Marketing Musicology
The marriage of commerce and culture


May 25, 2016

Audio Branding and ROI – A Review

David Allan

Saint Joseph’s University




Like the doorbell that announces the arrival of the brand, provides the soundtrack, or the invitation to stop by again, audio branding is growing in both practice and expense. From its beginning in the Church, the disciples who use it are predictably big fans. “There is no denying music’s powerful ability to connect with people in a very emotional way. But it’s a tricky path to navigate. Done correctly, it can stimulate social interaction and build brand loyalty, as Kia has seen with its hugely successful hamster commercials. Done poorly and its

effect can just as easily drive potential customers away.  Utilizing music to create that authentic link between marketer and end user literally can make or break the brand,”said Michael Sprague, KIA EVP of Sales & Marketing. Some are using it and frankly don’t care if there is a direct correlation between the cost and return. “Of course music is important to us. It’s a major component in our commercials and very definitely a huge element in our internationally famous fashion shows – including all the mega star live acts that have been a critical part of our shows for years. How do we measure it? We don’t. It’s honestly not something I worry about. I go by instinct. If it feels right it is,”said Ed Razek, President/CMO at Victoria Secret. Feels right? Don’t measure it? Say it isn’t so. The following is a review of what we know and what we don’t about audio branding and ROI.

1. Background

It is clear to those that use audio branding that “the strategic use of sound can play an important role in positively differentiating a product or service, enhancing recall, creating preference, building trust, and even increasing sales” (Minsky & Fahey, 2014). And when done right, sound branding seems to “sing” loud and be heard while still being “authentic, cool, and entertaining” (Ringe, 2009, p. 137). But determining how to justify its expense is clearly a concern. Heartbeats International found that 38% of the 70 brands participating in the study felt that the largest obstacle for brands when working with music was measuring the value of their investment” (Lusensky, 2008). The lack of a metric to determine the return on a brand’s investment in audio branding could certainly hurt its future. In another survey, eMarketer reported in 2013 that “there are hindrances keeping marketers from putting more dollars to digital branding initiatives, especially difficulty measuring return on investment (ROI).” Without a metric, sound branding might not get its fair share of branding dollars estimated to grow to $29.33 billion, or a 48.5% share by 2017” (eMarketer, 2013). Marketing and ROI have always had a bit of a strained relationship. “The fact is that most marketing, advertising, and branding are a guessing game” (Lindstrom, 2010, p. 195). So, it is no surprise that audio branding would suffer similar relationship challenges.

1.1 Brief History and Definitions

It is best to begin on common ground with a definition. “Audio branding, sound branding, acoustic branding, sound identity, acoustic identity and corporate sound describe a process of forming an emotional connection between transmitter and receiver through sound, an associative anchor for recognition, communication of messages, image transfer and image consolidation” (Spehr, 2009). Audio branding speaks to the consumer in a different language. “Audio branding entails the creation of an entire audio language for the brand based on its essence, values, promise, and personality — a language that gets expressed across all touch points, from the web and apps to trade shows to TV to the retail environment and even the product itself. Just as the verbal or visual brand expression is optimized at each medium, the audio expressions are also sensitively adapted across the touch points, so they’re psychologically appropriate to the medium” (Minsky & Fahey, 2014).

The most common elements of audio branding include: “audio logo, jingles, brand song, brand voice, sound icon, brand landscape, and corporate anthem” (Bronner, 2009).  As to its beginnings, the church is considered to be the first to brand itself with a sound landscape. “The church gave us [sound branders] the first true integrated corporate identity with all the trimmings. They have a very clear corporate structure, corporate behavior (hands together) as well as corporate clothing (Cassock), Corporate headquarters (Rome). And they have a logo (Cross), a brand sound (Bell) – even a brand instrument (Organ)” (Groves, 2009).

