Despite what the past decade has tried to convince us of branding is not new. It is the same principles that mass media conglomerates used to use, that has now been repurposed for the age of social media. I guess what most companies weren’t anticipating was that gaming videos from a teenager in Jakarta could amass more YouTube views than official gaming company channels, or that a 25 year old girl from London could have more cultural currency than your favourite luxury brands.
Movies and music are no longer distributed by a select number of networks, independent zines are being made in bedrooms, poets are self-publishing, your mum can get hired off of TikTok for being funny, everyone can have their own podcast and the average person can skip the ads that marketing and advertising companies have paid for. Relevance is no longer being decided in New York skyscrapers by people who don’t remember the last time they had fun, but rather by people who have chosen to pursue their passions with limited income, by the ascension of subcultures, by early adopters…basically cultural innovators have called the bluff of ‘gatekeeping’ and bypassed them to build what matters to people that look, speak and live like them.
What Can Hip Hop Teach Us?
Whether it’s Run D.M.C ‘My Adidas’ or Busta Rhymes ‘Pass the Courvoisier’, the fact that more hip hop artists aren’t consulting on slogans and creative direction of some of the most elite brands is very tone deaf.
Many will point to James Brown as the beginning of the ad-lib in music, his screams are iconic but it wasn’t until the 80’s with Flavor Flav’s “Yeah boyeeee!”, that what we know as the ad-lib really took form. Lil Jon’s “YEEAHH!”, Pusha T’s “Yugh”, DJ Khaled’s “We The Best”, Birdman’s “Brrrrr”, the ad-lib is the signature that we recognise and gets us excited for what we are about to hear. The same goes for producers’ tag lines, the moment I hear “Jahlil Beats, holla at me” at the beginning of a track, I automatically remember Bobby Shmurda’s 2014 viral hit “Hot Ni**a” and partially lose my mind.
Marketing gurus will tell you that every brand has to understand their why, what are their values, their purpose, their beliefs because this creates authenticity, which in turn brings about strong and effective marketing. Marketing could learn from the principles of the greatest hip hop artists, on authenticity and creating community through speaking on what affects their audience’s everyday lives, delivering strong, emotionally driven content and adopting multimedia strategies.
So Where Do We Go From Here?
As much as we live in a visual world, and marketing is geared towards that, the next step is definitely going to be audio branding. Voice is becoming more popular and soon enough many brands will have to think about what their sonic strategy is going to take them.
This isn’t something completely alien, think about it… we have the McDonald’s I’m Lovin’ It jingle (which, fun fact was written by rapper Pusha T, produced by Pharrell and performed by Justin Timberlake) or the sound when you turn on your laptop or computer. We may have become so accustomed to visual marketing on our phones and general entertainment as we scroll, however sound is intimate, emotional, memorable and that is the exact same reason why we love music right? The voice of your favourite artist, the sound of your favourite producer or guitarist…what we hear has the potential to stay with us for a long time. It’s the same reason podcasts are becoming more popular, they are familiar, you feel part of the conversation and all you have to do is listen. Passive intake of information while you are able to do other things and maximise your time is a win.
Fast forward to when voice assistants and voice-enabled devices, such as the Google Home, Siri, Bixby, and Alexa, are in every single one of our homes what will this mean for brands? If companies and brands have not integrated or embedded sonic branding or voice functions in their products then they will get lost in the void. For example, one of the most well-known beauty brands, Estée Lauder, parented with Google Home to bring their new virtual beauty advisor Liv, which allows customers to share their skin concerns and discover products to test and try.
Today, every brand has a graphic, logo, ‘look’ that defines them and lays out the foundation of who they are, it’s how they want to be seen. However, what a brand ‘sounds’ like is crucial in terms of how connected consumers feel and how memorable they are in a world with infinite choice at a simple command. The one commodity that we will never get back is time, and therefore what voice or sound does is that it can capture attention quicker than a YouTube video, billboard, Instagram post etc. Moreover it can be personalised to truly foster relationships with customers that deeply resonate with them.
As we move towards wanting everything at our fingertips a lot faster, the opportunities for voice are endless. The smartest thing to do for marketers is to begin sonic branding and building voice-friendly brands. This will include having voice experiences on your websites, building branded apps specifically for voice enabled devices and voice assistants etc. Is your content voice-search optimised? Do you have a chatbot enabled to answer the queries from your customers?
The potential of voice technologies are also being leveraged in sectors such as health and therapy and as much as this is just the beginning I can’t wait to see what the future holds. Whichever route that you decide to take, just know that it doesn’t mean a complete 180 for your brand, you can easily fit voice into everyday user functions with the already available voice driven platforms and products, it just requires a little imagination and a whole lot of fun.
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