Marketing

A sonic shift in branding in the age of apps

Nandana James | Updated on April 18, 2021

As ‘ear-points’ between a company and a customer grow, we are witnessing a rise in audio assets

It’s the age of subliminal advertising. And there is nothing that penetrates your subconscious like music and sound. A year and a half ago when Zomato forayed into sonic branding, this was the intent. How could a customer recognize Zomato if the visual part was missing?

This spurred the brand to create an auditory palette to represent Zomato. It roped in sonic-branding agency BrandMusiq, founded by ad man and musician Rajeev Raja, who created a signature ‘Zum Tara Tara’ note for the food aggregator. Raja did many interesting things with the tune for the brand. For instance, a shorter Zum notification note alerts the customer when an order is taken – so she doesn’t have open the app and check.

Around this time, Raja was also approached by Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages, which was undergoing a massive brand transformation exercise to emerge out of Coca Cola’s shadows and strengthen its employer branding. Apart from its visual look, HCCB invested attention to sonic branding too, getting music maestro Illaiyaraaja to compose an anthem.

But not content with an anthem it got BrandMusiq to create more sonic connects. As Kamlesh Sharma, chief public affairs and communications offer of HCCB, explains “In an era - which many are calling the re-emergence of the audio with radio, podcasts, music streaming services, Clubhouse etc., sonic branding is emerging as a powerful force to reinforce brand connections.”

Sharma feels that in the Covid era, sonic branding’s utility has only got amplified. “Today a short sound note; a ringtone; the music when one logs-into the office systems remotely, etc, not only evokes nostalgia, it also helps inculcate a sense of belongingness.”

Hear and now: HCCB’s playlist for yoga workouts

What Raja did for HCCB was to take short pieces from Ilaiyaraja’s anthem which evokes a feel of a flowing river and plug it at various ear points. HCCB also did stuff like release audio playlists on World Yoga Day that could be used for exercises. “These tunes are carefully curated to evoke certain emotions. For example, yoga playlists composed with rasas and music instruments evoke care, peace and strength in these trying times. This smoothly ties back to the subtle hues of the HCCB sonic branding built on similar rasas of Karuna (care/concern) and Veera (courage of an explorer),” explains Sharma.

Deeper than a jingle

Sonic branding is by no means new. Several brands in the past – think Britannia, Airtel, or Titan – have had distinctive pieces of music that connects a customer instantly to the company. However, what’s new as Rajeev Raja points out is that the “Ear points” that touch a customer today have grown in leaps and bounds.

The proliferation of smartphones, apps, streaming services, smart speakers and voice assistants has increased the chances of a brand being heard. And this has given an impetus to brands to invest in audio branding in the form of musical logos, notification sounds, tunes that can waft across social media and so on. As Raja says, it is a non intrusive way of connecting and creating emotional appeal.

It’s also proving very useful in the app age. For instance, whenever a transaction takes place through an app, isn’t it reassuring to hear an audio note that signifies successful payment – as happens with Paytm.

“An audio mnemonic is perhaps the most magical and best form of brand recall that transcends language, geographical, cultural and visual barriers. If done well, it invariably creates a strong and long lasting association that always works in a brand’s favour and becomes an integral part of the brand’s overall identity,” says Sanjay Sarma, founder at SSARMA Consults - a boutique branding and communication advisory

Vigyan Verma, founder of The Bottom Line concurs. “Sound is a minimalistic media, as truly appreciated by our atavistic sages. It registers and stays in our minds without requiring a medium to store.”

In an earlier era, sonic branding happened by default - a brand would create a memorable jingle for an ad campaign, and then they found some resonance and therefore, kept using it and overtime became a part of the brand and sort of a sonic asset.

However, today’s sonic brand identity, explains Raja, , goes much deeper than a jingle. It creates a brand identity. Agrees Shouvik Roy, President and Head of Office – Ogilvy, who had formed one of India’s first audio branding agencies Sound Sense, nearly 15 years ago – perhaps rather ahead of its time: “The role of audio branding or musical logos adds another dimension to the brand identity,” he says.

Underpitched

Although a growing band of brands like Mastercard, MG Motor, Google Pay, Vistara, Tata Salt, HDFC Bank, ICICI Bank, Indusland Bank, Raymond and Myntra have invested in a sonic identity, brand consultants feel it’s still underleveraged.

Only around five per cent of the world’s brands have a sonic identity, says Raja. And this percentage is likely to be much lower when brands in India are considered.

“I think we're now at a stage where we have started acknowledging the fact that audio branding makes a difference. I think maturity is still some years away, because I don't think it is matured anywhere in the world,” says Roy. “There is a need for more investments in audio assets specifically and separately,” he says.

According to Vigyan, a significant part of the reason why brands have not enough in sonic identity is the relative inexperience in understanding and dealing with music strategically at both the client and creative agency ends.

The nascent stage of sonic branding also throws up the question of how exactly brands can get it right. Laalit Lobo, an audio marketing strategist, says that the biggest challenge is that sometimes there is no sync between those doing the audio work and the overall team that looks after the brand identity.

Often, he feels there may be a disconnect like you may say this doesn't sound like what this brand represents, he says. He feels sonic branding should be seamless, like any touch point, whether it's visual or non visual, with screen or without screen, hands free or with hand, the brand should flow seamlessly across all those touch points.

But the good news is that Raja’s Brand Musiq is now increasingly being approached for creation of music logos or mogos as he calls them. For Raja, sonic branding is also a way for a brand to humanise itself. “You can get recognition and identification through the visual identity, but you can get an emotional connection only through your sonic identity - because we know music and emotions are very connected,” he says.

Concludes Roy: “I'm a lot more optimistic now than I was 10 years ago about audio branding. Today, I see that there is a real market now on who is going to invest in audio assets. I think that's the difference - that time there was hope. Now the reality is that there are quite a number of brands and categories that definitely would need audio assets. So it's a good time to start a business in this, compared to when I started.”

Published on April 18, 2021

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