There’s more to branding than what meets the eye. While strong visuals are key, it’s also possible to communicate a story in just a few seconds of sound. Audio logos are the sounds instantaneously associated with a brand. These series of notes trigger the memory of a brand, acting as an efficient mnemonic device, bridging science and creativity.

There are many words and phrases for this aspect of branding—sound logos, sonic identity and signature sounds refer to the actual audio logos, while sensory marketing, sonic branding, and sonic representation describe longer-term strategies and processes surrounding a brand’s identity.

Audio logos
An audio logo is the perfect partner for your visual logo—and together they can leave a powerful impression. Illustration by OrangeCrush.

So, what is an audio logo? An audio logo is usually no longer than five seconds (three seconds is the sweet spot), and can be an effect, a short musical clip, a musical riff, a voiceover, or a sample. If you use any sound other than one you’ve created, it’s important to make sure you have the proper licensing. Want to learn more? In this article we’ll explain everything you need to know abut audio logos.

Audio logos: Hearing the bigger picture

Culturally, there are huge movements that are enough to convince brands to think about creating their own distinct sound logos.  Academic research, demonstrates that using music has the power to influence sales and consumer decisions. Our current audio renaissance, dominated by podcasts and radio and influenced by the emergence of smart speaker systems, also gives us a break from our visually cluttered world.

The ear worm phenomenon in and of itself explains how a memorable set of sounds is able to represent an idea long after it’s finished playing. Sound logos have the power to reach an audience whether they’re looking or not, leaving an impression in ways visuals cannot.

Via Intel

Why sound is an important part of branding

Every brand has a voice, therefore every brand has a sound. Audio logos create deeper engagement through leveraging our most innate sense and reinforcing a connection with a brand through another channel. Sound adds emotional appeal, creates more dialog and offers competitive advantage over brands who haven’t established their own sound just yet.

Via McDonald’s

How do I create an audio logo?

It’s easiest to think of the audio logo creation process in a series of steps. The first step is to consider brand culture as a whole. Break down the essential core values, attributes, target audience and competitive landscape of your business. What are the most important messages and which stories must be conveyed? Consider the size of your brand. Lesser known companies often want to sound capable despite their reach, whereas larger financial entities would ideally communicate loyalty and trust. Daniel Lafferty, the Director of Music and Voice at PHMG, offers some advice:

“To sound trustworthy, consider casting the entire piece in the key of C and predominantly use acoustic instruments, such as guitar and piano, both wooden instruments which evoke a natural and organic feeling.”

The creation process of an audio logo is comparable to designing a logo visually in that you need to start off by defining what message you want to convey and then figure out the best way to do it. What kind of ideas and feelings you want your audio logo to conjure up largely depends on your brand identity and style.

Via Netflix

Create guidelines to reinforce these ideas through the sounds you choose. Apply the concept of brand auditing to this auditory journey, determining strengths, weaknesses and opportunities for improvement in the future.

Next, create strong sonic identities with recognizable elements. This will be the musical DNA of the brand. Ensure its compatibility with multiple platforms; this should play well whether it be from a phone, computer, television, radio or gramophone. Recall different versions of the sound logo throughout the development process to allow for flexibility in what the logo could be and evolve into over time.

Throughout the production, consider how often trends in contemporary music changes. What sounds cutting edge today may change in the near future. We’re currently in a trend of using digital notes over classical instrumentation, though there is still room to create audio logos able to evolve as the brand evolves with it.

Via Radiotopia

What makes an audio logo effective?

Keep it short. Three to five seconds is easy to digest even for the shortest attention spans.

Make it memorable and unique. Be impactful and make sure your audio logo immediately grabs your audience and is worth listening to. The first note is often a palette cleanser, foreshadowing the notes that follow.

But keep it simple too, don’t try to squeeze too much into three seconds. HBO’s audio logo does this extremely well, perfectly setting the mood and bridging the gap between interesting and minimal. Simplicity is important if you want your sound logo to be memorable. Audio engineer Daniel Noga states, “sometimes silence is the best sound.” Silence has the ability to create drama through contrast.

Via HBO

Create with intention. If authenticity is an important value to communicate for your brand, consider how instrumentation could achieve that.

And be sure to use your audio logo throughout different aspects of the business, not just for one medium. You want it to become one with your visual brand elements. Your audio logo will be most effective when it’s used consistently alongside your visual logo.

Via Sennheiser

Where can I use sound with my logo?

If your brand is active online, on TV, radio or in podcasts you can integrate your audio logo into anything you’re doing. Make it a part of every video or ad you create.

Radio and podcasts are the most cost-effective way to get an audio logo out to a bigger audience through commercials. Sound logos can be used in television commercials, mobile applications, ringtones, hold music, on your website and in all your brand videos and social media ads.

Via Mastercard

Audio logos and jingles to remember

Audio logos were quite restricted to TV jingles in the beginning, like the youthful crooning of Oscar Meyer’s “I Wish I Was an Oscar Meyer Wiener”. T-Mobile’s cartoonish telephone sounds contrast Nokia’s communal jingle. Mac’s expanding sound waves are synonymous to their iconic apple logo, while music nerds obsess over the genius Brian Eno created for Windows ‘95. You haven’t truly lived until you’ve covered your ears before the 20th Century Fox audio logo blasts its dynamic and dominating chords. Band-Aid showcased how emotionally connected an audience could be to their logo through Barry Manilow’s composition intended to sell trust. That emotional branding aided in a sales increase for Johnson & Johnson.

Via Oscar Mayer

Via 20th Century Fox

Via Microsoft

Via Band-Aid

Sound and audio logos are the future of branding

Audio logos are not limited to brands directly dealing with sound and they’re also not restricted to bigger companies. Using sound effectively is one of the branding tips that can tie all of your branding efforts together. Audio logos are an all too often overlooked opportunity for companies who seek to create a holistic brand identity, to extend that impression beyond what we can see.

Want to learn more about designing an actual logo, before diving into sound logos? Check out our article on how to design a logo.

Need the perfect visual logo before diving into sound?
Work with our talented designers to make it happen.