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In today's crowded marketplace of companies, ideas, and products, branding is critically important.

People who do not yet know of your organization will give you mere seconds before moving on, so all your branding elements need to be in place to get the attention you deserve when the moment is right.

Although most marketers understand visual branding using images, colors, logos, and the like, as well as branding using the written word (after all, Everybody Writes!), very few of us understand that it is possible to create (and own the rights to) your own sounds and music that align perfectly with your brand attributes.

Organizations often use sound and music in their marketing: for podcast introductions, business video soundtracks, TV and radio commercials, on tradeshow floors and at vendor boots, as walk on music when a CEO gives a speech, within software products, and as part of online learning programs.

Some of the most famous uses of original sound for branding purposes are "sonic logos" of a few easily remembered musical notes to capture the essence of an organization or product. Here are four examples of well-known sonic logos:

  1. Skype ringtone
  2. Apple startup chime
  3. NBC network ID
  4. Intel Inside Leap Ahead

Many companies use such short, easily remembered sonic elements within products and services, as well as marketing content, such as videos and podcasts.

Music on the Cheap, or Outright Stealing, Isn't Good Branding

Sonic branding is an exciting way to showcase who you are and to make that brand identity memorable. However, most marketers either ignore sound or simply figure something out on the cheap as a branding afterthought.

Worst-practices include using the default on-hold music that comes prepackaged with your phone system and therefore has no relevance to your company, or buying cheap stock music for your video that countless other companies also use for theirs.

Some marketers outright steal popular music to use it in their campaigns; that is, they don't secure usage rights. I'm sure your company's compliance officer wouldn't be happy to know what you're doing on the sly to jazz up your podcast.

My lawyer friend Mitch Jackson, who is very active on social networks, has some suggestions regarding the use of music you don't own. "If you didn't create the content, don't use it without the written permission of the owner or person with legal use rights," Mitch writes. "Yes, there is the Fair Use Doctrine that permits the use of someone else's copyrighted material, but the exceptions are narrow and the law is gray. Don't count too much on this exception protecting you unless (1) your lawyer is better than the other side's lawyer and (2) you have more money than the other side to win your case in court (sarcasm)."

The best way to ensure legal compliance and to have music that is perfectly aligned with your organizational culture and your brand is to commission custom sound.

Your Own Sonic Logo and Original Song

When organizations have music created especially for them, they can achieve brand harmony.

Working with a composer or a team at a sonic branding studio can be a rewarding experience, but it is best if you are an active participant in the process:

  • Share a deep understanding of your organizational goals, current marketing and branding efforts, and aspirations for the future with the people composing your music. The more the composer knows, the better the outcome.
  • Share the profile of a typical customer of your product or service. Who are your buyer personas? What are they really buying from you?
  • Create a list of your one- or two-word brand attributes. Knowing that your organization is, say, "professional, conservative, and reliable" sends a composer in one direction, whereas "fun, playful, and experimental" will produce something quite different.
  • Consider all the ways you'll use the music and inform the composer. Will your song be used as background only in a video series? Will it be an introduction to your podcast? Most organizations will have multiple uses, so a good composer will create various lengths of the song or music for you to use—anywhere from 15 seconds to several minutes.
  • You should be able to provide feedback as the song takes shape through several rounds of revisions. Take that process seriously. Really listen to what is presented. Do you like the overall approach of the music? The instruments selected? What about the tempo? Done right, your music should feel "right" for your brand.
  • Make sure the composer assigns the rights to the music to you so you can use it in any way you want to.
  • When you get your music, get it out there. Use it!

Commissioning a sonic logo or original song can be surprisingly affordable; it can be accomplished on nearly any marketing budget.

Custom compositions are a wide-open opportunity to create a memorable organization or product offering, because very few entrepreneurs and marketers are using customized sonic branding today.

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image of David Meerman Scott

David Meerman Scott, B2B marketing powerhouse and fandom strategist, spotted the real-time marketing revolution in its infancy and wrote five books about it including The New Rules of Marketing and PR, with more than 400,000 copies sold in English and available in 29 languages.

Now, David says the pendulum has swung too far in the direction of superficial online communications. Tech-weary and bot-wary people are hungry for true human connection. Organizations have learned to win by developing what David calls a "Fanocracy"—tapping into the mindset that relationships with customers are more important than the products they sell to them.

Prior to starting his own business, he was vice president of marketing for several publicly traded B2B technology and information companies.