Does your company have an audio branding strategy? Does it need one? What exactly is audio branding, anyway?

To start, let's define the term. The Audio Branding Academy (ABA) in Hamburg, Germany is a global thought leader on the use of sound in strategic communications, and on their website they define audio branding as:

 "...the process of brand development and brand management by use of audible elements within the framework of brand communication. It is part of multi-sensory brand communication and holistic brand design. Audio Branding aims at building solidly a brand sound that represents the identity and values of a brand in a distinctive manner. The audio logo, branded functional sounds, brand music or the brand voice are characteristic elements of Audio Branding."

I recently had the opportunity to interview Kai Bronner, one of the founders of the ABA, and our conversation (via email) is as follows:

Q -Many people don't realize how integral audio branding is to an overall communications program. Can you briefly describe how audio branding is much more than just a music track for a commercial?

KAI BRONNER: Audio Branding is strategic and long term. Branding is to build a brand image, to reinforce or adapt it. That takes time and you need a Master Plan that defines how this is achieved. All marketing and advertising initiatives like a commercial contribute to this goal. Audio Branding applies to all brand activities and touch points that contain audio. The Master Plan or audio guideline, defines the audio branding elements, where they can be applied and how, where not, etc...

Q - Do you have any data as to what percent of businesses have a carefully designed and integrated audio branding program? My personal observation is that many business have yet to understand how important it is to their overall brand image. What are your thoughts on this?

KAI BRONNER: I don't have hard numbers. But there is still a great potential for audio branding. Many brands use audio, but not intentionally in a strategic way. Not with a master plan. Companies have guidelines for their visual Corporate Design, but only a few have a defined Corporate Sound, i.e. an auditive Corporate Design.

Q - Should businesses of all sizes have a defined audio branding strategy, or is this generally a project reserved for companies with large budgets?

KAI BRONNER: It is rather a question of whether it makes sense or not than a matter of size. For a company that does no advertising and has very few audio touch points it can be less important. But audio branding is scalable and can also be done with lower budgets.

Q - One of the earliest forms of audio branding, at least here in America, were "jingle" tunes that had lyrics specifically touting product benefits, taglines etc. Jingles have declined in popularity in America and are increasingly replaced by audio logos, licensed popular songs and other types of cues. Do you see this trend continuing?

KAI BRONNER: That is right. Jingles are one of the earliest forms of audio branding. The often mentioned example of "Have you tried Wheaties" is said to be the first jingle ever. I can confirm the trend you described and I see it continuing. Today, jingles are used without the lyrics. The well know melody is still used instead. And that can be called an audio logo then. The decline of the use of jingles is for different reason, also because new audio elements in new applications within new audio enabled media have evolved.

Q - Your organization analyzes research in audio branding. What is some of the most compelling research data that supports the effectiveness of audio branding?

KAI BRONNER: Adrian North, who spoke at the first Audio Branding Congress and is in our advisory board, did some of the most compelling studies. Important are the "musical fit" studies, that prove that intentional used brand music and voice (music and voice fitting the brand), is more effective than no sound or music that is incongruent with the brand. Not fitting music can even be less beneficial than no sound or even have negative effects. Therefore music and sound must to be used intentionally, designed or selected in line with the brand. Another well known study shows that the use of music can have an effect on purchase behavior. French music leads to buying of more French wine compared to German wine and vice versa.

Q - With advertising campaigns of any kind, it often is a process of many years for the true effects to take hold. And yet change is constant at any organization. How long should an organization utilize its audio branding assets to determine if they are effective? Is it better to change them with the trends of the times every few years, or to stick with something that the public has come to know and associate with the brand?

KAI BRONNER: As mentioned above, as audio branding is long-term and strategic, the assets should be used as long as possible. It takes time to become effective to build brand image. Change in businesses in terms of "exchanging managers", optimizing working processes and organizational structures is constant. A brand has a so called brand personality which defines branding and the desired brand image that should be created in the perception of the consumers. And personality is not constantly changing, maybe not at all. Trends can change every year of within several months, if you look at fashion or hip new musical styles, genres. But trends come and go and brands are here to stay. Audio Branding Elements also can or do change along slowly changing design aesthetics. They should not sound "old-fashioned" and outdated. But that is much more slower than trends. That often goes unnoticed. A good example is how the famous Nokia Tune changed over time. It is still the Nokia Tune but the sound design changed. You can see this also in the visual branding if you look at visual logos how they have changed slightly, evolved over the years. You are not aware of it unless you put the different versions side by side.

Q - How important is it for audio branding to be incorporated into a consumer's total interaction with the product versus only in external communications and advertisements?

Should be incorporated in as many touch points as possible to become effective. But that doesn't mean to put sound everywhere. Sometimes silence is better than sound.

Q - Who is typically responsible for the successful implementation of an audio branding program at an organization? Is it the head of marketing? Is it an advertising agency?

Responsible for the developing and planning of an audio branding program is usually marketing heads together with the audio branding agency and the advertising agency. The useful implementation should be monitored by them according to the defined audio branding guidelines which also serve the actual people that use the audio branding in the different audio touch points like advertising, on trade fairs, in telephone on hold, stores, image films etc... to do the implementation correctly and stay to the defined Corporate/Brand Sound Identity..

10. What is the process like for a large organization with several lines of business to determine their overall sonic identity?

Actually it is very similar to that for a brand with only one line of business. The sonic identity is determined for the "overall "brand. And as the brand should sound in all business lines according to the defined sonic identity it is the same for all. But audio touch points can change from business line to business line. Therefore for some audio branding elements are only applicable, appropriate in certain business lines. Variations of elements, i.e. variations in the sound design, the use of voice or not,... - but still in line with the sonic identity - may be reasonable.