipped the script by driving content with music and 'scoring' that with video. Think of today's unrivalled engagement power of TikTok.  Imagine what innovative sonic branding can do when it's the engine instead of the caboose.