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Sound thinking

Mobile Marketing

As research from Xaxis and the IAB highlights a shift towards audio, Uli Reese, Global CMO of Amp, says the journey towards audio enlightenment requires a long-term strategy. 

With Gartner predicting that 30 per cent of our searches will be screenless by 2020, audio communication is set to increase exponentially. Mobile technology is undoubtedly contributing towards this trend, with voice search and commands becoming an everyday occurrence. What’s more, as audio communication becomes more common, consumer demand for sonic brand experiences is likely to grow – so even organisations with well-established visual identities could find themselves lost in the ether if they can’t translate their brands into sound.

Marketers are clearly starting to take this on board, with six in 10 looking to increase their programmatic audio spend over the next 18 months, according to recent research from Xaxis and the IAB Europe. Meanwhile, another 58% are looking to invest in audio advertising more generally to raise brand awareness.

Even as understanding about the importance of audio builds among marketers, however, brands are still well behind when it comes to how best to use it. In fact, according to our own research on the topic, just 22% of the world’s best brands are using sound effectively as a branding tool, with even top performers, like McDonalds and Disney (which placed 1st and 2nd, respectively in our Best Audio Brands Ranking) considered unable to develop a truly comprehensive approach to sonic branding.

Sonic logos
This might seem surprising when you think about how easily recognisable these brands’ sonic logos are. But this is the exact problem with these companies – the fact that they’re still relying on one single sound asset to communicate their identities. This strategy may have served them well in the past, but it is no longer fit for purpose at a time when consumers are increasingly interacting with brands sonically on a myriad of touchpoints – from mobile, to smart home devices, all the way to AR and VR experiences.

So, what must brands do in order to create a strong sonic identity – one that can withstand the fragmentation of consumer experience and stand out in an increasingly audio-driven world?

It’s all about the long-term game. This means thinking holistically when it comes to audio-branding – making sure that the audio brand harmonises with the visual brand, and so on. Ultimately, brands must aim to create sound DNA so true to them that it’s easily identifiable to the consumer, whatever the variation. By focusing on a sound DNA as opposed to a static asset, brands can flex their sonic brand seamlessly across touchpoints, contexts, geographies and time.

Consider, for instance, how the film industry uses sound – in particular, the James Bond franchise. Each time a new Bond song is revealed, it is immediately clear to the audience that it is a James Bond asset – despite the fact it has never been heard before. Each new version draws on an ownable sonic DNA, allowing it to capture the age-old James Bond brand, whilst also being relevant to the current zeitgeist. This is because it is drawing on a core sonic DNA, which keeps it anchored, but allows for creative flexibility at the same time.

Audio assets
Organisations should aim to follow in the footsteps of brands like AXA, Siemens, Coca Cola, and Shell. Our report found that these companies have begun to create original and multiple audio assets which, while in their infancy, are likely to help them rise up the ranking in the years to come. It’s by commissioning their own audio assets, as opposed to simply renting them, that companies will ultimately promote long-term brand salience, and thus improve their ROI.

Accordingly, brands should avoid using pop songs for representation, but rather think about what they want to say and create something unique. Also, by owning several assets, as opposed to just one, brands are better equipped to flex to different touchpoints, whilst remaining easily recognisable.

To get this right though, it is also important to work with experts. The focus from brands up until now has been on refining their visual identities, especially as the digital market has evolved. So, a partner that has the expertise to prepare you for the next frontier of audio-centric consumer-brand experiences is paramount.

As the power of audio grows, it’s time brands divert their attention away from visual towards audio, and employ a sophisticated sonic-branding strategy – one that guarantees long-term brand salience.