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The Sonic Boom: The Best Sound Marketing

Do you remember “SEGA!” from Sega Genesis? You’re welcome!

That’s the sound marketing that probably sticks with me the most from my youth, other than AOL’s dial-up connection concert.

While today, sound is incorporated into the functionality of products, from Facebook’s common actions, such as a new notification, to the click of a Camry car door, it’s about to get a lot louder. The word on the street is: audio marketing is about to have its moment, as an $80 billion voice commerce market is on the way by 2023. 

The impact of sound

Sound has limitless potential for transforming the way consumers connect with your brand because we process sound and music in the limbic system. That’s the same place brain stores emotion — exactly the place brands want to be processed, too.

Here are a few examples of how sound can influence leads and customers:

1. It changes our mood.

Audio can help consumers feel a certain way. In a study by Katz Marketing, the theme music for FOX NFL Football was found to induce excitement and anticipation in people.

2. Audio changes our buying habits.

study conducted by Ronald E. Milliman in the 1980s found that supermarket sales went up by 38 percent when stores played slow music instead of fast music. This study was later verified by a group of scientists in 2011, proving that music does impact buyer behavior. In the case of some supermarkets, slow, mundane music subconsciously slows customers down, so they spend more time looking around and end up buying more.

3. It transports us to another place.

“When you listen, your imagination brings you to those places and situations even more intimately,” Corinna Falusi, Mother New York’s chief creative officer, said speaking about a new album recently released on Spotify by the New York Public Library. It can make people nostalgic for a place or time.

4. It trains us.

When you hear the sound of a text message, you probably feel anxiety if you don’t check it immediately. As Pavlov’s famous experiment revealed: we associate cues with things we are addicted to, and we tend to react similarly to both.

5. Sound can help us remember.

Music in TV ads becomes more memorable when it drives the action of the ad. A study by Neurosight analyzed over 150 ads to identify which were most strongly correlated with long-term memory encoding, backing up the fact that music in TV ads becomes more memorable when it drives the action of the ad. For example, when the lyrics or the tempo matches what is happening on screen.

Why care about sound marketing now?

For a few reasons, and not just because I said so! Harvard Business Review did too, all the way back in 2014:

“With of our increasingly audio-enabled media environment, the strategic use of sound can play an important role in positively differentiating a product or service, enhancing recall, creating preference, building trust, and even increasing sales. If you do not have an audio brand, the time is now to get started. Done right, your efforts can provide rewards for years to come.”

1. Sound is becoming a digital consumer product standard.

Already back in 2015 Facebook acquired the sound design startup WaveGroup, and began building addictive sounding. Today, there’s even a Facebook Sound Kit,  a collection of interaction sounds that designers can use in their work.

2. Because this is a transitional moment in voice technology.

Home smart speakers are becoming commonplace. Back in 2018 Q2, the global market for voice search devices was already growing at 187%, and by 2024, the global voice-based smart speaker market could be worth $30 billion. Furthermore, Amazon’s Echo currently has a 10% penetration of US homes, with Google’s Home at 4% and Microsoft’s Cortana at 2%. So right now there is an opportunity to be an early adopter.

3. Because podcast listening is growing.

55% of people in the US have listened to a podcast at least once, up from 51% in 2019. This year, we saw another 5% gain in monthly listening, and Apple Podcasts passed 1,000,000 total podcasts in April 2020. Plus, now, Joe Rogan has signed an exclusive deal with Spotify, believed to be worth $100 million according to the Wall Street Journal, signaling the importance of the growing field. As podcast engagement grows, your brand needs to consider musical themes and sound logos as a fresh way to be recognized in an audio world.

4. And digital device usage is on the rise.

Already in 2019 there were 5.11 billion unique mobile users in the world and 4.39 billion internet users. The ubiquity of personal digital devices and the increasing consumption of media worldwide means now is the time to act, according to Daniel Lafferty, director of voice and music at PHMG, a 20-year-old agency devoted entirely to audio branding.

5. It has become a key content channel of its own.

Consumers are embracing music at all points of the day, showing the importance it has in our lives. As a result, sound is becoming a key channel alongside watching or streaming TV. It is also being cross-pollinated with other channels creating media ecosystems. In short, sound has an all-encompassing influence over other mediums.

So now that you know how sound impacts our lives, here’s how the marketer in you can benefit.

