audio branding: a discipline

Recently, a graduate student in pursuit of her Ph.D. in Psychology of Music contacted me for an interview. As we spoke, I referred to the development of audio branding as a “discipline.” When we circled back around for more questions, Alison inquired about my choice of words.

We are understanding more and more the importance of “using our heads” – looking to science to help us move towards more predictable results from the sonic connections we seek to make between brands and brand users.

“What do you mean by ‘discipline’?” she asked.

I replied that, from my perspective, the development of audio branding over the last ten years resembles the evolution of Psychology. Originally the domain of philosophers, Psychology would eventually come into its own as an accepted “discipline” – a branch of instruction and learning with clearly defined systems, paradigms and best practices.

As the discipline of Psychology evolved, so did an internal tension between the various approaches to understanding human behavior. The neuropsychologists and the behaviorists on the one hand looking through the lens of empirical methodology, while the archetypal psychologists and the existentialists would appeal to the early philosophical and spiritual roots of “psyche – logia” – the study of the soul.

It strikes me that audio branding is on a similar developmental path. Originally the domain of “artists,” our intuitive understanding of the power of sound to create an emotional response within a brand context has been challenged. We don’t deny the importance of “following our hearts.” Yet we are understanding more and more the importance of “using our heads” – looking to science to help us move towards more predictable results from the sonic connections we seek to make between brands and brand users.

Today, Audio Branding exists where art and science meet. On the one hand, it seeks to develop a clear strategy for the consistent creation, application and measurement of sound across all the sonic touchpoints that are available to the brand. On the other hand, it allows room for a few Black Swans along the way – those happy accidents that yield powerful results. Seeking a balance between the two, Audio Branding specialists are a bit like alchemists, combining empirical methodologies with our well developed creative instincts. It looks like magic. But it’s not.

Personally, that excites me. The realization that we have so much to discover is a powerful motivator. There’s a world of sound out there. And the possibilities seem limitless – if not daunting. Thankfully, audio branding has benefited from the work of scientists like Adrian North, Charles Spence and Daniel Levitin. The Audio Branding Academy, which launched the first Audio Branding Congress in 2009, offers audio branding practitioners from around the world an opportunity to exchange ideas and shape new narratives about the discipline. Audio branding evangelists like Julian Treasure have helped bring more awareness to our industry.

And in our own way, iV is working to add to this conversation, following the twists and turns of audio branding as it continues to evolve. Hopefully we’ll all discover new ways to understand the value of the relationship between brands and sound – and how the discipline of audio branding offers unique opportunities to enhance brand identity, build brand equity and create more brand awareness.

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