You’d think after working with sound professionally for over twenty years I would have figured this out myself. But I didn’t. I’m always on the lookout for sound solutions in business, but it doesn’t always cross over into my personal life.

I am a pretty avid cyclist. In the summer, I might take the car out once or twice a week. Cycling is great because it’s transportation, exercise, sightseeing, and adventure, all at the same time. One of the challenges with cycling is your relationship with pedestrians. They don’t always see or hear you coming. They might be talking to someone, they might be wearing headphones, or they may just be oblivious to the world, especially if they’re walking through a park or trail. And when they don’t know you’re coming, you either end up startling them or awkwardly finding a way to get around without startling them.

The solution, of course, was a bike bell. What I didn’t realize was that not any old bell would do. The first bell I bought made a single ding. It sounded a bit like those bells you see on a store counter.

Don’t buy one of these.

This didn’t work out the way I wanted. Most people would react very awkwardly. Some were startled and didn’t know what to do. For others it didn’t seem to register at all. My first reactions were very dismissive.

People don’t want to share the space.

People aren’t paying attention.

People are jerks.

I aired these grievances to friend, colleague, and fellow cyclist Simon Roy (who’s been featured in the blog before). They suggested I needed a different bell; specifically this type. You know. The one that sounds like it actually belongs on a bicycle and not at a coffee shop.

Bring Bring!

The difference was night and day. Nearly everyone reacts to the bell. But the amazing thing is how they react. Most people don’t even turn around. They just make way without looking. Some of them even thank me as I pass. They instinctively recognize it as the sound of a bicycle.

Branded sounds aren’t just for brands. They’re everywhere, and they’re very Pavlovian. A referee whistle starts and stops sport play. A sustained bell means school is done. A car horn means get out of the way. None of these sounds are innate. They’re cultural. They’re learned. Audio Branding works the same way. If a sound is distinctive and consistent enough, it becomes part of the public consciousness. It means something to people, and they react accordingly.

When reflecting on your own brand sounds, ask yourself

Are there any sounds that we own?

Are there any sounds we can own?

Can we create sounds we can own, and use them to build our brand?