The audio logo is considered to be equally as dated. “The sonic logo is a modern manifestation of an age-old musical device, the leitmotif. A leitmotif is a recurring musical theme associated with a particular person, place or idea. Originating in French opera in the late eighteenth century and reaching its apotheosis in Wagner’s Ring Cycle, leitmotifs have become a familiar component of today’s audio landscape” (Griffiths, 2011). Intel is a big player in the audio logo pond. It is now considered to be the number one branded sound (Lindstrom, 2009). “It is now thought that the Intel Inside sonic is heard every five minutes in an ad somewhere in the world, which is testament to just how much Intel has invested in building its brand. The fact that it has been investing so consistently heavily in the same five-note property for seven years is the reason that Intel’s sonic logo stands alone as the most recognized in the world. Because it was created to convey the emotions of the brand, not just to be memorable, it has stood the test of time” (Jackson, 2003, p. 128). In 2012, Intel spent $53.8 million in advertising and all of it ended with “Intel Inside” (Elliott, 2013). While Intel’s sound logo may be famous, its composer probably is not. “Few people recognize his name, but most know Walter Werzowa’s work: the five musical tones heard in every commercial for Intel Corp. and for computers that use its chips. Thanks to Intel’s sizable advertising budget, the distinctive theme is familiar to television viewers, who identify the company simply upon hearing the sounds, Intel says. It took Werzowa two weeks to create the audio mark. Intel told him it wanted tones that evoked innovation, trouble-shooting skills and the inside of a computer, while also sounding corporate and inviting. Working in a makeshift studio in his Sherman Oaks garage, Werzowa digitally blended an odd assortment of sounds that he hoped would fit Intel’s somewhat fuzzy concept. The first tone is an audio “sparkle” of more than 20 sounds, including a tambourine, an anvil, an electric spark and a hammer on pipe. The four notes that follow are a mix of xylophone, marimba, bells and other sounds. Werzowa said the rhythm of those four notes–a D flat, G flat, D flat and A flat–are patterned after the syllables in Intel’s slogan: In-tel In-side” (Kaufman, 1999). Interesting to note that research suggests that the number of tones (more is perceived as more valuable) in a sound logo can influence willingness-to-pay (WTF) where more notes is perceived as more valuable (Krishman et al., 2012). WTF certainly is related to ROI.

As for the jingle, most give General Mills the credit. “Jingles have been around since the advent of commercial radio in the early 1920s, when advertisers used musical, flowery language in their ads. But it was on Christmas Eve, 1926 in Minneapolis, Minn., that the modern commercial jingle was born when an a cappella group called the Wheaties Quartet sang out in praise of a General Mills breakfast cereal. Executives at General Mills were actually about to discontinue Wheaties when they noticed a spike in its popularity in the regions where the jingle aired. So the company decided to air the jingle nationally, and sales went through the roof. Eighty years later, Wheaties is a staple in kitchens across the globe” (Faulkner, 2008).

2. Literature Review 

Sound Branding has received a considerable amount of practical attention (see Beckerman, 2015; Bronner & Hirt, 2009). “Cognitive studies show that relevant sounds and musical cues can truly influence people in ways marketers want” (Minsky & Fahey, 2014). It is now considered to be an important asset to a company’s brand strategy. “Audio branding, also called sonic branding, is an increasingly popular marketing and branding tool that uses carefully crafted sounds, songs and effects to add to company aesthetics and mnemonics. ‘Audio logos’ are hardly new. The modern twist is the full and intentional strategy that goes into these creating sonic backdrops” (Mont, 2011). Some have suggested best practices for sound branding and logos including: begin from within, identify the brand’s touch points, make it cohesive as well as some practices to avoid such as: impact without meaning is detracting, don’t pick music because you like it, don’t repeat the same music mindlessly, don’t confuse audio branding with entertainment, and don’t neglect a measurement mechanism (Fahey, 2013, pp. 350-351). Sound branding has also received less scholarly attention. Some have focused on sound as a part of the menu of sensory factors on consumer behavior (Haugtvedt, 2008). Others have looked at sound branding as part of co-branded advertising (Wang & Muehling, 2010). Still others have researched sound branding and repetition (Argo, et al., 2010). Sound Advertising has been reviewed (see Allan, 2007). Sound Retailing has also been reviewed (see Allan, 2008).

2.1 Audio Branding and ROI (Return on Investment)

Marketing and ROI (return on investment) have traditionally co-existed somewhat uncomfortably at times. “It’s not that ROI is a bad thing. Linking marketing to financial performance is critical. It’s just that most people who use ROI in a marketing context probably aren’t applying it correctly (Kehrer, 2013). Most marketers are willing to talk about return on investment (ROI) and marketing but mostly to say why it can’t or shouldn’t be done. “It’s hard to have a marketing related conversation these days without hearing ROI – this and ROI – that. It is, after all, one of today’s most beloved business buzz terms. And of course top management wants the “bottom line” on marketing’s contribution to business goals. But is “return on investment” an adequate way to measure marketing effectiveness? Sadly, the answer is no” Kehrer, 2013).

