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Voice technology and sonic branding
Turning sound into marketing and branding
Voice technology makes life easier for consumers and gives marketers a chance to brand themselves.

Sound is the future

Smart speakers have voices that satisfy our curiosity. Weather forecasts, web searches, and delivery driver arrival times come from them. The Internet-enabled assistants interpret commands and respond in a recognisable voice in millions of homes, offices, and institutions. They’ve changed how people shop online, how families run their smart homes, and how employees work.

In this voice-first future, marketers use sonic branding to communicate with audiences through sensory tactics.

Voice technology and sonic branding

How does sonic branding work?

Sonic branding involves using auditory elements to brand your product or service. It’s also called audio branding, sound branding, or acoustic branding.

Voice-enabled technology makes this possible. Sales of smart speakers and digital voice assistants are expected to reach $7 billion this year. With a 63% growth rate, smart speakers were the fastest-growing connected device category in 2019. Juniper Research predicts Americans will use nearly 900 million voice-enabled devices by 2023. This $40 billion market will be accompanied by machines getting better at language support, accuracy, and simplicity, giving marketers new industries to use them in.

Tasks augmented by audio.

Voice-activated, hands-free communication is argued to save time and make operations safer. In one instance, an Ohio producer and distributor of pet supply products used voice-based picking to replace paper-based picking, improving productivity and achieving near-perfect shipping accuracy.

Voice technology is also being used more in consumer-facing industries like hospitality. For example, Marriott International plans to equip more hotel rooms with smart speakers, feeding into a trend in which nearly all of the world’s 17.5 million guest rooms will have voice control within a decade. This year, Mastercard released a “transaction sound.”

Converting sound into a meaningful branding opportunity differs from using voice for convenience. As a result, marketers are stretching the limits of their current branding activities to determine how sounds spark emotion and ultimately drive audiences to action.

The speed of sound

Among the challenges of shrinking attention spans, companies can use sonic branding to their advantage by focusing on speed. According to a Canadian survey of 2,000 participants, the average human attention span has decreased from 12 seconds in 2000 to eight seconds today due to smart devices.

Despite those odds, brands appear eager to compete. This year, Pandora adopted a sonic logo, emphasizing the emotional response that a seconds-long composition can elicit. In addition, a notification sound is now available on DiDi Chuxing’s app to let users know drivers are on their way. So they won’t have to check for visual notifications on screen.

Content that sticks in the mind

Voice may have less impact on emotions and memory than visual cues, but sonic branding can replace visual cues. Studies show that audio tones can send messages that transcend language and culture. Due to this, listeners from different cultures and backgrounds can interpret music differently. In addition, marketers use sonic branding to appeal to customers’ appetites for memorable, shareable content.

FedEx introduced SoundTrack in 2017, which lets users create sonic compositions based on a package’s shipping journey, including delivery type, parcel weight, and size. Combining the loops revealed Jessie J’s music video in M&M’s Bite-sized Beats campaign. Users selected musical loops to create a personalized song.

Companies routinely use logos, colours, and other imagery to identify themselves. Humans perceive sound faster than sight, taste, smell, or touch. This physiological reality means the next big memorable campaign might sound more memorable than it looks.