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We live in a state of continuous partial attention, according to writer and speaker Linda Stone. We pay attention to a handful of sources of information at the same time—but only at a superficial level. To that fact, add that attention spans have been shrinking since 2000.

Now, you see the urgency of making the most of each consumer touchpoint.

As consumers tune out the excess stimulation delivered through the multitude of media channels, the competitive advantage goes to businesses that use multisensory approaches to emphasize and position the role of the brand in the customer's life.

One part of the multisensory approach is sound. Thinking of sound as filler or background music is a huge missed opportunity. When used correctly, sound has the ability to deliver a distinct branding message—and make it stick once it gets there.

Enter Audio Branding

Like visual branding, audio branding helps create a powerful brand influence. It gives a brand a chance to be distinctive and remarkable at every point of contact. By adding meaning and personality to the brand, audio branding connects with people on a profound level and acts as a relationship builder.

Audio branding goes far beyond jingles or licensing popular music; it's the discipline of using unique proprietary sound and music to create a brand's distinct audio identity, expressing its values at all necessary customer touchpoints.

The process of defining your brand's DNA requires a willingness to probe its structure and tease out those distinguishing qualities and identifiers making it unique. A company must be able to answer the following questions about the brand.

  • What does the brand stand for?
  • How does your brand differentiate itself in ways that are interesting to your customers?
  • How are your competitors differentiating themselves? What sounds characterize them?

A brand must also identify its touchpoints so that each one serves to enhance customer relationships. As traditional media keeps getting replaced with digital media, brands have more opportunities to strengthen their contact points with both motion and sound.

Flip chart presentations have become iPad apps; point-of-purchase (POP) displays have become digital signage; and company brochures have become websites, YouTube channels, and Facebook pages. Now, product brochures have become gorgeous apps like the one below.

Watch the following video with the music off, then watch it again with the music on. You'll hear how the rhythm, texture, instrumentation, and melody add meaning, personality, and distinctiveness. The sounds keep you more focused.

An adapted version of the same music can be heard at the Renault stand at every major auto show around the world.

But many US brands are unaware of the need to manage their audio identities with the same care as they do their visual identities. That's a pity because, when used thoughtfully, your proprietary sound can convey meaning and build brand equity at many underused points of contact.

Here are some questions to ask yourself regarding sound at various touchpoints.

  • Is the use of sound coherent across various points of contact?
  • Which touchpoints is there sound for?
  • Does the brand have a recognizable and universal sound?
  • Does the brand take advantage of a distinctive sound identity with a strong personality?
  • Is the use of music up to date?
  • Do the use of sounds and music contribute value to the competitive positioning of the brand?

Audio branding simplifies and brings coherence to the diverse communication touchpoints that surround our customers every day.

Questions a company should ask itself when determining if they need an audio identity include...

  1. Do you compete with companies that are using audio identities effectively?
  2. How many agencies and partners work on your marketing and internal communication materials?
  3. Are they aligned around the sound that represents your brand?
  4. You have a style guide that helps you manage your graphic identity, so do you also have an audio style guide?
  5. Beyond your current brand touchpoints, what new ones do you aspire to? Are they audio-enabled?
  6. Can customers identify your brand with their eyes closed?

* * *

I encourage you to think beyond licensed music to create distinctive audio signals and compositions. Use them to bring your customers home to the brand and what it represents.

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image of Colleen Fahey

Colleen Fahey is US managing director of Sixième Son, a unique audio branding agency with clients across the globe. She is also a contributor to The Get a Job Workshop: How to Find your Way to a Creative Career in Advertising, Branding, Collateral, Digital, Experimental and More.

LinkedIn: Colleen Fahey

Twitter: @Sixieme_Son_USA