How does that sound?


Most businesses appreciate the importance of visual branding these days, but fewer understand that how a brand sounds can be just as important as how it looks, says Daniel Lafferty.

In our multimedia, always-on, say and play world, audio is a powerful influencer in marketing.

Our hearing is one of our most emotive senses, capable of transporting a person back to a certain moment and triggering vivid recollections.

We trust our hearing more than our sight, too. Research by the Hearing Body project at University College London discovered that even perception of body image can be distorted by changes in sound.

One test altered the pitch of a participant’s footsteps to trick them into believing they were lighter or heavier than they actually were.

In business terms, audio branding is particularly effective to convey a company’s desired image and values. In fact, a recent study found 60% of Brits now think music is more memorable than visuals when used in marketing.


There are three key elements to consider when developing audio branding: music, voice and content.

And brand congruence is key. If an audio presence doesn’t match a visual one, it could cause a damaging disconnect in customers.

“We trust our hearing more than our sight.”

Many businesses choose a popular chart track as the music of their business, mistakenly thinking it will entertain the listener. But it’s a risky route to pursue. Not only might an existing track not align with a company’s brand message, but people have very different musical tastes and what one person may like, another may loathe.

A song may also connect with a negative moment in time for someone, and these feelings can be transferred onto the business and could subconsciously put them off the company.

Traders should instead look to create a bespoke track unique to their business. Our own research has found the equestrian industry tends to suit tracks with a decisive pace, often on the faster side to suggest a ‘galloping’ rhythm. There tends to be a heaviness and strength to the arrangement to help convey quality; and instruments - whether traditional or electronic - typically play in a lower register to add gravitas.

Subtle changes in style, instrumentation, key and chord progression can substantially affect an individual’s emotions and how brands are perceived.

For example, one study found 90% of respondents felt excited or happy when they heard strings playing short, sharp notes in major key. Just a slight shift to minor key elicited feelings of sadness or melancholy in 81% of listeners.


The voice of the business is equally as important with attributes such as gender, age and accent all playing their part.

Feminine voices are largely perceived as soft and soothing, which can help firms convey a welcoming, friendly service. Masculine voices, on the other hand, are seen as authoritative and work well for businesses

wanting to show their professionalism and competency.

The age of the voice can also help reinforce brand ideals. Unsurprisingly, an older voice is generally perceived as more knowledgeable or wise, but a younger voice can deliver vibrancy and energy, perhaps reflecting a fresh approach.

Accent too has a role to play. Received Pronunciation is a safe bet, but regional accents can be a powerful tool for reinforcing identity where, say, a retailer has a strong presence rooted in a particular geographical area.


Daniel Lafferty is director of music and voice at PHMG, the world’s largest audio branding agency with more than 32,000 clients in 39 countries. For more information, visit

ETN | Better Business - June 2019