Over the past few years, there has been an explosive growth in sound technology, unleashing an entirely new landscape of powerful audio touch points between brands and consumers. At a time when human beings are bombarded with visual stimuli, are increasingly mobile, and are searching for more seamless experiences in every facet of life, sound is emerging as a uniquely powerful way for brands to engage with people. By creating and cultivating original sound identities, building multi-sensory brand ecosystems, and reaching people in more meaningful ways, companies should be looking at sound as the future of brand experience.
Humans Are Listeners
The human relationship with sound is an ancient one. A huge amount of communicative power underlies the surface of our words and our modern languages and musical systems. From the vibrations of our vocal chords to the thumping of footsteps to the rhythmic melodies of artistic creations, sounds surround us.
Auditory processing is a powerful human sensibility that not only shapes our experiences and perceptions, but helps us navigate the world. The ability to make sense of sound gives us constant information and direction, extending our perception beyond the limits of our visual field. Neuroscience studies have shown that audio stimuli and emotional responses are encoded together in the auditory cortex center of the brain, meaning the subsequent exposure to a sound will trigger the same emotional responses.
And while we can easily close our eyes, our ears always remain open. Brands that can tap into this universal sense more fully will be able to cultivate more holistic and memorable experiences for their consumers and will be more easily remembered.
The Time Is Ripe
According to a study by Nielsen, 40 percent of households today own multiple smart speakers, and finding time to hear more audio, whether it be news, music or podcasts, tops the list of weekly habits. Emerging devices and services like Amazon Echo and Google Home are just two examples of burgeoning forms of interactive technology that offer consumers useful ways to listen in. According to a study by Activate, by 2021, podcasting is projected to double to 112 million people with 15 billion hours of content.
Sound technology is extending way beyond the home, too. Voice assistants are infiltrating mobile apps, websites, shopping centers, banks and public spaces, helping people navigate, make decisions and have more enhanced, tailored experiences. As voice activation and sonic ecosystems continue to grow in capability, brands will be more and more interwoven. Alexa won't just tell you where you can buy winter shoes; she might even tell you what brand of boots are best for icy conditions.
What does "Nike" sound like? What does "Apple" sound like? What does your brand sound like? Knowing the sonic equivalent of your color palette and your branding aesthetic is becoming paramount. We're in an age where consumers aren't just watching and viewing what a brand does, but listening too. By creating a sound identity, brands can tap into the fundamental and inherent power of auditory processing and touch their consumers through an ancient medium.
Successful sound branding is more than developing the voice behind your brand—it means defining your sonic DNA, cultivating a sound signature, distributing that signature through the many immersive audio platforms and technologies through all your touch points, and making your delivery engaging. How will your audio experience encourage consumer interaction and participation? Voice is the new touch, and brands must think through all of their landing points.
In the modern age, where visual distractions abound, sound presents a powerful avenue for brands to use in building unique and original experiences and ecosystems. As advertisers compete for increasing limited audience attention spans, sound represents the ultimate messaging vehicle. While "sound branding" isn't a new concept, it's potential as a creative medium is still largely untapped. As our world continues to feel cluttered with visual images and visual storytelling, and as people desire increasingly seamless and efficient experiences, brands that can connect with our other sensory antennas—our ears—will have a powerful advantage.
A study from Neilson showed that consumers rate ads with music as being more creative, informative and memorable. Brands that focus their attention on building their musical signature and sound identity, in an increasingly audio-driven world, will have a greater chance of cultivating emotional multi-sensory experiences that consumers not only remember but want to experience again, and again.
The Next Frontier
The way we interact with the web is changing. As we move from using our hands and eyes to our mouths and ears, our idea of the user experience will continue to evolve. One of the most exciting qualities of sound is that it has the unique property of being hands free, fluid and ethereal, making it easy to integrate consistently and cohesively across an entire branded ecosystem.
Sound is becoming an increasingly important element of the user experience across sectors and industries from autonomous vehicles to home devices to podcasts. The opportunities to use sound to enhance the user experience and heighten a seamless consumer interaction across all touch points are infinite.
Most important, however, is that we do not pollute the world with more sound, but rather are as thoughtful and deliberate about crafting sound as we are visual design.