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The sound of money – how financial services companies are using audio branding to communicate with customers

By Michele Arnese, Global CEO at amp

Money has traditionally been a visual and physical entity and financial services brands have as a result become some of the world’s most recognisable brand imagery. But there is now a compelling case for financial brands to become recognisable audio brand entities as well.

The digital age has created a vast new range of touch points through which people interact with commercial enterprises in their daily lives. We have become accustomed to accessing retail transactions, information, healthcare, entertainment and of course financial services through many different channels.

Whereas once we would engage with a financial service brand via TV and radio ads or on the phone and in-branch, now our experience of financial services are shaped as much and probably more by ATMs, mobile apps, websites or via ecommerce experiences hosted by third-party brands.

Given the impact of COVID-19 around the globe, we will likely experience a new normal where physical transaction will need to make way for new, “contactless” forms of connection. That and the mass adoption of smart speakers with voice assistants enabling audio-search, command and transactional capabilities in households, has added to the spectrum of channels through which we interact with brands and is pivoting service technology firmly in the direction of audio.

This means that when it comes to the branded sound, the world we live in has never been noisier and audio branding is becoming a critical means of engaging people and enhancing business performance.

Michele Arnese
Michele Arnese

Sound-branding is not new. With the creation of radio more than 90 years ago, branded sounds came became a part of everyday life in the form of product jingles to encourage the listener to subconsciously recall a brand.

Over the years, iconic music in advertising and increasingly, audio logos such as those developed by Intel, Disney and McDonald’s have become a regular feature in advertising.

A recognisable and reassuring sounding brand that people can hear and associate with services and marketing helps build trust and engagement. Academic studies show that brand engagement is far stronger when au­dio is treated as an equal and es­sential aspect of the brand. Sound and music have a far more direct influence over our subconscious, decision-making mind.

Not only does sound build an emotional connection with consumers, it can also significantly shape the customer experience, building loyalty, recall and trust over time and with repetition.

With current and future generations of consumers growing up as audio-technology natives, sound will increasingly influence whether we have good, bad, memorable or forgettable experiences. In this environment, brands need a coherent Sonic Brand Identity that can unify all the touchpoints through which it reaches an individual.

This does mean creating a sonic logo. In fact, we are seeing a decline in their use as they are too inflexible to work across the array of ways in which we encounter brands.

So, what should financial service brands sound like in a world with so much competing background noise? How should they use audio to augment visual cues and engage customers more effectively when they either interact with a brand or are touched by it marketing out-reach?

Our Best Audio Brands study objectively and comprehensively evaluates audio brands based on the full spectrum of audio touchpoints available. This year, Mastercard was recognised as the world’s top-performing audio brand, leaping up the index from 72nd place in 2019 and dethroning the previous best performer – McDonald’s.

Last year, Mastercard dropped the text from its logo, switching to a minimal design featuring the iconic interlocked circles. This step signalled a profound rethink about the way in which people recognise brands. Mastercard’s holistic brand strategy now integrates audio-visual elements in a way that can adapt to our changing digital experiences.

The success of the audio element of Mastercard’s strategy lies in its complete embrace of a ‘comprehensive sound architecture’.

Its sonic identity is based around music that identifies the brand and enables core melodies to be re-worked and woven into everything from advertisements to point-of-sale transactions. The brand has actually developed a payment confirmation sound that reassures the card holder that a transaction was successful. To date, Mastercard has rolled out said sound out to over 36 million digital wallets and physical payment terminals around the globe.

The sound of money

Beyond that, Mastercard launched a multichannel marketing campaign each built on strands of its sonic DNA. It included for example custom owned tracks and soundscapes featured in an installation in the Priceless restaurant in New York City.

Mastercard has taken stock of today’s digital-first environment and has adopted a long-term brand strategy that is fit for the future.

However, the financial sector as a whole has a lot of work to do. For example, HSBC was ranked 65th in the Best Audio Brands index, while Visa occupies 72nd spot.

The arrival of younger financial services customers brought up with voice assistants and facing perhaps more challenging financial scenarios than previous generations and the growth of contactless technologies means the sound of money will become just as important as its colour.