For the first chapter, “The Power of Sound,” Havas Media’s Global Chief Strategy Officer Greg James shares why sound is more important than ever for brands that want to make connections with audiences.
Tell us a little about the “Power of…” series. What is the project’s mission?
We’re surrounded by media inputs throughout the day, but how much of it do we pay attention to or actually value? With this project, we are seeking to understand what makes media meaningful. As part of that, we have identified several essential media channels and taken a deeper look at what’s happening within each. We started with one of the most overlooked and underappreciated channels: sound. What we came to discover is that sound (audio branding in particular) is poised to be the next big thing in marketing.
The first chapter focuses on sound. Why did sound fall out of favor in the advertising and marketing world? Why is it poised for a comeback (or did it ever really go away)?
Sound has always been part of marketing but too often as more of an afterthought or add-on. An estimated 83% of advertising relies almost exclusively on sense of sight, despite the fact that sound has been shown to prompt recall, solidify brand associations, transcend barriers of language and culture, and significantly impact business results. Today, sound is more important than ever because there are so many more points of potential engagement. Think about our connected cars and homes, smart speakers, and other digital devices—audio interaction is exploding. And marketers need to do a better job of helping brands make the most of it.
Now that so many more touchpoints are available, it’s critical that every brand develop a distinct audio identity and voice. That voice needs to be rooted in the brand identity, with attention paid to everything from how casual or formal it is to its tone, gender, personality, and more. With the smart use of sound, we have an incredible opportunity to bring our brands to life in distinctive, engaging, and meaningful ways.
What makes sound such a powerful marketing tool for brands and advertisers?
If you think about the levers marketers and advertisers have to pull, they rely entirely on reaching customers through their five senses. Sound happens to be the fastest way to do that—reaching a person’s brain in just 0.05 seconds, far faster than the .2 seconds it takes to register an input via sight or touch. That’s a big deal at a time when mental bandwidth is in such short supply. And the target audience doesn’t even have to be paying attention. Visual advertising requires the consumer look at it and maybe even read it. Sound requires no such participation. It sneaks up on people regardless of whether they are prepared to receive it.
Brands can “own” a unique sound that becomes instantly recognizable. Think about the Intel bong or the sound of the Aflac duck. And it can influence people in profound ways—emotionally and subconsciously. For instance, changing the tempo or genre of music in a store has been proven to affect not just how long we linger but what we buy. And the sounds we associate with a brand—even the sounds in the brand name itself—have an impact on how we regard the brand, signaling whether we feel it’s innovative or traditional, reliable, or adventurous, etc.
"Brands need to examine where and how they’re already using sound and what changes are needed to create a more powerful, more compelling, and more cohesive audio identity."
What can brands/marketers do to harness the power of sound?
To start, brands need to examine where and how they’re already using sound and what changes are needed to create a more powerful, more compelling, and more cohesive audio identity. It’s not as simple as going into a sound library and extracting something that suits your fancy. Take your time. Audit all your audio touchpoints. Consider what you want your sounds to express, how you want them to make people feel and behave, and how sounds can deliver for you across platforms. And these platforms include the product itself—the way it sounds when you use it, when you open or close it, when you turn it on or off. Everything communicates.
Sound in marketing is often associated with slogans, jingles, and radio spots, but that’s not the whole story anymore. What are some ways brands/marketers are doing more with audio?
Jingles and music used in TV and radio spots still have their place. They can be an incredibly valuable part of building a brand’s distinctive persona, but they’re just the most obvious use of sound. If you were to sit in a Bentley Continental GT, you likely wouldn’t know every auditory element—from the chime of the indicator to the sound of the door closing—has been crafted to convey a single idea: “I have made it.” But you would feel it. Done right, audio branding delivers a cohesive message and feeling to the customer, whether it’s the brand “voice” answering questions on a smart speaker, the music piped into a waiting room or airline cabin, or the sounds of the product itself. Whether we’re actively listening to it or registering it only subconsciously, the sounds of a brand are omnipresent. We can’t afford to waste the opportunity to formulate and use them intelligently, with great care and a clear purpose.
A few years ago, GE became the first brand to create its own podcast. In the ensuing years, more and more brands have followed suit. What’s the next big thing in sound?
Sound already reaches us throughout the day, but we’re soon going to become even more enveloped in it. We saw all sorts of new products and prototypes at CES that promise to create audio experiences that are richer and more personalized. And we’re just at the start of the voice revolution. Every month, more physical objects are getting wired for sound, allowing us to interact with them via voice. For brands, this means that we actually have to have a speaking voice—an AI-powered voice that responds to queries, offers useful information, and engages with people in entertaining and meaningful ways. As more brands recognize the value of audio marketing, we’re also going to see more of them compete on sound. For instance, Lincoln is integrating Tidal’s high-end streaming service into its cars, while Aloft Hotels is teaming with Universal Music Group to offer on-site Live @ Aloft concerts by emerging artists. There are virtually no limits to how we can innovate our use of sound to build brands and produce more meaningful engagement.
In ways big and small, sound is already part of any brand experience. It’s up to us to help our clients identify the most impactful opportunities—and avoid hitting any sour notes.
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BY Sulaiman Beg is Havas' Director of Global Internal Communications.