What is the brand experience?
This month, I’d like to try a new format. A lot of times we don’t rely much on our senses beyond sight to know or pay attention to brands. For the next four Mondays, we’ll discuss how we experience brands beyond the visual identity.
We start with sound.
The story of ‘Ta-dum’
In February 2019, Netflix officially released its new logo with a visual zoom to the left arm of the N (of Netflix) with a slightly disorienting RGB effect. The one thing that did not change was the iconic “Ta-dum”.
Yes. That’s the official name for that sound.
Todd Yellin, Netflix VP of Product Design, confirmed this on a podcast and proceeded to talk about his partnership with Oscar-winning sound editor Lon Bender to create this short 5-second clip with a mishmash of sound captures from his wedding ring clanging on his cabinet to the blossoming reverb that accompanies it (made out of a reversed 30-second clip of an electric guitar riff).
Interestingly, I noticed something last year that I hadn’t before. Due to the pandemic, headphones and earphone sales had boomed. You and I were home. Doing many more phone calls than we were prepared for and somehow spatial and stereo sound (specific to headphones) became a part of our life. Sometime during May and June last year, like many users, I bought a new pair of truly wireless headphones for my daily video call routine, some light research and YouTube Music.
Since I got so used to the lack of wires, Netflix was also being consumed on headphones. And for the first time, I noticed that the ‘Ta-dum’ was actually separated when I heard it. The “Ta” for my left and the “dum” for my right ears merge together to form the blossoming hum that follows it. It happens really quick, but once you’ve heard it, you can’t well, unhear it.
It got me thinking.
How do brands use audio?
As a kid, I had some specific interests. Whenever I used to watch an American film (Specifically Sci-fi or Action), I insisted on going to the Sterling Theatre at Fort in Mumbai.
It was THX certified.
The THX ‘Deep Note’ was one of the most satisfying pre-movie experiences that I’ve ever had. In isolation, it may not sound amazing, but discerning audiophiles still use that 2-minute clip to test out their home theatre to check sound leakage and optimal reverb.
It’s still basically an audio logo. And THX knows it.
Started by George Lucas (Star Wars) and currently, under the ownership of the gaming peripherals company Razer, the brand creates standards for audio for movie theatres (including speaker placements, audio outputs and latency). For me, as a user though, that simply translated to ‘THX provides good sound’. If I hear or see the logo somewhere, I assume the product/service going to be good. And it all started with the ‘Deep Note’.
Well, this was an audio company with a great audio signature. Like Netflix, they used it within the logo. Big deal, right?
Have you entered a Chaayos recently?
“WELCOME TO CHAAYOS!”. The friendly servers shout in glee when you enter the store. It’s not something I specifically look forward to or need to have as part of service from a tea-based QSR, but you know what the problem is?
I’m used to it now. And will probably feel a little empty if they stop it.
In one of AE’s very first essays, Tech made me do that, we spoke about how user habits can be changed with repetitive non-intrusive tasks when interacting with the brand or product. The Chaayos greeting follows a similar principle.
Starbucks, globally uses the opposite approach. Instead of greeting their customers with a high pitched call-out, they use loud voices to announce to customers that their drinks are ready at the serving table. A different use of sound for a brand, but effective.
Computers and software have always had iconic audio elements like the iconic Windows XP start-up sequence or the Mac startup sequence. Over time, we started relying on these sounds for assurance. Imagine that – a 1 MB synthesized sound clip to tell us that our work-bench was working fine.
With the influx of new software and hardware tools, audio was used for indirect feedback for “completion” or “non-completion” of a task.
When UPI payments first started rolling out, there were still many users who did not like transacting online. PayTm and GooglePay (formerly Google Tez) introduced an interesting element of their brand to increase a sense of safety and trust for their users. They realised that users were not completely satisfied with the money transfer mechanism. Starting with Wallets and then with UPI transactions, payment companies started integrating audio ‘completion triggers’ to give a sense of success or ‘task completed’ to payments. The classic GooglePay success sound became something users started to rely on and increased brand trust for the corporations.
Okay. So what’s coming?
Thought 1: More brands will integrate sound to their advantage in 2021 and beyond. With almost every company starting to create their digital presence, brands will start to crop up with better, more holistic audio signatures for their audience to recognise and get accustomed to.
Thought 2: For B2C brands, customer engagement will be a top priority through audio and whether they’re digital or otherwise, more brands will start using sounds to interact and form deeper recall.
Thought 3: Speakers and earphones are getting better across the board. And they’re getting cheaper. This will lead to more entertainment, lifestyle and tech companies experimenting with custom audio signatures (for sound design) for users in the future.
SFX artists and sound engineers will be in demand
Using audio for an added brand experience is already in its evolution phase and as more companies add the ‘-tech’ suffix to their industry category, the audio will become a required, albeit, passive brand asset. More brand consulting firms will start working with audiophiles, sound artists and musicians to provide high-recall brand signatures for their audiences.
Since we’re all communicators, I’d like to leave you with a thought. Besides the examples (and some of their competitors) named in this essay, how many brands do you think use audio as a brand extension? The comments section demands it!
See you next week.
The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.