A new era for audio — part 1

Would your brand pass a blindfold test?

7 min readMay 2, 2019

Looking at marketing today you immediately recognize the competition for attention and the desire of brands to stick out — but closing your eyes makes you think there is no competition at all.

Very few sounds generated by brands seem to have a clear purpose and even fewer have recognizable characteristics. In spite of today’s competition, screen time saturation and our multitasking culture, a majority of brands still rely solely on the attention of our eyes.

All this however, is about to change.

A new era for audio

A hundred years ago radio had its big breakthrough and soon the classic jingle was born. A century later we are now in the middle of a new shift and again audio will play a key role for designers and marketers.

In recent years technology has given us new ways to experience our surroundings and brands can no longer expect to have people’s attention as they used to. In this new game, audio’s ability to communicate 360 degrees and catch people also when they look in another direction, makes it an increasingly important design element.

“ new products need to make our lives more human — not more technical “

Smart speakers, voice assistants and podcast successes are merely the beginning. When technical innovation now influence business and society on all fronts, new products need to make our lives more human — not more technical. Brands, at least those striving to be relevant to a broader audience, therefore need to be more intuitive, characteristic and delightful than ever in order for us to accept them into our lives. Crafted and purposeful audio is the key to achieve this.

The shortcut to emotions

The main reason companies turn to audio is because it’s the ultimate tool for creating emotions. Hearing gives us a “super power” to absorb and process an insane amount of information — with minimum effort — in almost no time at all. Music and sound allow us to immediately understand contexts, stories, experiences and user interfaces that would be impossible or ineffective to explain visually. Why? Because audio is something we feel!

Sound’s unique effect to work on a subconscious level stems from its ability to associate with our emotions. This fact, along with our ability to learn by repetition, are the reasons why you probably can recognize certain songs by just hearing the very first note of the intro. Or why no one has to read the manual but still understands how the parking sensor in their car works. It’s also the reason why we better cover our ears instead of our eyes when a horror movie gets too scary.

How to be purposeful and recognizable in 0,76 seconds

Here’s an example of how effective audio communication can be. Let’s do a little exercise, have a listen to the sound below:

Did you recognize the sound? If you did you can probably also explain its role, why it exists. Now describe to yourself how it sounds - is it long or short, soft or distinct, friendly or serious, “plingy” or “ploppy” etc?

Some people associate this sound with stress. Other people, like my mom for instance, associate it with happiness. What does this sound make You feel?

Next, think about where you hear this sound — in which places, contexts or surroundings? And when is this sound played?

Good work, you’re almost done. Here’s the final question: Even though this isn’t a sonic logo you probably associate this sound with a certain brand, right? Which brand is behind this sound? Yes, it’s an [answer]-sound.

Did I mention all this was 0.76 seconds of audio?

Music turns life into experiences

Almost every activity in life today calls for a soundtrack; working, traveling, dining, relaxing, working out and the list goes on... Music adds the emotional framework, it sets the “mood” to these activities and turn them into experiences. Since there are millions of tracks available in everyone’s pocket to choose from, the demand for music curation has exploded.

Curated or tailored music plays an important role because they make the experience “come alive”. Think for instance about how the soundtrack brings life to a movie. This also goes for the experiences brands create for their customers, in films but also in stores, at events or at music festivals. In a world where people avoid traditional advertising, the experiences brands create become increasingly important. Companies having a position in music, knowing how the experience should use music and sound in order to benefit their brand, will have an advantage over the competitor across the street. Music used right not only helps to stimulate curiosity, it also creates the memories and emotional bond that makes customers come back and stay loyal to your brand.

..and turns customers into fans

Besides being the soundtrack of our lives music is a “social glue”. It stimulates conversations and is something we share, discuss and experience together with others. There is also far more to music than the artists and songs that meet our ears. Brands today can involve themselves in the music culture beyond the traditional tv-ad song licenses and festival sponsorships.

If the first question companies should ask themselves is “what’s music’s role for our brand?”, the second question could be “what’s our brand’s role in music?”. Companies succeeding in music culture such as Apple, Nike, Red Bull, Heineken, Jaguar etc understand very well how to be relevant and where there are opportunities for their brand to contribute. By creating real value inside a culture that people love and consume everyday, these companies can engage their customers on a deeper level and ultimately turn them into fans of the brand.

What does your brand sound like?

If you ask a random brand director or product owner, chances are they won’t be able to tell you what the brand sounds like. However, if you ask them to describe the company’s visual design, they know exactly how to do that. Why is it that many companies still don’t have a brand design manual for audio even though most people would agree that music and sound in many cases is 50% of the experience?

Having a strategy and guidelines clarifying why, how, where and when your business uses music and sound should be a given part of the brand platform, for obvious reasons. Not only does an audio strategy secure your identity is coherent and rooted in the brand, it also makes your investments purposeful and measurable. Having the strategic fundament in place simply helps you use the right audio, at the right place, at the right time — at the right cost.

The stairway to heaven. Being at the top step means knowing why, how, where and when the brand benefits from using audio.

Audio — a super glue for the fragmented brand

One of the many advantages with sound is that it works across most media, touch-points and markets. Therefore it helps companies wanting to create consistency, e.g. between their app, films, podcast and retail, or beyond campaign periods and temporary concepts. Having a role on both visual and non-visual platforms, audio can function as the glue creating a coherent identity no matter where or when the brand meets its audience.

Plan8 is a design agency, for music and sound

Plan8 operates in the intersection of audio, emerging technologies, advertising and art. We help clients make their products, experiences or entire brands communicate more effectively through remarkable ideas, music and sound design.

We are a team of music composers and sound designers, strategists, technologists and visionaries sharing the love for innovation as well as the belief that it’s about time to transit some of the attention burden from our eyes to our ears.

Founded in 2008. We have offices in Stockholm and Los Angeles and work globally.