Clubhouse, voice assistants et al show the increasing importance of audio and voice in the digital media world. But how important is the sound a brand makes? And how can brands develop a comprehensive and recognisable audio identity? We ask Stephan Nölke, a sought-after audio/voice innovation expert and founder of comevis GmbH & Co. KG, about the most important trends in sonic branding and learnings for the marketing mix.
1. Why are acoustics so important to a brand’s profile right now and what is trending?
Defining and developing a recognisable audio identity is becoming increasingly important because we live in an age where sound is huge part of our lives. The digital world in particular offers a huge variety of touchpoints that appeal not only to the eyes but also to the ears - be it social media videos, websites, mobile apps and TV or even pure audio channels such as radio, podcasts and service hotlines. Podcasts are trending at the moment because companies with a clever corporate podcast concept can reach their target audience directly in their living reality and get them excited about brand-relevant topics.
Then there is the current hype around the social audio apps Clubhouse and now Stereo. This and the long-standing trend towards voice and voice commerce show the increasing need for a compelling sound profile. Clubhouse offers the additional possibility for companies to switch from a sole broadcasting role to an interactive dialogue. Here, companies can learn from their target audience and adapt their strategy accordingly. Audible dialogue also increases transparency and thus improves mutual understanding. For these reasons, it is hardly surprising that almost half of the current top 20 marketing trends are sound related.
New cloud-based AI tools which measure the management of acoustic branding are also contributing to this development. Content generators also offer greater efficiency and better performance. In our company we are pushing this development forward at full speed and our inhouse-built C-Cloud tools recently received an innovation prize. Traditional creative and design skills are merging with tech-based audio/voice innovation right now - and this is literally music to our ears.
2. How does a brand create the right sound?
Matching a brand to a sound concept is an individual and creative process. There are a wide variety of things to consider - the brand’s image, the product range, the target audience and their context-dependent, partially subconscious emotional associations. To name just a few concrete examples from our work: O2, with its well-known oxygen bubbles, uses airy clear synthesiser textures to position itself as a sympathetic and trustworthy technology companion to its customers. The insurance company Helvetia unites pulsating club beats with a Swiss brass quartet to show the interplay between the brand's tradition-conscious claim to quality and a future-oriented customer experience. And the cult club Borussia Dortmund expresses its love for the club and football through electric guitars combined with pumping drums.
3. What should companies consider first and foremost when it comes to their own audio strategy?
The audible moments during the brand experience and the auditory customer journey are so complex that audio/voice branding only works if there is a strategic set of rules. Some believe that a two-second sound logo is enough to tick sonic branding off the list. But the trend today clearly shows that it is not a one-off measure, but an ongoing process - and each touchpoint has its very own requirements when it comes to sound and voices.
What is needed instead is a so-called sonic code - the acoustic and vocal DNA of a brand, as we call it at comevis. This set of rules includes audio/voice content that can be applied in a highly flexible and modular way. Only this makes a synchronised, audible brand sound possible. Sonic branding has nothing to do with a single campaign sound - it is much more a long-term approach to brand and corporate communication.
Companies in this country are very fortunate to have one of the largest dubbing markets in the world and thus a great pool of professional voices to draw from. The German agency scene in the field of sound branding is considered an international pioneer. What very few people know is that the software used to programme and design music today is also mainly Made in Germany.
4. Are there any differences when it comes to the individual target audiences?
It is important to establish specific sound profiles for different target audiences and personas because music is received very differently depending on mood and time of life. In concrete terms, if I, as a customer, make contact with my insurance company, for example, it makes a big difference whether I as a young person am looking to buy insurance or if I am looking for help as a result of damage or illness. Regional differentiations also play an important role. A corporate voice pairing may therefore consist of a voice with a North German dialect in Hamburg, however in Bavaria a voice with a Bavarian accent combined with an accent-free speaking voice so as to create brand fit and special closeness to the consumer. With sound, on the other hand, the sound architecture must be so modular and multi-layered that the different contact-specific requirements remain accessible while at the same time adhering to the sound DNA rules. We therefore try to exploit the maximum impact potential per audible contact experience consistently along the customer journey.
5. What are the biggest challenges when it comes to sound communication?
A particularly big challenge is anchoring this strategic thinking and action within the brand and marketing departments. Sonic branding is still too often confused with a campaign sound or a funny jingle. In addition, the agencies who work for the marketing departments are worried that they might be restricted in their creative design. This is usually unfounded, because it is precisely us as sound branding specialists who design and develop concepts and architectures in which functional sound design in its modular, cross-media applicability plays a decisive role. This is where the responsible CMOs are called upon and where an appropriate acoustic brand policy is useful. This ensures compliance with the application of the sonic code (acoustic DNA) and can intervene where necessary. Of central importance is the creative conceptual production of one's own corporate sound toolbox as a content base, comparable to one's own image database. This is how great sonic brands are created.
6. As Managing Director of comevis, you have a lot of expertise in the field of audio identity. What are your best cases?
We are particularly proud of the fact that practically all the management tools and corporate sound toolboxes we have had the privilege of developing since our founding year in 2002 are still in use today, and most of them are still being developed. The advantages of the strategic 360-degree approach are easy to see at Yello, for example. As part of a comprehensive brand repositioning, the electricity and gas provider also implemented an acoustic brand sound architecture for the first time. Not only did a new sound logo emerge from the newly conceived sound ID, but so did special functional sounds for the Yello app "kwhapp", sound design and composing for Yello TV and cinema spots, multimedia communication on all social media channels, corporate radio spots as well as the sound design of the customer service telephone hotline.
7. How will acoustic brand profiles develop in the future?
The future sounds great, that's for sure. The potential for our customers is huge but still quite unexplored. It's all about sonic profiling - but even more important is strategic positioning in relation to audio and especially voice. The design and further development of voice interactions will become increasingly important over coming years. Already today many people operate things and interact with the web using their voice, both eyes and hands-free. Wouldn’t it be nice to think that in the future by using audio/voice innovations we will spend less time in front of our screens and enjoy more quality of life?