Brand identity through a music lens

Audio design is quickly evolving. When an idea or concept is not well executed, the consequence can be costly.

The creation of a brand’s visual identity has been the focal point of brand strategy for many years. But the use of music and audio identity design has yet to be as widely adapted. Audio design is quickly evolving.

All brands have a visual identity—a logo is not merely an asset, but an incarnation of values and personality. Yet sight can no longer be the only way to promote brand interaction, especially today.

Emotional Link

A brand relationship is primarily an emotional connection, no matter the industry, whether B2B or B2C, whether a local, national or multinational company. There’s a lot at stake when designing the appropriate visual identity—the font, the colors, the logo—if done wrong, it could derail the brand-customer relationship. However, the visual identity is limited in its ability to create an emotional bond, so even when done right, it isn’t strong enough to sustain brand loyalty in the greater context of competition.

Intimate Link

People’s relationship with music has radically changed over the past 50 years and has become especially different in the last five. Listening to music is no longer a pastime of adolescent rebels or the rich and privileged; it’s become an everyday habit for millions of people and has become an intimate aspect of life. For many, it’s the first motivational emotion of the day. One song can change everything by opening the doors to the heart.

Audio Logo

How then can a brand take advantage of music? Music has the ability to convey emotion, richness and differentiation. Lately, managers have begun to recognize the importance of integrating music into brand communication, however, they have not understood what is at stake if they use music that does not accurately represent the brand values. Today companies pay for music that has been chosen by creative teams, but the result is rarely successful. Take Carrefour for example.

Over a four-year period, the brand used “Happy Days”, “Love Generation” and “We Are Family” in advertising. Using well-known music to attract the target audience and to make them pay attention is nothing new. Yet, when music is better known than the brand, it’s the music, rather than the brand that we remember.  This is not the solution; it’s neither financially optimal nor is it a coherent use of audio.

A Few Notes Are Enough

On the other hand, certain brands believe that it only takes an 4-5 note audio identity to stand apart from the competition. Encouraged by the exemplary success of the audio logo of Intel or the audio identity of SNCF and Peugeot, some think that the solution it that simple. Audio logos began to emerge in the late 90s  in an effort to make the brand feel more relatable and human. The emerged without any strategic plan to create a composition that would create impact tailored to the brand; one that would establish brand recognition via audio. The 4 notes of Peugeot or SNCF are more than just a sound that we are hearing, but a texture and melody specific to the brand that invites us in and introduces us to a proprietary audio universe.

Overall we must keep in mind that audio identity deserves as much strategic planning as visual identity—it is a part of the branding process that brings about a synergy between all elements. The audio identity for SNCF was designed to convey the values already known by consumers, but also to more clearly establish a personality full of good intentions and to change any negative perceptions. The one of Peugeot was designed to clearly establish the brand in the premium automotive category and communicate its high-end positioning in the industry.

Strategic Conclusion

A good audio identity is one designed with vision, skilled expertise and is in line with the brand strategy. Its success depends on top management who, not only needs to have the conviction that the audio brand supports and creates value but who actively supports the initiative. Take Michelin for example. The audio branding strategy was headed by a visionary yet pragmatic director. Jean-Dominique Senard, the group President, has embraced the signature sound and believes in the value that it brings to the brand.

Within a few years, Michelin had mastered a powerful means of communication that had yet to considered by other international companies. For Nexity, it was the President, Alan Dinin, who encouraged the group to design a communication system in which the audio identity played a key role. Because the team was creative, inventive and had strong convictions, the audio identity was designed with an appropriate musical vocabulary and personality. Again, it was the support from top management that made these audio branding initiatives successful and long-lasting.

Having good sense and high aspirations for the brand are always success factors. A brand manager should seek out expertise in creation – a team who will produce music that goes beyond a memorable melody. To succeed today, the audio identity must capitalize on meaning and emotion.

We are overwhelmed with images and it is quickly becoming the that way with noise. Consequently, it’s an increasing challenge to make a lasting impact in a short amount of time. Former Communications Director of GAN and current President of the Association of Advisors and Announcers commented on the audio logo of SNCF, “very few notes, but what notes!” 

About the Author

Michael Boumendil

Michaël Boumendil is the creator of the audio identities and sound design for brands such as Samsung, Coca Cola, Baccarat, Chanel, Alstom, Michelin, PSA Peugeot Citroën, Roland-Garros. He is the pioneer of audio branding and his agency Sixième Son is today the market leader with one billion people who hear everyday at least one of its creations worldwide.