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Misjudged use of sound can be grating, but get it right and you could be on the road to building trust in your brand proposition, writes Andrew Hennigan

Wait just a few minutes at any SNCF railway station in France and you will hear every announcement begin with an instantly recognisable four-note jingle sung by a female voice and usually described by English speakers as doo-doo-doo-doo’, though SNCF prefers ‘Ta-ta-ta-la’. So catchy is this jingle that Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour used a sample in his song Rattle that Lock.

In a YouTube interview about the song Gilmour explains that he heard this jingle while he was waiting for a train at Aix en Provence station. “Every time I heard it, it made me want to dance,” he says, “so I held up my iPhone closer to the speaker and waited for the next announcement”.

Few musical jingles are quite a successful as SNCF’s ‘Ta-ta-ta-la’, but more and more companies in the travel business are building their own sound brand, easily identifiable sounds that can be used in announcements, ads and other multimedia content. Typically travel brands turn to specialised agencies to create their sound brands, agencies like The Sound Agency in the UK, Soundbranding in Denmark,  iV Audio Branding is the US/Germany and Sixieme Son in France, the creators of the SNCF jingle.

The reason why this sort of branding is so effective is connected with the way sounds affect our emotions directly.

“Of all our senses, sound is the one that affects us on the deepest emotional level and we respond far more quickly to a sonic stimulus than we do to a visual one,” says Steve Keller, CEO and Sound Strategist at iV Audio Branding. “Since all our senses are connected, that first experience with sound can actually affect how we frame what we consequently see, touch, taste or smell.”

This is the motivation driving an increasing number of sound branding projects, as airlines, rail companies, destination marketers and others try to tap into the power of sound.

My experience of your airline, transportation company or hotel isn’t simply through my eyes; it’s through my ears, too

Steve Keller, CEO and Sound Strategist, iV Audio Branding

“My experience of your airline, transportation company or hotel isn’t simply through my eyes; it’s through my ears, too,” says Keller.

Indeed, brands can use sound to shape not only experiences, but behaviour too. They can help relax people waiting for a flight, or keep people for longer in a hotel or restaurant. Of course, the converse can be true too, so there is a careful balance to be struck.

Obvious and less obvious benefits

It’s not just, however, about musical jingles. Many companies are creating audio logos, brand scores and ‘soundscapes’, all background sounds designed to enhance customer experiences. At Glasgow airport, for example, a background soundscape loop with ambient music and birdsong is believed to help reduce stress and result in increased retails sales. Similar soundscapes are becoming common in airports around the world.

Many destinations have natural soundscapes and soundmarks, too.

“Every place has its own very specific sound profile and some of these sounds are real tourist attractions, like London’s Big Ben,” says Cornelius Ringe, a senior partner at the Audio Branding Academy, the industry forum for audio branding. “But even if there is no well-known sound mark, it’s worth thinking about the sound in terms of destination branding.”

Sound branding brings some obvious benefits. These include:

  • Strengthening the brand with better recall and differentiation
  • Increased customer loyalty
  • Leveraging unexplored brand potential

But many of the interesting benefits of sound branding are less obvious. Says Ringe: “For example, you save money and increase the efficiency of advertising productions. Many discussions are abbreviated if you already have good brand sound guidelines.”

If I can recognise your brand with my eyes closed I am more likely to trust what you are trying to tell me

Keller

These benefits are attracting destination marketers like the Vienna Tourist Board, which has a sound identity including both sound logos and soundscapes and travel companies like KLM, which has a sonic identity consisting of a sound logo and a brand score.

Most sound branding efforts are for multimedia content used in public spaces or in advertising and promotion. But sometimes sounds are also embedded into the functionality of the product. One of the earliest examples of this was the deliberate engineering of car doors with a satisfying clunk or, more recently the design of Harley-Davidson’s LiveWire electric motorcycle prototype to make a suitably impressive roar. The same applies to electronic devices, where great care is often taken in the sound design -- like the famous Windows 95 startup sound, originally created for Microsoft by Brian Eno in 1994.

But ultimately, whether it’s a sound logo, functional sounds, brand music or the brand voice, it is always about building brand recognition and the trust this implies.

“If I can recognise your brand with my eyes closed I am more likely to trust what you are trying to tell me,” says Keller.

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