Sound Branding – a definition

SOUND BRANDING is the structured process of developing and using sound & music in brand communications as a unique and fitting Sound ID. By following the same basic objectives & rules for visual branding, the Sound ID will ultimately become an integral part of a brands identity and therefore a brand asset.

But before we start to define what Sound Branding is shouldn’t the collective term be agreed? There is also audio branding, sonic branding, corporate sound and acoustic branding…

Should it be called what the most people are calling it? Should it be known by the most accurate discription for what it is? Or maybe the snappiest catchiest name?

Opinion anyone?

10 thoughts on “Sound Branding – a definition”

  1. A Rose By Any Other Name ……..

    Now I do not want to argue with the bard, but it seems the companies that spend millions every year having new names thought up for their products would also disagree. To paraphrase Mr. Shakespeare, would not a baby by any other name be just as cuddly? Maybe so, but the impulse to cuddle a baby called Adolph or Gadafi might be understandably a little dampened. Let us not forget that the character that coined this phrase, Juliet Capulet, was out of her mind with love for Romeo. This chemical imbalance called love can make people believe anything they want to, so I would not take this quote as gospel.

    Indeed, we have our memories and experiences that build up associations to certain words and build associations. My thesis is that a rose that looks and smells as a rose but is called a Deadly Nightshade, a Bumwiper or Babystrangler would, in fact not be perceived as smelling so sweet.
    Coming to the point, with “Sound Branding”, it is a little different. Of course this new discipline needs a name that is worthy of its power and potential, but it needs one name. It should not be watered down by having 20.

    Besides, it is always confusing when different people talk of one and the same thing using different terms. Especially in an emerging technology where the terminology is in the process of establishing itself. Would not it be easier if the initiators of these terms put their heads together and agreed? Ah, life should be so easy! But we must not forget that any science or technology that will have a commercial application will always try to protect its knowledge as its prime assets. And rightly so, especially with proprietary routines or systems that have taken a lot of energy and resources to develop. Usually, companies will develop snappy little names for modules or tools which will inevitably be shortened to even snappier acronyms, with added little “tm” signs. The hope is, of course, to patent or copyright the system or information which is unfortunately not always possible. Each company hopes that its terminology and nomenclature will be the one that will be adopted, thereby giving them a competitive edge as first mover.

    When we refined our methodology at the beginning of 1998, I was tempted to refer to what we do as Music Branding, but then we got a whole row of assignments which involved sounds in a whole spectrum of non-musical aspects such as man / machine audio interfaces, Key Sound Elements and Sonic Mnemonics. These terms will be explained in detail later.

    Why then, do I call it Sound Branding when most of the others talk of Audio, Acoustic or even Sonic Branding? Well, to tell the truth, when I first started talking about the strategic use of sound and music in branding at the end of the 70s, I first referred to it as Audio Branding – Audio Logo and so on. It really is no big deal, but lets take a quick look at the terms “Audio”, “Sonic”, “Acoustic” and “Sound” . These terms are currently being used interchangeably, but lets examine the actual meaning of the words:

    The term “audio” refers to hearability and has more of an electronic feel, especially when sound is recorded, transmitted or electronically reproduced. “Sonic” has more of a sound-wave/frequencies character while “Acoustic”, while also being receptive (based on hearing), has more to do with the physical properties of sound in air and space.

    Here are my associations of the terms:

    The generic term for everything hearable – be it music, sound effects, ambient noise or the human voice. Although it is all encompassing, it sugests the source and the event itself, as opposed to the listening or hearing perspective.

    The electronic reproduction of sound, especial recorded.

    The physical properties of a sound. Properties of a room , a space or an instrument. Can mean with out the aid of amplification

    The waves themselves – the qualities of sound referring its frequencies. Eg Bats, Concord as supersonic and medical Ultra-sonic machines.

    Auditory / Auditive
    Hearable as a connotation from “Listening”. The structure of sound from the recipient perspective.

    So, we decided that, for us, “Sound” was to be the collective term of all forms of hearable events. Hence – “Sound Branding”.

