Sonic branding: Cutting through the noise

Sonic branding is a powerful tool that can quickly evoke an emotional response in a consumer. We speak to Kirsty Redfearn, Mastercard Australasia’s Head of Integrated Marketing and Communications, about the opportunities sonic branding can present, where it is headed in the future, and how to get the best out of it.   

How was Mastercard’s 6-note melody was chosen and why? 

From connected cars to voice shopping, the way we live, shop and pay continues to evolve changing the way we engage with world around us. Sound adds a new dimension to brand identity and is a powerful way to connect with people.

The brief from Raja Ramamannar, Mastercard’s global Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, was to build sound into our brand identity to further engage consumers and prompt an added feeling of safety and security at every interaction with Mastercard.  

Raja’s vision was to produce a distinct sonic architecture that was authentic to Mastercard and conveyed the same sense of security, acceptance, and trust as the visual logo, to build to the same level of recognition and familiarity. We wanted to ensure the brand was able to scale globally and could be easily adapted to resonate across both cultures and genres.  

The journey for us started with a two-year research programme assessing how Mastercard could be translated into the audio medium. To ensure it would resonate with people the world over, Mastercard tapped musicians, artists and agencies from across the globe, including musical innovator Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park.  

That collaborative approach led to a full sonic architecture, which is much more than a jingle. Our comprehensive sonic brand identity includes the 6-note unique melody which reinforces our brand every time you interact with Mastercard at point of sale, and the full track which can be adapted to any number of other applications.  

Our sonic architecture lends itself by design to adaptation using different tempos or instruments. Since launch, we’ve built a rich repository of more than 200 different versions of the Mastercard Sonic brand around the world and embedded it into over 100 million points of interaction.  

Mastercard’s sonic track took out the top spot in AMP’s Best Audio Brands Index this year, for the third year in a row. A significant part of that recognition came from the fact that Mastercard uses its sonic identity in more than 95 percent of its audio visual content.  

Kirsty Redfearn.

Is sonic branding more suited to some brands than others? If so, what are some key points brands need to consider when choosing a sonic brand to represent them? 

As consumers move towards more multi-dimensional media consumption, any brand should be looking at new ways to build strong familiarity and resonance with their consumers. Audio is a powerful tool that can be used to make an emotional connection with consumers. Through the strategic use of sonic branding, organisations can strengthen their differentiation, image, identity and, most importantly, their emotional connection and sense of belonging among consumers.

First and foremost, it’s vital that organisations remain authentic to their existing brand identity. Audio branding should be considered an extension of their logo and existing persona, rather than something separate or new. The Mastercard sonic identity feels right at home within our brand, and even when it is transformed and adapted into different versions, our 6-note melody feels consistent and uniquely Mastercard. 

Brands also need to ensure the offering is built on genuine research and insights, so that the result is credible. Bringing a new idea and option to the market can raise questions, so using data about your consumers and testing your solution will demonstrate the value of extending the brand into the audio realm. 

Doing that work upfront has led us to a solution that connects with our customers and builds that trusted relationship with them. We recently conducted research that revealed 65 percent of consumers felt they were in a safe purchasing environment when Mastercard’s sonic sound played at the point of checkout and 59 percent felt better about shopping at the store over others, which goes to show how far we’ve been able to come in a relatively short period of time.  

How are technological advancements changing the way businesses use sonic branding? What new opportunities are businesses being presented with? 

The rapid rise of digitisation has changed the way consumers interact with brands. One of the most influential trends we’re seeing is the reduction of visual real estate, which is being replaced with the medium of sound. Users of smart speakers, for example, can influence an entire user interaction, from search to purchase, through only voice and audio.  

Like visual logos, brands must now find a way to tackle the shift to audio-only environments, and soon, this opportunity will extend to fully immersive experiences that engage all five senses. Our senses provide different paths for memory and experience, so having the ability to align a brand with different sensory experiences creates greater understanding of the brand’s values and principles. Mastercard has already begun to extend its brand presence across the five senses, including developing a Priceless Mastercard fragrance and custom-flavoured macarons. 

In a world where consumers are exposed to a huge amount of information via text and visual mediums, do you see sonic branding becoming more widely used in the future? If so, how? 

The use of sonic branding is definitely on the rise, as brands seek to play where their consumers are and find new opportunities to connect and achieve greater levels of engagement. 

We know our customers are highly engaged in the audio space and see the potential for sonic branding to be extended beyond the traditional aspects of interaction with the customer and into broader culture and communities.  

As technology continues to change and develop, and the metaverse and Web 3.0 become a reality, multi-sensory experiences and branding will allow brands to cut through the clutter and traverse physical and digital spaces. For example, we put out a record with musician Nadine Randle called ‘Merry Go Round’ in 2020 which integrated our sonic identity into the song. You can see examples of this extension elsewhere too, Netflix named its annual conference ‘Tudum’ after its sonic brand. 

What does Mastercard have planned for its sonic brand in the future? 

Our plan for the Mastercard sonic brand is to grow its presence at points-of-sale globally and drive familiarity among consumers. Sonic is already at 100 million points of interaction globally and we’re constantly working with our partners to integrate Sonic at more touchpoints (both bricks and clicks environments).

We’re also always looking for ways to adapt and include Sonic in our brand activity across the board and taking any opportunity we can to build an audio component to our brand story.  

What excites you about sonic branding over other forms of branding and why? 

A brand has become an increasingly sensory experience with the advent of new technologies, so I’m thrilled about the opportunities to extend branding across all senses, and sonic is a key part of that. Sonic branding excites me because of its inherent non-physical state – you can’t touch it, but you can still be surrounded by it.  

Sound has the potential to move you, and make you respond emotionally in a way physical branding in two or three dimensions can’t. Our sonic brand is also enabling us to create a more frictionless consumer experience in the retail context, which is a constant journey for Mastercard.  

I think we are on a journey with the opportunities that the combination of new technology and sonic branding will provide us, allowing us to dive deeper into understanding what moves and motivates consumers. It’s a fascinating platform to thoughtfully share and showcase product benefits and create loyalty. 

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About Bernadette Basagre

Bernadette is a content writer across SCG Business titles, The Register and Idealog. To get in touch with her, email [email protected].

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