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Sonic Branding 101 for Voice Actors

Every moment of our lives is surrounded and affected by sound. Beeps, clicks, chimes, alarms, hums, and sound bytes. The “aahhh” sound a Mac makes when it boots up, or the "ba-dah ba ba ba" from a McDonald's ad will forever be hardwired into our minds. But why? What is it that attaches certain jingles or sounds to a product or brand? It’s called sonic branding. Sonic branding is strategically developed sounds, songs, words, or tones meant to connect a company’s identity, product, or brand with a sound. Tapping into the audience’s auditory sense memory is a powerful tool and companies have been using for decades (think of the MGM lion roar). With electronic media seeping into every corner of our lives today, sonic branding is more prevalent than ever. As voice actors, it can help our businesses to understand sonic branding, what makes it powerful, why it works, and how we fit into it. Check out some iconic samples below and notice how they evoke emotion and connection to the brand:

Beam me up, Scotty

It’s important to understand that not all recognizable sounds actually fall into the category of sonic branding. For instance, there are many sounds in the television show Star Trek (one of my favs!) that are associated with the 60s Sci-Fi TV genre. The “swoosh” of the opening doors and the “be-de-beep” of the communicator conjure instant images. When we hear those sounds, we immediately think of Star Trek. But why isn’t that sonic branding? Because it was not strategically created for that purpose, but developed organically by fans and followers. The sound association was a side effect of the show’s popularity. While we may connect the sounds with the show, it was not intentional.

Sonic branding is a deliberate plan to create a direct tie-in to a product, company, or brand. To continue with the Star Trek theme, think of the show’s high-pitched opening music. The opening octave jump after the French horns is unforgettable and it was planned. That is sonic branding.

If music is the food of love, play on

The heyday of the jingle may have passed, but the emotional attachment lingers. Think back to “let’s all go to the lobby” and “I wish I were an Oscar Mayer Weiner.” Those were jingles that became the songs playing on repeat in our minds. Who could forget them? As soon as they’re mentioned, you can probably hear them and you may even have an instant emotional connection to those jingles. That’s the power of sonic branding. Auditory memory is strongly hardwired in our brains. That’s why we all learn the alphabet by singing our ABCs! Some of us still do it to alphabetize. The power of the sonic brand is directly related to our innate way of forming memories. It’s a powerful way to create a positive association with a brand. Music pulls on our heartstrings and can create a sense of nostalgia. Emotional connections create recognition and loyalty. That’s exactly what you want when creating a brand identity.

Turn on your stereo, it may return the favor

There are several reasons sonic branding is a powerful tool. First, our brains like repetition, especially when it comes to audio and music. “Musical repetition gets us mentally imagining or singing through the bit we expect to come next,” says Elizabeth Margulis, author of On Repeat: How Music Plays the Mind. When it comes to sonic branding, we hear a familiar sound and have an expectation that something good is coming. It piques our attention. Second, auditory memories activate our prefrontal cortex, which is the area of the brain responsible for recalling personal relationships. When a company has a sonic brand, it creates the feeling of a relationship with that brand. Last, our brains take in a lot of information every day. We must filter out what isn’t important to remember. When something is attractive to the mind, it’s more likely to be added to the “memory category.”

Make it memorable

Do you listen to audiobooks on Audible? Think of how happy you are when you hear the guy at the beginning of every book say, “this is Audible.” And you know the book is finished when you hear that same guy say, “Audible hopes you have enjoyed this program.” That guy is Rick Lewis, and his 10 words are more famous than any audiobook. It’s not the words. What’s memorable is Rick Lewis saying the words. Rick is the sonic brand of Audible. That’s where the voice actor fits into this whole thing. We as voice actors need to be aware of sonic branding to understand our role in its potential. When you drive by an Arbys, more than likely you hear Ving Rhames in your head saying, “We have the meats!” Producers and companies are always on the lookout for unique tonal qualities to incorporate into their branding. This makes the voice a PERFECT choice for sonic branding!

Earcons are the new Icons

Technology is moving toward a more immersive and interactive user experience, and with that comes the need for unique audio consumer experiences. Just like Siri and “Hello Google,” companies want sonic branding to play a pivotal role in their unique brand identity. More companies are tapping into the power of sonic branding. Mastercard recently spent $15 million on a new sonic brand. And this is just the beginning. The market for smart speakers and integrated digital voice assistants is estimated to be worth $7 billion. Which reminds me - check out my new voice site on Alexa - where I'm hard at work making my brand a memorable sound for a whole new audience! In today's chaotic world, we need to find unique ways to cut through the chaos and be heard. What better way than to position yourself on the edge of new technologies? For more info on how you can make your own voice site, check out my podcast with Voiceweave founder and developer Ethan Richardson HERE.

Be a Sonic Talent

If you want your voice to help brands develop and elevate both their sonic and audio branding, it’s more important than ever to be your own unique, creative, and authentic self. Don’t try to blend in and sound like you think you "should", or be like some other voice that you have already heard performing out there! You don’t want to end up being lumped in with everyone else. Stand out, make your voice heard, and let your sonic talent shine!

Much love and Keep on rockin' your voice and your biz!



About the Author: Anne Ganguzza is a full-time voice talent and award-winning director and producer who works with students to develop their voice over and business skills - including VO demo training and production. She specializes in Conversational Commercial and Narration styles, including Corporate, E-Learning, Technology, Healthcare - Medical, Telephony, and On-Hold.  Located in Orange County, CA, Anne offers private coaching and mentoring services to students in person and via Skype, ipDTL or Zoom.  



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