How to use sound in your marketing

To begin, conduct an audio audit to see if any sounds and music you are currently using:

  • Are consistent with your brand values
  • Are unique and original
  • Leave a memorable impression

Then do customer research. Ask about customer listening habits; what do they like?; what makes them happy?; what tones and songs appeal to them?. Next check out what your competitors have done. Finally, consider how often trends in contemporary music changes, and what’s been in style.

Then, create a list of ways you could better incorporate sound into your customer experience. Use apples to castles thinking to imagine how sound could add to your product, marketing, customer support, and so on. Here are a few ideas:

1. Welcome with an earcon sound.

Sound can provide feedback or add decoration to a user experience when applied to strategic moments. Greet your users with a welcome sound upon login or arrival at your website, such as the Mac welcome chime.

These sounds are called earcons, and they can represent information, actions, or events. Their sound can reinforce both the meaning of an interaction and a product’s aesthetic, emotion, and personality. Hero sounds, to express celebration, and notification sounds can also be used thoughtfully.

2. Create an audio logo for sound marketing.

To create an audio logo for brand awareness start off by defining what message you want to convey and then figure out the best way to do it. Create strong sonic identities with recognizable elements, as this will be the musical DNA of your brand. Ensure its compatibility with multiple platforms such as a phone, computer, television, radio or gramophone. And keep it short: three to five seconds.

A few great examples are NBC broadcasting’s three-tone chime, HBO’s audio logo, and the the popular Law and Order television show’s iconic opening “doink-doink.” This audio branding was so successful that the producers even ran an advertising campaign focusing solely on the sound.

Radio and podcasts are the most cost-effective way to reach a bigger audience with your audio logo. But sound logos can be used in television commercials, mobile apps, ringtones, hold music, on your website and in all your videos and social media ads.

By the way, if Marketing Overalls ever gets a sound logo, it’ll be a nice chord blast on a harmonica, no doubt.

3. Use a similar musical intro and exit.

Create a mood for your brand by including the same short sound bite for customers on waiting “on hold” on the telephone, and for your Youtube channel videos, your podcast episodes, and your social and TV ads. Be considerate of the volume of the sound in order to elicit the right feeling. AudioJungle and PremiumBeat are a few places you can find some sounds to chose from.

4. Use a consistent voice in your marketing.

Select one voice to represent your company on everything from your phone number’s voicemail message, to all your videos’ voiceover, to your voice search experience. You’ll want the voice to be clear with good enunciation, be able to deliver strong audio quality, and for their interpretation to match your brand vibe. Voices.com has a nice selection to chose from.

5. Partner with an up and coming musician.

One factor that can increase the memorableness of music in advertising is the artists or musicians themselves. When your experience features a well-known song or artist you’ll be able to draw from their existing popularity and influence. By partnering with someone on the rise, you can support each other fueling growth for both.

You could harness their existing works or create a new soundtrack together. Disney’s original scores, such as Let It Go, show the impact an original approach can have on popular culture. Today their song is even replicated by millions in their own way, for example on a music box. You could also sell their music in your in-store experience, how Starbucks used to do. Or you could even hold a concert or a music festival by bringing a few folks together.

Check out Youtube and SoundCloud to discover new voices. And, remember it doesn’t have to be a singer. It could also be an enchanting musician such as a violinist.

6. Use a song that matches the feeling you want to elicit.

The success of this approach might depend on how recognizable (or entrenched in the public’s consciousness) a song is in the first place, and it’s a much more costly sound play. Use the music as sound for advertising on television, videos, and films.

One effective example is LeBron’s Beginnings ad, which featured the iconic Bon Iver but a lesser known song “Naeem” and now has 7.6 million views on Youtube.

7. Make a free playlist.

Curate a custom playlist on Spotify that will inspire your customers and build your brand. And, this can travel with them, anytime they feel like listening.

For example, The New York Public Library recently issued its first-ever widely available album, on Spotify, titled “Missing Sounds of New York.” So you can be soothed by the tones of a bustling city park or a lively side street—children playing, dogs barking, basketballs bouncing, passersby conversing in different languages.

Harness sound marketing to build your brand

Now you know how to put the “sound” in sounds good! And it’s a good thing because according to Ogilvy, for the first time, marketers will have no choice but to consider the audio characteristics of their brands. Up next, learn first-principles thinking to generate creative ideas for your marketing sound experiments.

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By Megan Mitzel

I'm the wearer of overalls behind the marketing advice website Marketing Overalls. I'm also a senior marketing director with more than ten years of experience leading acquisition and lifecycle marketing at successful startups. Before that, I got a business degree at UNC-Chapel Hill. Before that, I owned a seashell shop. And that's the tea on me.