Opinion: Why fashion brands are missing out on making waves with sound

Kathryn Jubrail
Kathryn Jubrail, managing director, Mother Design

Advertising, fashion and music walk hand-in-hand – just look at Gucci’s collaborative #Guccigig project, the late Alexander McQueen’s catwalk theatrics (a Kate Moss hologram to the soundtrack of Schindler’s List in 2006, for example), or the melodious choreography throughout the recent Burberry Open Spaces campaign.

Yep, marketing and music have been happy bedfellows through many years. So why is much of the industry seemingly missing such a huge trick when it comes to using sound?

Music serves wonders to underline an ad campaign or dramatise the catwalk. But in a sector where brand visibility can be a challenge, marketers are failing to grasp the opportunity to use sound at a brand level, not just as a campaign tool.

They need to start taking a more strategic approach and think of sound as an ownable asset that can enhance brand recognition and loyalty over time.

Mother Design managing director Kathryn Jubrail explains why she’s frustrated that fashion-focused marketers are missing out on the power of sound.

The sound of opportunity

On a fundamental level, fashion brands have a problem when it comes to brand stand-out and consistency. On the high street especially, businesses often feel distinctly unbranded – there is no sense or vibe of what the brand stands for and what makes it memorable. Many limit their thinking of brand to a set of static visual assets, neglecting the opportunity to connect on a more sensorial level.

Where visual assets alone can feel restrictive and rigid in a sector that relies on newness and trends, connecting through all senses can build distinctiveness in a more flexible and impactful way.

Sound is the perfect medium for fashion to build a signature style. A recent Ipsos study across more than 2,000 pieces of creative video content showed that those that used audio was 3.44 times more likely to score highly for branded attention. And ads that used sonic brand cues were 8.53 times more.

In fact, developments in technology and retail environments mean that there are more and more touchpoints that rely on, or are greatly improved by, sound. Social media such as TikTok is driving us from ‘sound off’ to ‘better with sound on’ browsing; the growth of podcasts and sound streaming platforms is bringing sound to people in a more intimate way; and the boom in voice-activated technology is moving brands increasingly towards voice-only interactions.

Platforms that are enhanced by audio are also proliferating. From online shopping purchases to in-store automated check-outs, sounds can guide, affirm and reassure.

For example, research from MasterCard showed that the majority of its customers believe that sonic cues make transactions and retail environments more trustworthy. Chief marketing and communications officer Raja Rajamannar even declared that: “sound is our next frontier for brand expression”.

Amplifying success

The possibilities these developments throw up should resonate with all marketers, but in fashion they are still falling flat. The sector is being significantly outperformed by other categories when it comes to sonic branding.

For example, for all their courting of musical connections and creds, not one luxury fashion brand features in the top 40 of WPP-owned sonic branding expert Amp’s annual ranking for global brands – and according to the report, the apparel industry “is lost when it comes to sonic branding”. Not a single brand across the larger sector boasts a strong and apparent sonic brand, it states.

Technology and electronics lead the way, perhaps unsurprisingly, reaping the benefits of a robust 360-degree sonic strategy.

You might argue that tech and electronic have an advantage, as there is a more direct link between sound and the product experience in those sectors. But others are also leveraging sound to great success. Look at homewear icon IKEA with its distinctive tone of voice and soothing Swedish voice artist; or in food, the iconic McDonald’s whistle. Even Nando’s has revealed its first ever sonic logo.

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Beyond the sonic sign-off

The key to using sound in branding, however, is thinking beyond the sonic sign-off or a singular voice strategy – it’s more than Apple’s power-up chime or Netflix’s ‘Ta-dum’. To see your sonic identity as just a tone of voice or a sonic logo is akin to thinking of your brand’s visual identity as just a logo or a colour. An audio strategy needs to add up to an identity system that creates an overall tone for the sonic elements of your brand.

The beauty of such a strategy is that it doesn’t have to restrict. This is particularly important within fashion, where any brand identity needs to fix and flex in equal measures – and what makes the argument for sound so compelling. In the sector, brand needs to offer consistency and recognisability but be able to shift alongside swings in seasons and culture.

Sound can deliver this. It can amplify emotion as well as functionality; it can weave together a sound mnemonic, a music collaboration, bespoke tracks, a swish and a mood to support a wider brand narrative.

If people are buying your latest range via their six-inch phone screen, how does that experience come alive? If they are entering your store, how does the visit captivate and stay with that customer whatever they are focusing on next? How does it inspire them to return?

If you’re not thinking of sound as part of the answer, then it’s time to face the music…

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