Does sound come into the picture when you think of your brand? If it does, is it making a lasting impact? Does it stand out or does the listener forget about it as soon as it ends? If your brand has no audio presence at all, insights from Van Dijk show the value in tapping into one of the most effective ways to connect with consumers.
Originally a Kiwi, Van Dijk grew up in Christchurch and went to London when he was 21 to pursue a career in radio advertising. He founded creative agency Eardrum in London in 1990 and now with 25 years experience behind him, the industry expert and founding creative director of Eardrum Sydney speaks at conferences worldwide.
He says he was drawn to audio because a) he’s a control freak and b) he could create an idea in the medium almost identical to how he imagined it, which is a rare feat in many other forms.
“It’s very satisfying as a creator to come up with an idea and then to have that idea made exactly or even better than you had imagined,” he says.
Tapping into sound waves
So why invest in giving your brand an audio identity? For one, if your brand isn’t on the soundstage then you are automatically closing off platforms that are only gaining popularity with listeners, Van Dijk explains.
“Because of technology and lifestyle changes, we are increasingly navigating the world using our ears, particularly with smart speakers and we’re using our voices as remote controls,” he says.
“So if you’re a brand and you don’t exist in audio than you’re not able to exist on podcasts, streaming services, smart speakers or any of those new audio platforms and so it’s really important that brands create their audio brand asset at the start.”
He adds consistency pays off because often a brand will have a consistent voice or music for one campaign and then start with a blank canvas for their next one. This can unintentionally wipe clear any positive association the audience created with that brand during the previous campaign instead of building on it, as from the listener’s point of view they just hear that that brand is sounding different now.
Audio has the benefit of faster turn-around times when it comes to production than, for example, television campaigns and therefore are often more cost-effective. “From a marketing and investment perspective, I think that good audio/radio creative is the most cost-effective medium you can have because of the media costs and production costs versus the impact that you can have and the engagement that you can have with the listener,” he says. “It’s such a personal medium that you can really get close to the listener and impact and change their behaviour.”
Audio entertainment also has a unique advantage of keeping the listener’s hands and eyes free while they listen which also deepens engagement. “Audio is linear, you can’t ‘skip listen’ or close your ears but with decent creative I think the listener is actually more engaged than they would be if they’re looking at something,” says Van Dijk. “Because they are actually asked to be the co-author - they create their own pictures in their minds and because it’s their version of the story, they are more engaged.”
But he points out the effectiveness of an audio message is really reliant on the creators behind it. “The potential to engage the listener is huge, so when it’s done well, I don’t think there is a better medium - but I would say that,” he adds, laughing. “But I do believe it.”
Making your sound stand out
To stand out and be memorable to the listener, Van Dijk says sonic branding opens up a world of opportunity to draw on, such as children's voices, sound effects or phrases. “Find a distinctive sound, something that has the rational for why it's connected to your brand and then invest it everywhere.”
Some brands stand out by where they place their audio marketing. Van Dijk describes one example of audio packaging, where a company added sound effects to the box that they sold shower heads in, so when the customer picks it up it makes a rain-stick sound.
Audi has the brand’s signature heartbeat sound make an appearance just before the car engine is turned on. “It’s awesome integration and it just makes you go 'oh yeah, here we go, this car is alive,’ and there's some really interesting examples that are out there but you’ve just got to be distinctive overall,” he says.
He highlighted the following four examples created by Eardrum for brands that have used audio marketing to great effect and describes the elements that make them so effective.
“They have cut through, relevance and consistency, which means they generate a short-term response from those in the market, as well as a longer-term brand response,” he explained.
- IKEA: “A simple and distinctive retail campaign that gets its point across without the need to shout. Nice that the punchline is the product itself.”
- Quikrete: “The ‘Long Story Short’ is a great example of the importance of nailing the framework, right at the start. They are in their 3rd or 4th year and the quality (and ROI) is as high as ever.”
- Visa Gift Card: “Eardrum’s mantra is ‘relevant cleverness’ and this campaign reflects the perfect balance of creative cut through and product benefit.”
- Stacks Law Firm: “Radio is a great medium for storytelling. This campaign draws the listener in with an intriguing human story and demonstrates how once again, Stacks’ expertise saved the day.”
As technological advances entwine further into our lives, the more opportunities audio branding has to reach the human ear. Van Dijk says the growing choices that people have to tune in and listen to audio is making brands more aware of their lack of audio assets and there is a great deal of potential that is unrealised at the moment. “It’s a massive opportunity for every brand to have their logo created in sound,” he says. “We are going to be always on. Our ears are always going to be connected.”
Ralph van Dijk will be visiting Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch in August to present at The Radio Bureau’s upcoming roadshows.
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