By David Courtier-Dutton, CEO, SoundOut
With the rise and rise of digital marketing, advertisers have sophisticated tools at their disposal to measure and auto tweak ad effectiveness in real-time. Programmatic has brought automated feedback loops, measuring click-through rates, dwell time and conversion. As a result, the optimum online ad can, like a virus, mutate rapidly to settle on a format that optimises effectiveness with any given target demographic.
However, when it comes to core brand assets (name, tagline, or visual or sonic logo) these tools are ineffective. You won’t see McDonald’s testing the golden arches in 50 different colour ways to settle on the version that resonates best with each consumer segment. This is because brands need to define and then control their core identity so that, through consistency, they can build authenticity, trust and a recognisable personality that is reinforced through every brand asset at every consumer touchpoint. Yes, the marketeers can overlay storytelling, video and promotions but this should never be at the expense of the core brand personality. While marketing is about the P&L, brand building is about the balance sheet.
Brands have always recognised this and this has led to the growth of the industry, supported by a plethora of brand strategy testing and analysis tools from archetype frameworks to neuromarketing and qual and quant research.
But there is a new kid on the block. Sonic branding is increasingly being invited to join the top table of brand assets – and with it comes a similar-sized budget. Brand strategists and consultants are recognising that almost every testing tool and methodology at their disposal is based around visual rather than aural stimuli. Furthermore, while visual demands eyes-open engagement, music is primarily consumed by system 1 (subconscious) processing – and no one has earlids.
As a result, there is an urgent need for tools that measure and benchmark audio effectiveness – before launch. No one should sign off a $500,000 audio branding budget knowing it will be spent on the basis of a purely subjective final decision.
In addition, music uniquely triggers a rich blend of universal emotions in consumers which, research indicates, transcends (almost) all countries and demographic profiling.
“Music is the shorthand of emotion. Emotions, which let themselves be described in words with such difficulty, are directly conveyed to man in music, and in that is its power and significance.”
As a core asset, music (and voice), even as a newborn brand asset, has the unique ability to capture the core brand personality – which also requires a new kind of measurement.
So, there is a challenge, and as with many challenges a huge opportunity – for brands, consultants and market researchers alike. In a world where audio is increasingly described as the new video (a nice soundbite but we still have a way to go yet!) we are seeing a rising wave of brand investment in audio, but limited tools to validate and measure effectiveness.
Some of our findings in our recent major study on audio effectiveness involving over 500,000 consumers and 150 major brands, highlighted some of the unique qualities of audio within a brand context:
- Likability (appeal) of an audio asset is at the foundation of a sonic brand – whether you want to increase recall, drive sales or land specific brand attributes.
- If your primary strategic driver is to build brand equity then having a distinctive sonic identity is not an efficient mechanism to achieve this – but distinctiveness is implicitly effective in increasing propensity to buy.
- The key attributes that drive rapid brand attribution and propensity to buy are at different extremes of the emotional scale – so the brand must have a clear idea of what it wants to achieve with its sonic identity well before entering the studio.
- Music, and in particular melody, is a universal language and does not discriminate between gender, age and ethnicity – meaning a sonic logo is a hugely effective and unifying brand asset for brands with global positioning or ambitions.
As Martin Mull wrote: ‘Writing about music is like dancing about architecture’, and this is the first thing that brands need to grasp. Translating your core brand attributes into a three-second musical soundbite is no easy task and a lot can, and does, get lost in translation. There are dozens of agencies that can help you do this, but at the end of the day it is understanding what consumers subconsciously feel and consciously do as a result that provides the acid test of effectiveness.
Measuring this is a specialist field and requires a fusion of brand strategy, psychology, consumer insight, advanced data science and robust benchmarks. But as sonic branding comes out jamming onto the stage of brand strategy, we’ll be waiting.
Following careers in law, corporate finance, B2B technology and residential property development, David founded SoundOut in 2007 with Grace Hammond. David has led SoundOut into the world leader for music and audio branding testing. The company has combined data science with neuroscience to develop a suite of tools to analyse and measure the effectiveness of music and voice in strategic branding and marketing. Investment into a 3.5 million strong AI moderated consumer research panel has led to many of the world’s largest brands using SoundOut for sonic marketing and branding testing.