Soundscaping the Metaverse: Elevating Brand Experiences Through Sonic Identity

By Michael Boumendil, President and Chief Creative Officer, Sixième Son

Seeking Immersive Experiences

Today’s consumer wants more exclusive and immersive experiences when shopping, and will seek out spaces that offer it. We see this phenomenon in both the online and offline worlds, as brands find ways to incorporate AR and VR in online interactions, and traditional brick-and-mortar stores offer more sensory experiences.

What’s driving the shift? It is a recognition, shared by both brands and shoppers, that unique immersive experiences go beyond transactions. Immersive design tells the story of a brand, and the unique benefits it offers fans. It pulls shoppers into a brand’s world, letting them imagine their lives with the brand in it.

Over the past decade, the online world has honed its ability to create immersive environments, integrating multiple sensory modalities — visuals, sound, scents, and tactile sensations — into online spaces. While we can’t literally touch or smell a product through a computer screen, the right imagery can tell us how a product will feel to the touch, or smell once it’s in our environment. Sound will also convey a tremendous amount of information, but too often its powers are overlooked.

This will be a fatal mistake for brands as they begin to engage consumers in the metaverse, which, as we’ve seen, takes brand immersion to a whole new level.

Sounds and the Metaverse

In some ways, the metaverse is just another touch point for sounds, another channel to consider beyond radio or TV. But there are important differences, all of which stem from the fact that within a simulated reality, sound has numerous advantages. For instance, it enhances any experience by delivering authentic and realistic audio, which contrasts with the virtual environment, which can’t fully replicate the nuances of a genuine universe.

Moreover, sound has the power to create a warmer and more engaging atmosphere. The language embedded within sound and music evoke specific emotions and messages, many of which surpass what can be communicated through images and visuals. Is an online space ultra sleek or sterile? Sound can answer that question instantly.

Sonic Branding in the Metaverse

From a branding perspective, the metaverse presents an exciting opportunity to engage with consumers in a unique and captivating way. Of course brands want to maintain their core brand identity at every touch point, but the metaverse offers more freedom to let their hair down a bit, and create fun and engaging experiences.

The trick is to think beyond entertaining experiences, and to deliver tangible value that extends to the outside world. To make that happen, brands need elements within the metaverse that convey their brand promise to consumers in real life. Let’s say you have a well-developed sonic identity, meaning you have successfully translated the essence of your brand into sound. When moving to the metaverse, you can have fun and play with your sonic identity, just take care that there is a strong link to your IRL identity. If consumers can’t connect the two, they won’t be able to associate what they know and love about your brand in the metaverse to their real-life decisions.

Sonic Identity and the Metaverse UX

In some ways, the metaverse functions like a brick-and-mortar store. Upon entering, shoppers hear music and sounds that sets the tone for the experience. A store that sells urban streetwear will have a very different sonic identity from one that sells business casual clothes.

But most brands cater to multiple personas, and here is where things get really interesting. The metaverse allows brands to adapt their sonic identity to the visuals in the room. I can walk through a metaverse store and hear a brand’s music. The sounds I hear tell me that I’ve arrived in the brand’s world.

Now let’s say I head over to the brand’s bedding department, that sonic identity can transition to something more appropriate for someone turning in for the night. It morphs into a calming version of the sonic identity, letting me know that this bedding will help to create a tranquil environment for me.

In fact, each room can have its own atmosphere, all linked to the brand, with the sonic identity serving as the common thread.

In many ways, designing a sonic identity for the metaverse UX is one part of your typical branding approach and game development. Like the metaverse, a gaming world must ensure that all elements, visual and sonic, adapt to wherever the user is at a given moment. In a metaverse retail experience, we need to ask, what will the room on the right look like? What is the atmosphere we want to create? How will we display the products? The sounds and music will play a huge role, while also reminding visitors whose brand store they’re in.

Why the Metaverse Matters

Many people think the metaverse is last year’s story, a fad that didn’t have any legs. It’s actually something all CMOs should pay attention to. It’s an asset that can help you foster highly engaging experiences for customers and prospects, and to create lasting experiences. Savvy CMOs are building out their brands in the metaverse for a simple reason: it’s attracting users. Granted it’s not the deluge that pundits promised, but some 400 million people use the metaverse on a monthly basis. Little by little the user base is growing, and it’s just a matter of time until they expect to see a bridge from a brand’s website to their store within the metaverse. For this reason alone, the metaverse matters.

About the Author

Michael Boumendil serves as President and Chief Creative Officer of Sixième Son, the leading global sonic branding agency. Michael founded Sixieme Son in 1995 after conceiving the idea of using sonic identities to help brands be more powerful.

Michael combines his talents as a musician, composer, and brand strategist to guide clients in the creation of audio identities. He is now one of the very few experts in sonic branding. Based in New York City, he continues to build the agency to serve brands around the globe from offices in Chicago, London, Barcelona, Paris, Toronto and Singapore. He regularly speaks at international conferences about sound as a powerful, meaningful, and effective universal language for brands.

In June 2017, Boumendil published a book dedicated to sonic branding: Musical Design and Brand Strategy (published by Eyrolles). He also contributed to Colleen Fahey’s book, Audio Branding: Using Sound to Build Your Brand (KoganPage 2017), as well as Laurence Minsky and Ilan Geva’s Global Brand Management (KoganPage 2019).

His research has led to the creation of a proven methodology to measure the performance of a brand’s sonic identity. Under his leadership, Sixième Son has created over 450 sonic identities and has been recognized with 30 awards since 2016 in the area of sonic branding.