    The Sound Branding branch, or whatever it ends up being called, is still in its baby shoes and it may be too early to establish such standards. I can only offer this term as I think it makes more sense. Please feel free to join me.

  2. Hi John,

    and thank you for your ever so valued and desperately needed thoughts on “sound branding”!
    This new site is very exciting…good luck!

    As for the terminology, of course, the term “logo”, is more approachable for the advertising business. But in the long run, personally, I think that the fact of establishing a common term is more essential for the practical evolvement of this rather new commercial communication technology, than what to call it…..and in doing so, your effort to initiate a development is absolutely correct but the conclusion must be determined by the contractors, for it to carry weight!
    It would for example be very interesting to know what they call it in different advertising schools….?!

    Keep up the excellent work!

    Kind regards,


  3. Pingback: Werbeblogger - Weblog über Marketing, Werbung und PR » Blog Archiv » Sound Sonic Audio Branding?

  4. Hi John,
    I’ve found your podcasts informative and authoritative. I’m just about to complete my dissertation on sonic branding and the goal is to create a model on which this can be used.
    My own definition of sonic branding is
    ‘Sonic branding is the art and science of applying deliberated and controlled sound to a brand, designed to affect the user’s experience and perception of the brand.’

    I think it covers alot of ground in a broad sense, although not necessarily covering any aspect of memorability.
    What do you think on this?
    It’s a fascinating emerging avenue for branding and heavily undervalued from the marketing experts I have been speaking to as part of my research.

    what do you think of my definition?

  5. John Groves

    Hi Tom, I find your definition good. It is possibly more exact than mine though not as extensive:

    Sound Branding is the process of developing and using sound & music in brand communications that will ultimately become a brand asset and an integral part of a brands identity. Sound Branding follows the same basic objective & rules as visual branding.

    Any other opinions??


  6. Hey John,

    I like how you work your definition into it being an integral part of a brands identity, but there are examples of sonic branding where many different pieces of music are used, all sharing the same characteristics, to reflect on a brand. Here, the individual song isn’t the brand asset, but instead the attitudes and values present in the music are. (Try Capital FM’s new ad (london))
    Maybe I’m just being picky over your use of the singular in the definition, where many examples are often used – this is especially valuable when comparing sonic branding across touchpoints, where the use of different music is often prescribed.

    on a separate note…I’m about to graduate. What kind of job opportunities are there for a talented and innovative graduate with interest and light experience. Do you work alone?

    Cheers, and keep up the good work.


  7. Hi Tom,

    sorry – I cant write at the moment as I have one foot outside the door. I just wanted to answer you shortly:

    – Sound Branding definition – let´s get back to that later.

    – Job opportunities: We are six people. I know of at least 10 professional companies doing what we do and the number is rising, so I would definitely see a future in it.

    talk soon, j.

  8. Hello folks,
    i’m a brazilian composer and student of soundtrack.
    i’m studying the concept of sound branding and apllying it with my clients and showing to them the importance of sound in their communication.
    i need a help of you, John and Tom.
    how can i convince and suggest my clients about this importance and what’s is the process to make a sound branding?
    To Tom:can i read your dissertation?


  9. Per Ragnarsson

    I find the whole concept of Sound Branding very interesting. I am currently studying marketing management at Uppsala university, Sweden and have not been able to find much literature on the subject. Could you please give me some tips? Per Ragnarsson

  10. Dear Per,

    thanks for your interest in Sound Branding. A very recent and recommendable publication in English is
    • Audio Branding – Brands, Sound and Communications, edited by Kai Bronner und Rainer Hirt, Fischer, 2009

    Furthermore, there are the following publications (some of them in German if that is of any help):
    • Sonic Branding – An Introduction by Daniel M. Jackson, Palgrave Macmillan, 2004
    • Sound Branding: Grundlagen der akustischen Markenführung by Paul Steiner, Gabler, 2009
    • Marken-Management 2008/2009 – Jahrbuch für Strategie und Praxis der Markenführung, edited by Henning Meyer, Deutscher Fachverlag, 2007

    Best, Birgit

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