Others have suggested a reduced reliance on ROI for marketing. “There is a fundamental problem with overemphasizing ROI as the single measure of marketing success: It is often impossible to accurately quantify the impact. Although the world of marketing has come a long way in terms of analytic capabilities, applying financial numbers to the marketing equation is not always possible or preferable. That’s why using ROI to evaluate the overall effectiveness can be a problem. Rather than focus on ROI, executives need to use a variety of measures to evaluate marketing programs’ success. Those measures should be grounded in the objectives for a particular initiative. For example, if the goal is to strengthen customer loyalty, then loyalty should be measured and tracked. So what should managers do when asked to produce the ROI for a marketing initiative? Take a more open-minded approach to measurement, first focusing on a company’s objectives and strategies and then identifying measures that can best work for them. Focusing solely on ROI is dangerous and naïve” (Calkins & Rucker, 2008).

When the conversation switches to “sound branding,” the popular opinion(s) are many but most suggest alternatives rather than metrics. “Measuring sound branding continues to be a popular question without a clear answer. Measuring the emotional results of sound are so much more straightforward” (Watson, 2011). Some believe it is a strategic issue. “Most companies simply aren’t trained to think about audio strategically. They think of audio as a “support” piece to their marketing: a voiceover for a brand spot, a piece of music for their commercial. They don’t stop to consider that with audio, they have the opportunity to actually create brand assets. They can build equity in these assets over time. Not only can they enhance brand identity and communication, they can actually be collateralized. Strategy, testing, execution, and management: these are the keys to maximizing your ‘Audio ROI’”(Keller, 2013).

Maybe it does not necessarily have to look like ROI. “It does not have to be called ROI or look exactly like an ROI equation to serve the same purpose and follow the same fundamental principles of managing marketing investments toward greater profitability” (Lenskold, 2003, p. 28). And maybe it doesn’t need to be called ROI. “What’s your return on sound? You have a budget for advertising, marketing, events, music on hold — all those moments in which people hear the brand. Is this money an investment, or a noisy expense?” (Framus, 2009).  He suggests that brands that invest in sound should measure it in long-term brand value and not on a case by case basis. Or maybe return on impression is the way to go. “Today, ROI also stands for return on impression, which encompasses two primary values — a hard metric and a soft metric. Together, those two values are far more powerful for measuring marketing performance than the single dollar value provided by return on investment metrics. But the new ROI of marketing goes even further than investments and impressions. It also encompasses return on engagement, objectives, and opportunity. Today, people share information via the social web faster and more frequently than ever. Traditional ROI analysis is just the tip of the iceberg. The really interesting part of the story is what happens beneath the surface of the water. The hard metrics related to return on investment barely touch the surface. Return on impression, return on opportunity, return on engagement, and return on objectives give you a clearer picture of how your marketing initiatives are performing than return on investment offers alone. Today, focusing on traditional ROI only isn’t enough” (Gunelius, 2012).

Rather that measure ROI, some brands like Coca-Cola measure brand love instead. “This metric [brand love] is as important as market share, said Silke Muenster, Coca-cola’s director of knowledge and insights, “we know that we would only have sustainable growth if we were able to build relationships in our consumers, these relationships convert to sales” (Warc, 2010). Coca-Cola measures brand love on a scale according to exclusive love, love, like, accept, and know. It has also been suggested that there are eight phases of brand love: know yourself, know your type, meet memorably, make it mutual, deepen the connection, keep love alive, make up or break up (Halloran, 2014). Seven core elements of brand love (self-brand integration, passion-driven behaviors, positive emotional connection, long-term relationship, positive overall attitude valence, attitude certainty and confidence (strength), and anticipated separation distress) have also been proposed (Batra et al., 2012).

