Gen Z Insights

Your source for the latest Gen Z marketing trends and perspectives, presented by UNiDAYS.

Subscribe to Blog

The power of sonic branding: when consumers listen rather than look

by Stephanie H.
    Download the report: Gen Z spending habits before and during COVID-19

    The highs and lows of Q3 for Gen Z

    Gen Z boasts a well-earned reputation for being a notoriously tricky demographic to get onyour side. So, how do you make students fall in love with your brand?...

    Gen Z knows what your brand looks like, but do they know how it sounds? As audio-based marketing grows, now’s the perfect time to create a sonic brand.

    Sonic branding is getting some buzz these days, but it certainly isn’t new. While it’s been around since radio, (think of the eponymous NBC chimes), it remains underused. Yet, sonic branding is increasingly relevant, especially today.

    Let’s harken back to the 00s: The Internet began to kill off direct mail, and suddenly, a brand could get its products and services in front of an audience all the time, anytime (granted, with a dial-up connection). With that nearly always-on brand availability, there simply wasn’t as much need for print-based marketing. 

    A similar evolution is happening now. This time, it’s visual marketing that’s taking a hit. Usage of screenless voice assistants like Alexa and Google is growing. With voice-assisted shopping expected to exceed $40 billion in 2022, brands need to find new ways to generate awareness and remain top-of-mind among Gen Z. 

    Use your ears, not your eyes

    Brands are (re)turning to audio—or in more modern terms—to ‘sonic branding’ as a way to capture Zers attention and, hopefully, to retain mindshare by way of sound. 

    What exactly is sonic branding? It’s simple, really: It’s the sound of your brand. Imagine handing out a business card. Your sonic brand or identity is the audible equivalent of that business card. 

    Everyone knows the iconic NBC chimes. So here are some other examples of effective sonic brands:

    The goal of sonic branding is the same as any branding activity. When someone sees your brand, they think of you; when they hear your brand, they think of you. And eventually, the inverse applies, which is truly the holy grail of sonic branding: When someone thinks of your brand, they hear your brand. (Cue this.) 

    What should be included in my sonic brand?

    Take note, here are the essential components of sonic branding:

    1. Long-form anthem. According to The Sonic Boom: How Sound Transforms the Way We Think, Feel, and Buy, what you’re going for here is an anthem, not a jingle. Jingles may be catchy, but anthems make you feel something. Without a rousing anthem, you’re left with just a couple of sounds or notes at the end of an ad that consumers might recognize, but leave them feeling nothing. And, as the book’s authors explain, without a feeling associated with your sonic logo, “there’s no context, no story, and usually no strategy.”   
    2. Sonic logo. This is your sonic workhorse. It’s a short, 2-3 second, melodic sound byte of your company—your brand mark in audio format.
      Again, a sonic logo is not a jingle, but rather a musical note or string of notes that capture the essence or identity of your company. iHeartMedia explains the role of their brand’s sonic logo as, “...the signature sound that in the future will instantly communicate iHeartRadio without saying a word.” We hear you, iHeartMedia
    3. Soundscape. Also known as sound design, soundscapes often appear as a sort of background soundtrack to physical spaces. Say you’re at a conference, waiting for the keynote speaker to take the stage. You’re probably hearing (or should be) their company’s brand soundscape.

      Like with any music, the intent of the brand soundscape is to feel something. But what you want your audience to feel depends upon the activity or context. Different situations and settings should sound a bit different. A soundscape to announce a product (cue excitement and awe) would sound different than a soundscape at a PR event, in a physical store, or as your on-hold music.
    4. Transaction and brand navigation sounds. Hearing is our fastest sense. It takes humans roughly just .17 seconds to respond to an audio stimulus (it’s .25 seconds for visual stimuli).

    Given how much faster sounds impact us than speech, there are countless opportunities to incorporate your company’s sonic logo in everyday life. Just think about the many, many digital and mobile touchpoints and sounds we encounter throughout the day: starting your laptop, sending or receiving a text, a point-of-sale purchase, launching or swiping within an app, adding an item to a digital cart, just to name a few. The key is to incorporate your sonic brand without overwhelming or inundating the customer. 

    Do’s and don'ts of sonic branding

    1. Don’t roll your eyes at this one (because it might sound kind of ‘extra,’), but do conduct a sonic brand audit.
      Are there sounds your brand generates now that exist in the public? Do you have distinctive music you use at events or on the phone? If so, consider finding out how it’s resonating with your Gen Z customers. You could do a quick survey with Instagram Stories, a simple poll on Tik Tok and Twitter or via a post on Facebook.
      If you don’t have an existing sound, what music best represents the attributes you want your brand to convey? If your logo had sound, what would it sound like? Whatever your business or industry, consider what a win sounds like. Is it a sale, a swipe, a download? Riffing on that is a great place to start. 
    2. Don’t overthink or overdo it. Your brand identity is probably pretty well thought out. Don’t break what doesn’t need fixing. You want to get to the emotions behind your brand. Think about your mission: Are you a sustainable street-wear clothing company? Are you an ethinc-influenced food and beverage brand? Let it show in how you sound.
    3. Do prioritize. You probably wouldn’t apply a new logo or brand mark to all of your property and collateral all at once. It’s just too costly. Instead, you’d roll it out gradually. Follow the same rule of thumb for sonic branding. Don’t ignore it, but introduce it as your budget allows and where it matters most — the places Gen Z will hear you.
    4. Don’t take the cheap route. You wouldn’t rent your logo or buy a stock brand mark that you might later see on someone else’s site. Don’t do that with your sonic brand, either. If you do, you’re basically renting any sort of brand equity you might obtain.
      Instead, commit to your identity and create something unique. Here, as with any of your branding efforts, consider your audience: Gen Z. Being authentic with your sonic brand couldn’t be more important than with this group, who values authenticity and takes note of unique marketing strategies.
    5. Don’t be inconsistent. Once you land on an awesome sound, use it in every digital, video and social communication you produce. Use it at events. Consistent usage at all times will pay off, and you’ll achieve that earlier mentioned goal of sonic branding: when mere mention of your company causes Gen Z to hear your company. 

    Sound off for sonic branding

    In a time where screen time is diminishing and voice-driven sales are increasing, don’t overlook audio as an integral part of your voice and identity. By creating and including your unique sound across your entire brand expression, you’ll have a powerful new way to connect with Gen Z. 

    New call-to-action

      Download the report: Gen Z spending habits before and during COVID-19


      4 holiday strategies to get Gen Z to click ‘buy’

      This holiday season, buy-online-pick-up-in-store (BOPIS) and meeting Zs where they are will be even more important as people try to social distance while...

      Gen Z loves inclusive fashion. Meet some of the brands doing it right

      To Gen Z, there’s no question that brands must continue working towards diversity and inclusion, not only in marketing but also in their products. Here’s how...

      How Gen Z's favorite brands are building trust and loyalty during a pandemic

      As businesses and individuals adapted to a new lifestyle during COVID-19, consumers—especially Gen Zs—have paid attention to how companies are handling it. As...

      Get Gen Z Insights straight to your inbox

      Think digital marketing is all it takes to reach Gen Z? Think again. Download the research report here.