• Transform magazine
  • March 01, 2021

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Insights: How can audio branding create a distinctive identity?

  • Ella (1)
  • Jeff1

Dragon Rouge and Sixième Son discuss their work for Petronas and examine value of audio branding and how it can improve an organisation's positioning


Sonic branding is not just the jingle at the end of an advertisement. When done with the right partner, sonic branding is, more accurately, the communication of brand values and personality through sound; a sonic identity not only engages the audience at every touchpoint, but grabs attention and builds brand recognition.

Despite our digital world, sonic consistency remains a missed opportunity for brands. As audio-enabled and screenless content grows, it’s easy to become sonically chaotic across consumer touchpoints.

That’s why a brand’s leader must think beyond licensed music and free music libraries to create distinctive audio signals and proprietary compositions for the long-term. In a recent study by Sixième Son and Harris Interactive, nine out of 10 of the best performing sonic identities have been in use for at least five years. The more diverse and disconnected the music, the sonic performance decreases and lessens the chance of building brand recognition. The research makes a strong argument that longevity and consistency in sound lead to success.

In the same study, 90% of the best performing sonic identities were tailor-made. This is a strong argument to develop a proprietary brand sound. The study also showed that using an existing, popular commercial track does not predict how successful the content will be. On the contrary, brands that used trendy commercial tracks seemed to add more complexity and actually triggered a negative reaction. They also have a tendency to be more attention-getting than the brand itself, so audiences come away with the song or artist in mind, not the brand’s offer. This powerful insight can save companies time and a lot of money.

The decrease in attention spans and increase in audio and voice-activated experiences have also accelerated the need to adopt a sonic brand strategy. People are in a state of 'continuous partial attention,' screens are getting smaller, even disappearing, thus sound is the only way to break through. When pairing a visual logo with a sound logo, the combined logo isn’t merely twice as recognisable, the two multiply each other.

Seizing the opportunity, as part of a full rebranding initiative, Dragon Rouge and Sixième Son designed an award-winning tailor-made audio identity for Petronas. Taking gold in the 2020 Transform Awards Asia for 'Best use of audio branding,' the composition expresses Petronas’ passion for progress, invites collaboration, and integrates the ney, a traditional Malaysian flute, to reflect its cultural roots.

When visual and audio design experts work harmoniously together on brand expression, the result is a resounding success. The new brand is clearly more modern and emotionally charged through the audio identity. It performs better across digital channels, multisensory environments and ultimately stands out among global competitors. That sounds like progress!

The brand’s marketing team is now adopting the sonic for all internal and external brand communications, ensuring consistent and coherent use – a key to success, as we know. And when it comes to leadership, Petronas is clearly paving the sonic way in their category and region.

In short, the main lesson is simple. To create engagement and a connection to the brand, the sonic aspect must be treated as a key brand asset; fitted to the brand, deployed strategically and used consistently over time. Petronas has understood this, while many other brands still have a long way to go.

Ella Duda is international strategy director at Sixième Son. Jeff McFarland is the executive director of strategy and innovation at Dragon Rouge.