TikTok is obviously very popular these days. Some brands are using it, and some aren’t. In the previous blog we talked about using sonic branding to reach Gen Z on TikTok. Of course, if Gen Z is not your audience, TikTok may not be for you. And not everyone uses it well. It’s very easy to show your age on such a platform, and no one wants to look like the chaperone dancing with the kids.

But even if you do focus on a younger audience, and even if you do produce good content, and even if you do have audio assets, there is an added challenge: the algorithms.

Let’s face it, we are all slaves to the algorithms. They often change without our knowing, and the elements used and timing of a post (along with a bunch of things most of us don’t even know about) can be the difference between your content being seen by all of your followers or none of them. This is where sonic branding strategies (including some of mine, unfortunately) often go astray.

A sonic strategy usually includes some sort of asset like a sonic logo, but to get that logo, we often go through a process of establishing a brand sound. You outline the dos and don’ts of things like musical genre, timbre, instrumentation, pacing, etc. You want to produce something that is both distinctive and consistent. You want your audience to know it’s you before they’ve even heard or seen your name. The sound and overall vibe of your content should create a sense of immersion. It should say, “You’re in our world now.”

The challenge with platforms like TikTok is that the use of certain music clips and sounds can increase your chances of being seen/heard, and many brands can’t resist the temptation to use trending audio. But if you’re a sonic branding professional, sometimes you have to tap clients on the shoulder and point out that the track they picked might be antithetical to not just their sound, but their values.

That’s not to say you can’t use popular songs or sounds. If you have sonic brand guidelines, you have the ability to select music that is both popular and on-brand. But many brands don’t, and they end up using music that is not only not their own, but is completely misaligned with their vibe. For example, if your business is farm equipment, and your brand sound leans toward country, there are a wealth of popular country tracks you could use to keep yourself on-brand. But if your content suddenly starts using trap beats, it can cause a lot of misalignment. Ultimately you want to build a relationship with your audience. Relationships are built on trust. Trust is built on consistency. With sound, it’s always a long-game.

But it goes deeper than that. In the previous blog we posed the question of what sort of business do you want to be? What is your 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?
  • Are you just building a business, or are you building a brand?

It’s very easy to look at these questions and respond with the latter option, but are you really walking the talk? I’m not saying you necessarily have to do one or the other, but many brands claim to be leaders when their actions speak otherwise. And there’s nothing necessarily wrong with following trends. It’s good to be aware of the ever changing social climate. It only becomes a problem when it goes contrary to your brand identity and values; when you’ve become a cultural tourist instead of a leader. After all, if we’re all using the same media, who stands out? You might be seen and heard, but will you be remembered? Are you making an impact?

It’s very hard to make a genuine impact with existing ideas. The ideas that truly reach people are the ones that are not only authentic, but original. To put it another way, think of George Lucas in the mid-70s. No one was asking for a space-fantasy saga. If he was following trends, he probably would have made a crime thriller or disaster movie. Instead he made Star Wars and changed the film industry. Following trends will get you by, but original ideas that connect will transcend.

So getting back to brand, last month we explored Home Depot’s brand theme and its impact on social media. In short, their theme is very popular, and it serves as the driver for all kinds of content. I think as business people, we need to ask ourselves, would we rather ride the coattails of Home Depot’s music, or would we rather be Home Depot? Is your brand and business bold enough to be original? Do you want to follow, or do you want to lead?