It almost sounds counter-intuitive when you explain to radio people they need an “audio strategy.” But the fact is, that's a gaping hole for many broadcasters.
In the smart speaker arena, many are fumbling around, trying to figure out how to be heard on Alexa and Google devices. When it comes to podcasting, many broadcasters are trying to determine why it's so damn hard to create successful on-demand audio.
But there's another area where the world seems to be getting a leg-up, while radio scratches its collective head:
Audio signatures or sonic branding
It's essentially the same thing, but it's elusive to most broadcasters. The wild thing is that outside of radio, just about everyone's doing it.
Consultant Gary Vaynerchuk (or Gary Vee) who will be keynoting the Radio Show this fall has developed his own audio signature.
Earlier this year, he wrote a compelling blog post, “The Rise of Audio Branding.” Gary believes the rise in smart speakers and voice command technology for search, discovery, and purchase makes the quest for an audio identity a key branding element. Here's the money quote:
“To me, the thing that I am probably most passionate about with voice is the fact that ‘branding' has never been more important…The problem is, most companies haven’t thought about what their business sounds like.”
Including radio stations. And even personalities and shows (and perhaps that's a topic at the Morning Show Boot Camp next month).
Pandora recently came up with its own sound signature (and it's not very good, by the way IMHO):
But that hasn't stopped them from jumping headlong into the space. It was recently announced Pandora has launched its own division, designed to help companies develop their own unique sonic brands.
It's called Studio Resonate, and according to the press release, here's the mission:
“The unit will work with brands on their audio marketing strategies, including through the creation of sonic logos that help listeners identify a company by sound, and by collaborating on creative planning, media production and web and mobile experiences.”
Pandora feels qualified to give advice in this burgeoning new audio sector. Clearly, many broadcast radio people might be able to do the same if this content sector was made a priority within stations.
But most radio companies don't give this a whole lot of thought. Despite the fact that many broadcasters over the years have stumbled into audio signatures, this is usually the last thing PDs are thinking about.
And that's too bad because a great sonic signature can be the gift that keeps on giving. That was the case at WRIF when Arthur Penhallow starting blurting out BABY! every time something fun or cool happened.
His audio brandmark became a Detroit rallying cry, making its way into conversation via bumper stickers, TV commercials, and on-air production.
When you told people you worked for WRIF, they often responded with a resounding “BABY!”
KISW has enjoyed similar impact with its “THE RAWK!!!!” sound signature – another way to help the station stand apart, creating a vocabulary with a loyal audience who treats these sonic signatures like decoder rings or secret handshakes.
I recently moderated a session at Canadian Music Week, loaded with some of the top audio imaging experts in the world. And on the same panel was Scott Simonelli, co-founder of Veritonic.
Scott is a former composer who now helps audio producers better understand how their signature sounds resonate with audiences. While dreaming up great sonic brands is truly a craft, Veritonic is proving there are clear pathways to success.
They conduct research that helps identify what's working in the space – as well as audio that has little impact. And they've recently produced a scorecard to provide a pecking order. Here's the pecking order of brand recognition based on audio signatures:
There's a lot to unpack here.
First, some of the best-recognized brands are among the dullest companies – like insurance. Note how Nationwide, Liberty Mutual, and Farmers are in the top 4. Imagine being the Chief Marketing Officer for Aflac or Geico. It is difficult to make insurance fun and memorable. But through characters like Flo, the gecko, a duck, and now an emu (Liberty Mutual couldn't resist having a mascot), these dull service brands are building their identities. And for many, audio signatures are at the core of their efforts.
Second, Veritonic used green shading to highlight the brands that actually say their names in their signatures (“We are Farmers….”). Some, like Liberty Mutual, repeat their IDs several times in the same signature. This technique obviously works and perhaps explains why radio jingles have enjoyed historic success.
Third, it's interesting that car companies struggle in this department, despite having more innovative, exciting, shiny products to sell. Ford, Honda, BMW, and Audi all have very low brand recognition. I racked my brain and couldn't recall a single one.
Like podcasting, smart speakers, audio streaming and the other innovations that have hit the scene these past several years, audio signatures aren't easy or simple to successfully pull off. It takes work, planning, experimentation, and creativity. And perhaps, a little luck.
But as we're seeing as so many brands jump on board, getting attention and engaging with voice platforms are good reasons why this should be agenda items over the next year or so for great radio stations. And when you see brilliant marketers like Gary Vee get behind this audio movement, you know something's going on.