oh, the places you’ll hear: the use of audio in destination branding

Over the last few years, there has been a growing interest in “destination branding” (called “community branding” in some instances) as communities, cities, states and even countries seek competitive advantages to attract tourists, talent, jobs and funding.

In practice, branding a place isn’t much different than branding a product. Those who specialize in destination branding work to understand the unique assets and values of a community “brand” and then create a strategy designed to build awareness and equity for that brand.

Product sound (or in this case, “place” sound) is certainly the domain of audio branding

As audio branding strategists, we’re always attempting to think outside the (boom)box. Which is probably why we find the idea of applying principles of strategic audio branding to the destination branding model an interesting proposition. Product sound (or in this case, “place” sound) is certainly the domain of audio branding. Of course, that realization begs a few questions:

  • Does the destination have a unique sound of its own?
  • Are there audio associations that create positive or negative thoughts or feelings about the destination?
  • Are there new ways to use technology to communicate a destination’s audio brand?
  • How can sound be used to encourage personal interaction with, and connection to, the destination?
  • How do we measure the ROI of an audio branding strategy in the context of destination branding?

If you’re interested in exploring the intersection of audio branding and destination branding, you might start by considering a few recent examples of the creative application of audio/location associations:

SOUNDS OF HAMBURG: While not specifically designed to promote a destination, the City of Hamburg certainly benefited from the “Sounds of Hamburg” campaign, developed to promote The Philharmonic Orchestra of Hamburg, Germany. Using original compositions, symphony performances and a unique webcam motion tracking technology, the campaign took home a coveted Gold Cyber Lion at the Cannes International Advertising Festival in 2010, generated multiple awards in other categories, engaged visitors and generated a media buzz . It was accompanied by another event, “The Concert for the People”, which cost 12,000 Euro to execute but generated a media value worth 2.5 million Euros.

MARKER/MUSIC: Another interesting location based sound approach is that of marker/music, the creative invention of composer Darren Solomon, the students and faculty of Northern State University, and members of the community of Aberdeen, South Dakota. Building on his previous experimental work, Solomon and his team of students collected a series of audio/video shorts from around the city of Aberdeen and placed them on a Google map with markers that corresponded with points in the city where the video footage had been shot. By clicking on the markers, the videos can be launched and played in any sequence, creating a unique auditory and visual experience of a shared moment of creativity between the community and the viewer.

LISTEN LOCAL: When thinking about the various audio “touchpoints” available for use in audio branding, one obvious place to consider is a branded on-hold loop. That’s precisely what Sam Adams, the Mayor of Portland, Oregon did when he partnered with local music licensing company Rumblefish. Working together, the City of Portland and Rumblefish created the Listen Local program. The program is unique not only in its use of local acts to create on-hold loops, but also because it enlists volunteers from the city to be part of a Community Listening Panel to participate in the selection of the music to be used. Listen Local empowers local talent and local music lovers to work together to create a unique audio branding experience for anyone one who connects with the City or Portland by phone.

GOOGLE MAPS 3D SOUND: Imagine zooming into a particular location on Google Maps, becoming immersed in a computer generated 3D view of buildings, streets, people and other parts of landscape. Now imagine those visuals accompanied by a 3D sound experience that changes as you traverse the landscape. Software developer Paul van Dinther found that by generating a sound3D javascript he could simulate the changing soundscape of San Sebastian as you explored the city’s port. While the technology is still in development, it doesn’t take much to realize the implications of a more immersive audio/visual experience of a city via their web portal or a Google Maps search.

It’s important to remember that as innovative as these examples are, the techniques themselves could prove to be nothing more than gimmicks if they aren’t part of a clearly defined audio branding strategy. It is imperative that all the expressions of brand identity (e.g. verbal, visual, audio) be aligned to form a congruent expression of the brand they represent, whether that brand be a product or a place. It’s not only about finding the dots, but connecting them, too.

Do you have any examples of the innovative use of sound in destination branding?

Let us know! We’re listening…

Update: Here’s another amazing example of the use of sound in destination branding, this time from Google Maps. “Night Walk in Marseille” is an immersive guided night time tour of Marseille, featuring video, music and sound design. The UI is elegant, and the resulting experience is totally engaging. 


  1. Posted March 3, 2011 at 4:47 am | Permalink | Reply

    Its an interesting area, but not new at all. I guess most people have an idea of what e.g. France or Spain would sound like.
    There are many ways to place(/community/destination) brand an area.
    In Denmark its quite common to brand towns for turists and potential new citizens and municipalitys (e.g. http://www.visitranders.com or http://www.wonderfulcopenhagen.dk) and areas (e.g. http://www.oresundsregionen.dk.

    I found this “country branding” site a couple of days ago. It is really interesting – especially when it comes to music – because it explicitly has focus on the country’s music.

    • steve keller
      Posted March 3, 2011 at 5:27 am | Permalink | Reply

      Thanks, Julie, for the links! It’s great to see other examples of how “destination brands” are using audio to contribute to their brand identity. I’ve enjoyed following you on twitter – keep up the good work!

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