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Brands should pay attention to how their UX sounds

12th Jan 2022
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The world we live in is noisy. Fridges beep when their doors are left open, intelligent washing machines sing at the end of a cycle, and navigational tools in cars tell us the way to go. Contactless payments are confirmed with ‘success’ beeps, while brands like Apple, Google and Samsung incorporate virtual versions of physical sounds into their product experiences. For example, the click of a shutterless camera. 

Sound elicits a hyper-fast reaction time in humans, the average reaction time to audio being 0.17 seconds compared to 0.25 seconds to a visual stimulus. Therefore, before we’ve even had a chance to process the meaning of the sound, we have had an instinctive emotional response – either positive or negative. This initial split-second reaction is vital as it establishes a connection with the sound and sets our expectations for an experience. 

Digital and physical products and services increasingly feature UX (user experience) and UI (user interface) sounds such as mechanical sounds, confirmation or failure sounds where a consumer receives a direct response while using the product, and informational sounds or status alerts about something that has to be monitored. 

To get the benefits of having all these sounds, brands must obviously do so with purpose, seeking to use sounds that are amenable or feel contextually correct. They could go further and build brand affinity too. 

In effect they should start to build a branded sound strategy that can be implemented across devices, products, and services, designed to elicit a positive emotional response while making sure the sounds serve a purpose. 

So, how can brands leverage UX and sound to create meaningful relationships with customers and make their brand stand out? 

Masters of intelligent sound  

Smart usage of sound within the design industry creates a more rounded UX and can help to solidify the mood of the experience. Some brands are already using sound successfully in apps, for example, language learning app Duolingo is using sound correctly with purpose. 

Duolingo has mastered UX for nearly all of the senses, and its bright and colourful character creations and visual representation are fun and exciting, but the sounds audiences hear when using the app is what makes it a great experience. After successfully answering each question, the app rings with a distinct bell, duh-DING! How is this bell sound so accurately associated with Duolingo? The audio is designed to classically condition our learning experience, by making an attractive and gratifying sound it generates a positive reaction, leading users back to the app to successfully answer more questions. 

In the financial world, brands are also leveraging UX sounds to help solidify brand name. Mastercard, Visa and Amex have all added sound to point-of-sale transactions to create feelings of safety and security. Mastercard’s transaction audio is derived from its master audio brand sound which is used consistently across its advertising and marketing creating over time instant aural recognition and strong emotional connections with consumers.

Apple is notorious for its satisfying keyboard typing sound and the whoop when an iMessage is sent and received. The iPhone assigns recognisable notification sound effects for each application, and its clever use of sound in UX has evolved over the years but is still recognisable as Apple.

The power of sound  

Sound is powerfully connected to memory and emotion - it compels memories to resurface and places associations at the forefront. Brand marketing focuses on building trust and recognition with the consumer. Leveraging sound effectively across different touchpoints helps to build a familiar sound that users associate with that brand.

Mastercard research (Mastercard Sonic Research Study, GFK, August 2019 and May 2020) shows that its “Sonic at Checkout” sound - a unique, six-note tone that plays upon transaction approval - communicates essential trust and confidence with the consumer. When coupled with the Checkout Animation, 78% of consumers feel better shopping at a store or website and 80% are more likely to return to the store. This Checkout Sound is a new way for merchants to leverage the reassuring effect of Mastercard’s familiar brand to reinforce trust at checkout and build emotional connection.  

Presenting a brand consistently across all platforms can increase revenue by up to 23% - meaning that a consistent recognisable sound used across multiple digital touchpoints such as social media posts, websites, hold music and apps result in higher revenue. It’s also proven that 50% of users would rather own experiences featuring premium sounds than experiences featuring generic sounds

Building sonic UX architecture

Communicating a clear, interlinked recognisable brand sound, or a sonic identity which is contextually correct to serve a purpose within UX can help people feel the brand. It plays an important role in positively differentiating a product or service, enhancing recall and recognition, creating preference and building trust. 

This can be done through the creation of sonic architecture, built upon a Sonic DNA® which reflects the values and nature of the brand or sub-brand.

A brand’s Sonic DNA® starts as a core musical composition including melodies designed for the brand. This music can then be deconstructed and edited endlessly around different musical styles, arrangements and forms and reduced down to very basic sounds for UX that are still instantly recognisable as originating from the brand’s audio signature.

The huge growth in smart speakers and audio-visual digital channels as well as the growth in immersive digital experiences and the looming potential of the metaverse add powerful impetus to brands unifying their audio presence across marketing through to digital services. Thinking about audio UX design as part of that strategy will become vital for building relationships with consumers.


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