Sonic Branding Uses Sound to Establish a Brand’s Identity.
Audio branding isn’t new. Think of the sound that accompanies the animated Netflix logo. The McDonald’s logo. The NBC logo.
Companies have always used audio to reinforce their visual brands, because sound adds emotion, which makes its message powerful and memorable. Some people are visual thinkers, and others are auditory processors– the more ways a company can communicate its values, the stronger its brand will be.
Successful Audio Strategies Have a Voice All Their Own.
Being a voice actor whose livelihood is based on sound, I’m always eager to learn more. So, I attended the Audio Intelligence Summit in NYC at the beginning of the year. It was fascinating. There was lots of data about the value and reach of audio branding in the marketing space and the power of celebrity podcasters, who have listeners who trust them implicitly, to sell whatever products they endorse.
I was so inspired by the speakers and topics that I left the conference wanting to create a sonic brand for myself. An audio logo to accompany my visual logo for Debbie Irwin Voiceovers.
I presented him with the challenge— to help me find my “sonic DNA”, and create a brief three-second composition that would fit my brand. The “Debbie Irwin” brand.
We started from square one. Like any good creative, he asked me what I wanted in an audio logo. It was a damn good question, and like many well-intentioned clients, I hadn’t a clue.
Suddenly, I felt like the shoe was on the other foot– whereas I usually ask MY clients what they’re looking for in a voice-over narration (tone/attitude/pacing), now I was being asked to describe what I wanted. Sounds easy, right? It wasn’t!
I said: “Something techy— but not techno. Something suggesting advanced technology and scientific breakthroughs!” (After all, medical narration is my expertise, so it made sense to reinforce that.) That didn’t get us too far. At least I had an animation of my logo as a starting point.
Concept Development and Composition.
We explored ideas for a mood or vibe to see what resonated with me.
- Do you want it “corporate” or “of the people”?
- Rhythmic or ethereal?
- Musical with a beat?
- Or open air?
Feedback and Iteration.
I was in unfamiliar water and wasn’t sure what he was asking me! He was speaking a language I didn’t understand. But I tried…
“Musical with a beat sounds right… Ethereal? Probably not. Open air…? What is that… ethereal? Corporate, or of the people… I am not sure what “of the people” sounds like!”
So, we dug a little deeper. Mike wanted the audio to:
Follow the visual motion.
Have a decent spread across the spectral range.
Set a tone.
Be timeless, so it wouldn’t sound like a relic from the past or have a limited shelf-life going forward.
Sound “peculiar” but not weird.
Have tempo— but not seem fast or slow.
Have a professional gloss without seeming glossy.
It took me a moment but, translated into the language of voice-overs, I understood what he meant:
Have the narration support the visuals.
Bring a range of colors to the voice.
Bring the underlying message to life.
Sound natural — unlike past announcers, or today’s hyper-specific vocal fry and up-speak.
Be unique— have a point of view that’s all your own.
- Pace the read at a moderate speed — not too fast or slow.
The first version he created had a heaviness to it that I didn’t care for. Being someone who knows what she likes or not when she sees/tastes/feels/touches/hears it, I asked for additional samples, to which I’d say yea or nay. (It’s how I like to decide what wine to drink if I’m unfamiliar with the options!)
Now, I was able to give concrete feedback, albeit in rudimentary ways:
“It sounds a little too moody. Can you make it lighter? Can it have a slightly happier sound? Maybe add some brightness to it?”
He responded, “Whatever it is – I want it to ‘be you’ and identifiable as truly unique. Let’s do some lighter ones – maybe with a bit more smile.”
He presented me with a friendlier, short and sweet, super simple version. “It’s got a more ‘earworm-y’ approach – but it’s still classic.” I agreed.
Then he had a brilliant idea….. To add a page-turning sound effect to make it seem like I was handling a script. “It might be the icing on the cake! “
We tried versions with it and without.
We liked the page ruffling sound, then decided to truncate it so it lasted only as long as the brief brushstroke, and was gone before the “D” began being drawn.
Listen for yourself!
It took us five iterations for both of us to love it. The samples are really brief, so it’ll take 15 seconds to listen to them all. What do you think? Do you think the first iteration or final version represents me if you know me?
Here’s an anecdote you might enjoy!
Lost in Translation.
The process was fun and challenging. When asking someone to transform your words into art, it can be hard to articulate what you want. I get it. Sometimes, my clients feel that way, and I empathize with them completely. So I show them with my voice different ways a line of text can be spoken, to illustrate the variety. They always find that helpful!
Funny story— years ago, I wrote a blog post called Translation Please?, which addressed the challenge of asking an artist (visual, voice, or conceptual) to create something unique for you. I was in a recording session for an awards ceremony video, and the director asked me to “be less ginger.”
I racked my brain for how a person could sound “ginger-y”, and how I might counteract that spicy flavor. Luckily, I didn’t have to ponder that impossible task for too long before he said, “…and give me more…
Maryanne.” Then, I knew what he meant! He was referring to the characters on Gilligan’s Island, a show I grew up watching.
Ginger was the elegant movie star (truth be told, I always wanted to be her), and Maryanne was the sweet girl next door. It all made sense. Next take, I nailed it. 🙂
The moral of the story? Communicating creative ideas is more challenging than you’d think! I’m sure you have stories to tell… please share them with us!