Other alternatives have also been introduced. Some have suggest “engagement” or “taking some action beyond viewing or reading” (Delahaye Paine 2011, p. 60). This can be classified according behavior such as “expressing agreement,” “rating,” “voicing opinion,” and “sharing” (Barger & Labrecque, 2013). Maybe the answer can be found in social media measurement. Barger and Labrecque (2013) suggested return on investment as one of seven social media metrics is most effective when “evaluating short-term social media objectives such as stimulating trial and encouraging repurchase” but then advised caution “when using return of investment as a measure of performance” (p. 70). Hoffman and Fodor (2010) are equally concerned because “traditional marketing metrics with narrowly defined ROI tend to lead to social media campaigns that maximize short-term benefits for the brand (or the manager!), without worrying too much about customer motivations and the long term. The result tends to be campaigns that expect the customer to work for the brand. In contrast, effective social media strategies put the brand to work for the customers by satisfying their needs to create, consume, connect and control in the social Web.”

Speaking of social media, an interesting take on ROI and social media comes from Chuck Hemann, Director of Analytics at Intel. In his book “Digital Marketing Analytics” he urges marketers to not fear ROI but embrace it in the digital space (where audio branding sometimes visits). He explains why the alternatives are problematic namely return on engagement (measures reaction not return), return on influence (measures behaviors not return), and return on experience (measures emotion not return). Hemann suggests the six ways of measuring revenue impact of social media recommended by Susan Etlinger (2012) in “The Social Media ROI Cookbook.” In it she recommends three types of top-down revenue measurement approaches: Anecdote (Specific examples where social media was known to influence a sale or sales); Correlation (Comparing two data sets (for example, number of likes vs. revenue) to determine whether there may be a relationship); and Multivariate Testing (Comparing one group exposed to social media content with another that was exposed to different or no content), and three bottom up approaches: Links and Tagging (Links refer to short links, such as,, or custom links embedded into content. Tags (and cookies) refer to a piece of code that is embedded into links or URLs for the purpose of conversion attribution); Integrated (refers to apps or Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) offerings with integrated analytics, such as those offered by Buddy Media, Wildfire, or Facebook apps for Timeline); and Direct Commerce (Addition of an ecommerce storefront to a social platform such as Facebook; frequently referred to as “fcommerce”).


Observations and Recommendations

Whether you measure audio branding with a marketing, social media, or some other metric the effort is more important than the means. The art and commerce of audio branding is in its early stages of existence. Joel Beckerman of Man Made Music agrees. “For decades, marketers have been in pursuit of forging an emotional connection between consumers and brands.  This is because there are countless studies that demonstrate how a positive emotional connection leads to increased loyalty, Net Promotor Score and sales. While it’s often a challenge to isolate the role of sound in an experience, we know that sound and music is the fast track to emotion.  A recent Harvard Business Review article (Minsky & Fahey,  2014) concluded that ‘cognitive studies show that relevant sounds and musical cues can truly influence people in ways marketers want.’  Many other studies link the use of appropriate music to improving brand understanding, increasing retail sales and decreasing perceived on-hold wait time.  All evidence points to the strategic use of music as a ROI booster for brands, but it’s certainly early days.  The sonic branding (audio branding) community needs to work even harder to develop the tools to show efficacy and results to better serve our clients and advance the state of the art.”

But just like a standardized test can kill a student’s love for a subject so could the imposition of one ROI metric for audio branding stunt its growth. That’s not to say that audio branding should not be justified and monetized. This certainly could be done using any of the best practices currently being used by brands who have successfully embraced audio branding like Man Made Music. However, just as there is not one way to review a song so may not there be one way to measure a song in branding. The key seems to be if the brand is comfortable with the accuracy of its preferred practice. Now if there was a common and welcomed metric to determine the return on investment (ROI), then it is possible that sound branding could grow even more at the very least with the brands that require a return on all investments. Currently the best accepted practice seems to be situational as is being done with social media where “return on investment is most effective at evaluating short-term social media objectives” (Barger & Labrecque, 2013). For a broader ROI metric it will take more time. “The increasing adoption of audio branding strategies by major brands is a positive sign, but it still doesn’t help tip the ROI scale with any real metrics. It takes time and resources to create and execute these kinds of measurement tools” (iV, 2011). The hope is that this review (see Table 1) of what we know now will suggest to someone, researcher or practitioner, what we still need to know but not at the expense of the further growth of audio branding.



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