Oh, authenticity.

It’s an overused word, isn’t it? But it’s overused for a reason. It’s important, especially in sonic branding. In fact, it’s very hard to build a sonic identity without being authentic. When you’re creating a brand sound, you find yourself taking business owners and brand leaders to places they’ve never been before, especially if all their brand assets are visual. Quite often visuals convey information, but sounds convey emotion. You have to delve a lot deeper into the brand to find its unique emotional signature.

Ultimately building a brand, especially a sonic one, is building a relationship. The relationship between a business and the public is a lot like a personal relationship. The deeper you can connect with yourself, the deeper you can connect with others. When you have a well defined sonic identity, authenticity is built in. If your identity is vaguely defined (or not defined at all), your media becomes not just off-brand, but generic. And you can always tell the difference. Sound, voice, and music choices should always be decided at the brand level; not at the vendor level.

What we’re going to do here is give some brief examples of authentic versus generic media outcomes in sound. We’ll be using some pretty extreme contrasts, so bear with me. Sonic authenticity tends to manifest in three ways.

1) Music

In the past, brand music was very inauthentic, resulting in media that not only sounded the same, but was also pretty cheesy.

Hopefully you didn’t watch the whole thing. I tend to tap out around the thirty second mark.

When you don’t know who you are, and subsequently, how you sound, composition becomes arbitrary. You find yourself at the mercy of the musical whims of the composer rather than the demands of the brand (again, vendor level versus brand level). The music should tell the listener everything they need to know about the brand without using words. You want to create a sense of immersion when they hear you. You want the listener to feel like they’ve crossed an invisible threshold into the brand’s world. If you’re interested in seeing how a brand theme comes together, check out the creation of Northern Latitudes.

Of course we do still use words, and that takes us to…

2) Voice

The right musical style and instrumentation will certainly set the tone, but there is no instrument more powerful, dynamic, or varied than the human voice. If the generic outcome for music is the jingles of the late 20th century, the generic outcome for voice is “announcer”.

Today goofy “Ronnie Radio” voices have been replaced by conversational, relatable brand voices. I love this series of Airbnb commercials. This is a great example, not only of a great voiceover, but of all the audio/visual pieces working together. There was clearly a vision of how everything should look and sound. Everything is clean, clear, and on-brand.

Like the music, everything about the brand’s vibe should be felt in the spoken voice.

Now we go from the implicit to the explicit.

3) Words

Yes, the written word is important too.

For example, every brand should have key words. You ever notice how much Disney uses the word magic? You’ve probably never consciously thought of it before, but I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. They nearly own the word, and this is not an accident. Consistent and on-brand phrases and word choices are very important. Writing becomes generic when a brand lacks a clear and defined writing style. This usually results in an onslaught of clichés. We’ve all heard things like

  • act now
  • for all your ____ needs
  • spring into savings
  • your ____ headquarters
  • conveniently located
  • the ultimate ____ experience
  • friendly, knowledgeable staff

This is often what happens when you don’t know who you are. Again, building a brand is building a relationship. Hurling clichés only widens that divide. You want to connect with people, and you do that not just by treating them like a human being, but by being a human being.

Of course there are instances where a brand will build a sonic identity and still fail to connect. This is something we’ll explore next time.