More than 80% of Gen Zers can identify a brand based solely on audio cues, per a recent social media branding report. In a world where attention spans are fleeting and digital content helps drive revenue, brands constantly seek new ways to captivate audiences. Enter brand sounds.
While not necessarily a new phenomenon, “sonic memes” underscore the growing significance of audio content in branding strategies, particularly as video consumption continues to soar. As Gen Zers increasingly experience brands via video ads or social platforms like TikTok, sound has become a powerful — and instant — identifier for many digital natives.
The Rise of Brand Sounds and Sonic Memes
Traditionally, branding’s focus was visual-centric, but the landscape is shifting. Technological evolution spurred increased audio and video content consumption, propelling brand sounds into the spotlight as a powerful tool for brand identification.
Studies show auditory stimuli can trigger powerful emotional responses and significantly impact brand recall. In fact, the aforementioned amp report revealed 81% of Gen Z respondents recognized viral or meme sounds, compared to 41% who said the same of the nonmeme sounds — indicating that sound is a crucial element in shaping consumer perceptions.
Examples of Memorable Brand Sounds
Consider the familiar Intel chime, Slack’s various notification sounds, Burger King’s godforsaken “Whopper Whopper” song or the iconic Tree Farm jingle (Colorado locals know). These are not just brand sounds — they’re auditory symbols deeply embedded in our minds. Crafted to evoke specific emotions and associations, brand sounds strengthen the bond between consumers and brands.
Therefore, for companies across industries, audio can no longer be an afterthought. Communication strategies are evolving between the rise of sonic memes and the increasing importance of audio. With Gen Zers commanding $360 billion in disposable income, brands must employ unique tactics to stand out in a crowded online environment. From commercials to podcasts and even social media content, companies can adapt to cater to this audio trend in numerous ways.
Capitalizing on the Brand Sounds Trend
But what about brands that don’t produce specific sonic memes? Fortunately, there’s room for adaptation. After all, you can close your eyes but not your ears.
Leverage Existing Assets
Companies across industries see success in infusing marketing strategies and campaigns with existing sound elements, whether owned assets or not. Music or sound effects that align with your brand’s values can create a unified experience that helps you stand out.
For instance, TikTok’s Sounds for Business is a collection of custom sounds — music, voice-over and other directional sound cues — designed as templates for easy content creation. These templates aim to help businesses of all sizes quickly create engaging and creative audio-driven TikTok content.
Additionally, consider repurposing your own assets, from podcast recordings to webinar clips to explainer video blurbs. Brands can also repurpose “vintage” jingles or sound effects that play on Gen Z’s (and other audiences’) love of nostalgia — just be careful about copyrighted content.
Harness User-Generated Content
Today, brands should tap into the trend toward user-generated audio content on platforms like TikTok, YouTube and Instagram. Think about encouraging users to create content featuring their brand’s audio cues or participate in challenges involving sound elements. User-generated content allows fans to authentically engage with brands by putting their creative spin on the materials.
Even better, user participation gives audio content the authenticity that branded content inherently lacks, potentially expanding its reach and resonating with diverse audiences.
Forge New Partnerships
A burgeoning avenue for brands lies in collaborations with musicians or sound artists and influencers.
Consider Made Music Studios working with Tostitos on a sonic logo. The agency tried everything from small crunches to crunches emulating the rise and fall of the chip’s ridge texture. Gen Z’s audio obsession also recently sparked a wave of sonic collaborations between brands and music artists. From Taco Bell and Doja Cat to McDonald’s and Saweetie and BTS, co-created songs help artists expand their audience while brands boost their cool factor. The key is partnerships that feel authentic and on-brand.
Video obviously dominates the social feeds of Gen Z users. Consequently, brands must consider the multisensory experiences this kind of content offers. Integrating audio elements within a broader brand experience — encompassing visuals and written copy — can create a more immersive and memorable brand encounter.
Make Brand Sounds a Part of Your Brand Identity
Much as visuals create mental shortcuts, audio cues make recognition immediate amid constant stimulation.
Our advice? Use what you already have. Don’t shy away from experimenting with viral trends like memes or remixes. Leverage user-generated content but avoid cringeworthy attempts at “fellow kids” humor and instead empower fans to creatively riff on branding. If a partner is out of your budget, ask how an agency can help you.
In an increasingly crowded and noisy marketplace, finding innovative ways to translate brand identity through audio could hold the key to Gen Z engagement and loyalty. Companies that dismiss brand sounds as an afterthought do so at their own peril.
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