I have to admit, like many branding and media professionals, I had dismissed TikTok for a while. That was until I saw this year’s audio indexes. This is where they rank the best performing sonic logos, as well as provide an overview of trends and changes in the audio branding industry. One of this past year’s indexes had a very interesting anomaly when you isolated Gen Z. The following is taken from SoundOut’s 2023 Audio Index. Note that this is U.S. focussed. They released their U.K. index this past November (to my knowledge there is currently no ranking of Canadian sonic branding).

You’ll notice here that the 25+ crowd were able to attribute far more sonic logos than Gen Z, but with one very noticeable exception: Home Depot.

Why is this? Why would Gen Z have any relationship with a home improvement franchise? Most of these folks aren’t even in a position to buy a home. As you may have guessed, the differentiating element here is TikTok. The Home Depot theme is extremely popular on TikTok. Its users not only use it in their videos, they’ll dance to it, and even remix it. One video features a guy playing the theme on a guitar in a Lowe’s. Here’s the theme being played using Home Depot products.

The index goes on to say that, “Gen Z represent 32% of the world’s population and spend an average of 105 minutes a day on TikTok with 20% of Gen Z report spending a whopping 5 hours or more on the platform.” In short, if you’re trying to reach a younger audience with more traditional media, you may be on the wrong track.

After learning this, I decided to do a little experiment. I speak fairly regularly to groups about Sonic Branding. I used to open the talks with this little game. I would play a famous Sonic Branding element, and ask the audience to identify it. This past month I decided to bring the game back. I typically use some fairly universal logos like McDonald’s or Netflix, but this time I decided to add Home Depot to the mix.

The generational difference was night and day. One week I played it for a group of business professionals. None of them got it. Another week I played it for a group of college students. They all got it. Half of them were dancing in their seats as soon as it started.

Later in my presentations I talk about the importance of brand building. I often pose the questions what kind of business are you, or what sort of business do you want to be? What is the focus?

  • Are you cutting costs or are you investing?
  • Is your attention on short term gains, or building long-term relationships?
  • Are you following trends, or are you setting trends?

That last one is very important.

Building a brand is all about building a relationship with the public. How do you build a relationship? Well it often starts with you. It’s having a strong sense of who you are. The deeper you can connect with yourself, the deeper you can connect with others. That’s true in personal relationships, and it’s true in business. A person can’t build a relationship with you if your identity is constantly shifting from one thing to another. Now there’s nothing inherently wrong with following trends, but it does become a problem when it results in a loss of identity. It’s very hard to stand out when you’ve positioned yourself as a follower. It’s also hard to make a genuine impact with existing ideas. Strong brands are bold and authentic. They lead rather than follow.

You may already be on TikTok, but are you getting the most out of it? Are you genuinely interested in reaching its audience, or is it just another platform? I am by no means an expert on TikTok, but I do know sound. While TikTok is not an audio-only medium, it is an audio-first medium, and it’s amazing how many brands are using TikTok without any sonic brand assets. Even more incredible is the amount of brands on TikTok that do have sonic assets, but are not leveraging them. Some brands are doing TikTok well, but a lot of others are showing their age, and no one wants to look like the chaperone dancing with the kids.

The importance of Sonic Branding continues to rise, and brands that don’t embrace it will quickly fall behind. Many of them already are. Having a strong visual identity is important, but what happens when you find yourself in a more dynamic and audio-first platform? An audio-first domain requires an audio-first strategy and identity. Are your brand assets strong enough to keep up?