News & thinking

Unpacking brand
experience: The power
of audio branding

February 23, 2024
February 23, 2024 Stephen Bates

Most marketers understand that a brand is more than its surface aesthetics—that it encompasses a complex tapestry of emotions, values and experiences extending far beyond the logo. But there’s a part of the tapestry that’s often overlooked—one that speaks volumes without saying a word: Audio branding.

This is the first article in our ‘Unpacking Brand Experience’ series. We’ll be adding more in the coming weeks and months.

If you’d like to discuss audio or other aspects of branding with Stephen or anyone else in our team, please get in touch on

In a world dominated by screens and saturated with visual content, sound offers a unique avenue for brands to differentiate themselves and forge deeper bonds with their audiences.

Emotional connection
From the subtle ping of a notification to the jingle in an advert, audio has the power to evoke emotions, trigger memories and shape perceptions in ways that visuals can’t. Consider the comforting synth sound of a Mac turning on, or the painfully memorable singing of the Go Compare man. These sonic signatures aren’t just afterthoughts; they’re clever creative tools crafted to resonate on a visceral level. In an age where attention spans are dwindling and competition for mindshare is fiercer than ever, brands can leverage this emotional connection to cut through the noise (pun intended).

On a personal level, for example, I’ve never liked McDonalds adverts—even when I was a kid. And, like many people these days, I’m rarely influenced by traditional advertising. But if you stick on a McDonalds advert, you’ll hear me happily whistling along to the jingle at the end. I think it would be naive of me to assume that this vacuous bit of joy plays no part in swaying me towards the odd post-pub Big Mac!

Cultures transcended
Another compelling aspect of audio branding is its universality. Unlike visual content, which is sometimes lost in translation, sound is great at transcending language and cultural barriers. Whether you’re British, Mexican or Japanese, a sound can instantly elicit the same feelings. This is because it speaks directly to our primal, emotional instincts, lifting us out of our immediate contexts and realities.

Easy on the eye
On top of this, in an increasingly stressful and screen-fatigued world, audio offers a welcome reprieve—a moment of respite for our weary eyes and overstimulated minds. The rise of podcasts, audiobooks and voice-activated assistants is testament to this. Listening, for many, has become an important and relaxing way to digest content.

Messaging amplified
Like colours, fonts and images, different sounds convey different feelings and stimulate different emotions. For example, Djembe and bongo drums conjure up a tribal African vibe, piano keys can be used to convey happiness or sadness, and digital sound effects can range from epic and confident to dainty and gentle.

Consumer behaviour shifted
Numerous studies have shown the powerful connection between music/sound and consumer behaviour in retail, service and other marketing environments. Tempo, mode, genre, volume, familiarity and brand alignment all play a crucial role. For example, when it comes to in-store music, a quick tempo increases the speed at which customers move and decreases browsing time, whilst classical music has been found to increase spending on higher value items. And happy music increases intent to purchase, but only if the customer knows and likes the music. Playing Taylor Swift in a skate shop won’t cut it.

Brand recall made easy
Plenty of research also exists on the link between sound/music and memory. Because of its emotional connections, sound can create powerful associations that make it far easier to recall a brand and/or its message. Alignment between the sound/music and the brand/message make recall even easier.

For brands, the implications of the above are profound. In a world where consumer loyalty is fleeting, cultivating a distinctive sonic identity can be a game-changer. Just like logos and imagery, carefully curated audio can become part of a brand’s DNA, defining how its perceived and helping it to stand out from the competition.

However, harnessing the power of audio requires more than just slapping a catchy tune on an advert or generating a random noise for a digital experience. It demands a nuanced, human understanding of sound, meticulous craftmanship, and a willingness to play and evolve with the ever-changing tides of consumer preference.

When done brilliantly, audio branding has the power to go beyond marketing metrics to leave a lasting impact on our collective consciousness and culture. Most of us (aged 20ish or above) remember the daft beauty of Cadburys’ gorilla advert. But imagine it without ‘In The Air Tonight’ by Phill Collins! And Intel’s two-second ping is etched into the minds of half the people on planet Earth.

Whilst there are countless examples of good audio branding over the last century, it still feels like it’s in its infancy compared to visual and verbal branding. And as new technologies and platforms come to the fore, opportunities to use it look set to increase. This is especially so when marketing to the young. A 2021 survey by YouGov and DLMDD found that one in three adults under 35 feel more favourable towards brands with a sonic identity than those without. As digital natives, these generations are more likely to experience brands through social-first content, where audio is just as important as visual.

So, the stage is set, and the audience awaits. Brands that master the power of sound will be the stars of tomorrow. Sorry, couldn’t resist!