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Signature sounds: how audio elevates passenger experience.

Sonic Branding to elevate your passenger experience

"Beautiful, everything was beautiful."

On a Sunday morning in 1978, composer Brian Eno almost had the ultimate passenger experience. He entered the cool, calm aesthetic of Cologne's Bonn airport and everything was beautiful, except…

One element was out of tune with the otherwise pitch-perfect experience. The music: it was awful.

"They spend hundreds of millions of pounds on the architecture, on everything. Except the music,” he bemoaned. “There's something completely wrong that people don't think about the music,”

His response was to write the sonic solution to the dire audio - the soothing, melancholic ambient album, Music for Airports.

As well as creating a new genre in the process, he was perhaps the first person to realise the importance of sound in the passenger experience - in making airports spaces people can enjoy… not want to escape.

Sound harmonises the passenger experience across all brand touchpoints, and thanks to the power of a drop of dopamine, the right music can even improve passengers' moods.

As such, audio is a vital aspect of holistic airline branding. Aviation high-flyers amplify their identity by turning audio into a powerful branding experience that forms enduring emotional ties between travellers and their time in the skies.

Stay tuned as we explore the impact of sonic branding and why you should make it part of your marketing and brand strategy.

What is Aviation Sonic Branding?

Sonic or audio branding tells your airline's story through sound.

From the music in commercials, and the choice of voice in your in-flight announcements to your sonic signature or logo, every aspect of your audio identity should be composed around your airline's values, personality and the passenger experience.

And an overarching and consistent sonic identity is more than background music.

As Heather Andrew, chief executive of neuro-research company Neuro-Insight, explains: "Our brains love it when what we see and hear are aligned. Conversely, our brains find it distracting and upsetting when it's out of sync."

Extending a brand's identity into the sonic realm looks at every aspect of your airline's story, values and message to elevate passengers' experience, brand recognition and - ultimately - their affection for flying with you.

"Your goal is to completely define the audio universe for your brand, just as your graphic standards define your brand's complete visual universe." (Colleen Fahey, US MD of Sixième Son)

Audio Branding Assets

Audio branding may take the form of multiple musical or sonic assets: background music or score for ads, videos or in-flight announcements; shorter jingles; the all-important sonic signature.

Sonic signatures are audio elements comprising just a few notes over a few seconds. We recognise sound five times faster than images (in 0.05 sec), so although brief, they're a crucial note in how customers connect with and identify a brand: an 'audio logo', if you will.

Netflix's 'drop', Disney's 'twinkle', Intel's ‘bong'.

Like sonic breadcrumbs, they're scattered at critical touchpoints for their customers, leading them through the brand experience and giving the whole story cohesion and familiarity.

If a simple sound can become synonymous with a brand, let's hear more about what impact a cohesive audio branding strategy could have for your airline.

Audio Identity: Sound Sells PaxEx and Generates Revenue

Music tells us stories from our past. It can bring back forgotten moments by lighting up the brain's visual cortex. As sound connects to deep memories more than visual branding, careful audio signatures make your airline sound familiar - a comfort for many passengers.

Sound familiar to passengers

And as Eno noted, music can call up emotions and modify them: 73% of Gen Z and millennial Americans use audio to cope with stress and anxiety.

Even its briefest presence can soothe. Visa found that 81% of shoppers felt safer and more secure with mobile transactions if they used animation and sound.

By being innovative with sound across the customer journey, your airline can make every touchpoint a relationship-builder and generate ancillary revenue through audio advertising.

Music to your ears? Check out how audio’s making waves in advertising:

  • Audio assets are, on average, more effective than some visual assets.

  • Audio ads are difficult to skip, so average listen-through rates are nearly 98%.

  • Spotify research showed that 93% of the brain's engagement with their content transferred directly into ad engagement, suggesting that if passengers are already on board with your airline's audio content when they hear your ad, they're really listening.

  • Audio ads are also still effective even though they allow their audience to multitask - boasting a 24% higher recall rate than traditional display ads.

The shock? Fewer than 10% of brand assets include audio queues. (Ipsos)

Audio is screaming to be heard: let's look at some examples of airlines that have turned up the volume on their audio branding for improved passenger experience.

When Audio Amplifies Airline Identity

United Airlines: long-term passenger experience via a signature sonic sound

If one airline were recognisable by its sound, we would argue it was United Airlines and their use of George Gershwin's 1924 piece, Rhapsody in Blue. United first licensed the orchestral tune in 1987 to use the composition in its advertising for an annual fee of $300,000. It developed its use, however, and it soon became a core brand asset, deployed in boarding music, pre-recorded announcements and even in the concourses in Terminal 1 at O'Hare International Airport.

In 2014, showing the versatility music has and nodding to the importance of personalisation in passenger experience, they altered the track's arrangement - although leaning into a few cliches in the process - to align with the visuals in the 'Safety is Global' video: accordions for France, a zither and bamboo flute for Asia.

A solid audio brand is more than simply to be recognisable. It should communicate values and identity. While United's musical choice is not bespoke, it has become so entwined with the airline that some passengers mistakenly think it was written for them - and in 2019, they even named the colour of their signature blue uniforms 'rhapsody blue'.

Norwegian: new and yet familiar

Taking bespoke sonic branding to the Eno level, in 2021, Norwegian decided to communicate its brand values and messaging with a whole theme conceptualising their airline: and we're here for that level of commitment!

The result was not only an eight-note sonic signature, dubbed 'Northern Colours', but a 30-minute rich and reflective track recorded on the fjords of Norway.

Played to over 30 million passengers as they board each year, Julius Støback, Norwegian's senior brand strategy advisor explains the vision: "We wanted a melody that people would recognise, that could help as a mnemonic to increase brand recall in advertising. But we also wanted it to add to the experience of boarding our planes, adding peace and relaxation to our customers' journey as they sit down and get ready for take-off."

And why not? From musical cues when booking to seat-belt signs and in-flight announcements, sonic branding accompanies the traveller through each phase of their journey. If you're going to scatter those audio touch points throughout digital communication, terminals, lounges and onboard - why not make it a tailor-made melody?

Audio Marketing is Growing Fast

On Board with Audio

Audio is digital advertising's fastest growing category, and annual US digital audio ad spend is expected to top $8 billion by 2025.

Across all sectors, companies are leveraging the power of sonic branding to communicate their values and build loyalty through sound recognition. We believe with audio branding in aviation, the sky's the limit in innovating its use and delivering consistent ROI.

Get on board now!

A cacophony of voices, announcements, travellers rushing or stoically waiting, busy, hot - travel can be stressful and noisy. Tinny pop tunes, generic songs, predictable in-flight announcements: these belong to an era when the passenger experience wasn't paramount

Nuntiare media is the alternative.

For bespoke audio branding for your airline to always ensure you sound familiar, book a call with our team today. We're all ears!

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