Does Your Brand Need A Sonic Identity Workshop? 1980 words · 10 minute read

They blindfold you. An adult with huge hands vigorously spins you around in circles. You can’t see a thing, and have no idea what direction to walk. They weaponize you with a sharp tack attached to a make-believe tail. You stumble around like a drunk, hoping to land correctly on target.

The scene depicted could be any child’s typical birthday party. The situation also illustrates how many brands approach their use of music. Stumbling around in the dark, in various directions, with something in hand that could be either a tool to help you win the game, or a sharp pain in the ass.

Sometimes a bit of help removing the blindfold is in order.

With such drastic changes in the B2C landscape, diminishing returns on traditional advertising, and the deluge of media begging for consumer attention, brands cannot afford to make ill use of music, one of their greatest assets and the world’s greatest common passion.

Sonic Identity Workshops are a process by which professionals gather decision makers, often in the branding, music, and marketing departments, into a room to help them align their brand’s sonic attributes with the right music that properly engages its consumers.

Sonic Identity is a framework that combines a methodology for discovering a brand’s specific “sound,” with guidelines that use music to improve consumer perception of that brand. After an identity workshop, brands are empowered with the means to begin licensing music intentionally and consistently across agencies and markets, the foundation of a proper musical strategy.

But how do you know if you’re in need of a workshop. If you’ve seen the following instances occur in your organization, then perhaps it’s time someone helped to point you in the right direction.

Sign 1 - “Hold on a second. Uhh, why did we use that song?”

What it looks like: So goes the question to which half a dozen pairs of shoulders around an enormous conference table shrug simultaneously. Eyebrows raise to hang indefinitely. Eyes dart left, then right, hunting the brave conference room warrior with an answer. Those quick to please superiors risk explanation:

Bob from the agency said the song was currently trending on Spotify that week.”

David from accounting knows the band’s manager and could get the song cleared in a week.”

Kylie’s daughter, Penelope, said that band was killing it!

Problem: When music decisions are made at random, by different individuals, with no apparent rhyme or reason, the company suffers. Its marketing efforts are hamstrung by music instead of catapulted by music. As well, brands underestimate both the missed opportunity and total damage resulting from the CMO picking Coldplay only because he and his daughter are fans, or it just happened to inspire him at that particular moment.

‘I’ll know it when I hear it’ has become the greatest cliche of the music-brand relationship with regard to advertising music. Daniel M. Jackson, Hit Brands

The costs abound from such mistakes. From engagement, to results, to financialswith many licenses running into the six figuresit’s extremely expensive to engage in music licensing without defining a strategy that ensures that your message isn’t lost in the crowd.

Solution: After a workshop, conference room warriors are armed with the right answer: “Because the song is within our brand music guidelines and sonic identity.”

The execs in the room nod with approval.

Agencies see music as relating to a single communication instead of being part of the brand identity. This is because many brands have not taught their agencies that the development of identity and music assets is of paramount importance. Sonic Identity Workshops teach brands to approach the use of music on a large scale, a brand scale, and investigate how individual music uses contribute to a brand’s overall goals.

Sign 2 - Your ads lifespan is restricted to “paid time” and is tragically cut short once the commercial ends.

What it looks like: Your consumer, seated comfortably in their favorite, well-indented spot on the couch, watches your advertisement. You have their attention for :30s. Your commercial ends. They remember nothing. No curiosity has been piqued. They have no questions. Dejected, your ad returns to its grave.

The problem: The unstrategic and involuntary use of music, music properly defined as specific to your brand identity and mission, provides no assistance in helping your advertisements live outside of the expensive :30s you have paid for.

With society suffering from collective media ADHD, no brand or company can afford to drown their own advertising in the choppy seas of content overload. Clever music-marketing strategy should be treated like a life preserver, helping your ad float beyond “paid time.” Instead of your consumer’s face left as a blank, emotionless stare, clever music use paints intrigue, inspires conversation, and makes fingers type onto keyboards: “Music in (your company here) commercial.”

The Solution: One of our most exciting client success stories from 2014 embodies this philosophy perfectly. McDonald’s, in support of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, readied a one minute advertisement with a composed sentimental piano instrumental. Music Dealers, in conjunction with ad agency DDB, reworked the musical strategy of the ad, replacing the piano piece with a powerful instrumental version of a song from a real up-and-coming, independent artist. Without the change, the conversation would have started and stopped at the end of that one minute. Yet, because of the music, the conversation hopped offline, became social, propelled the ad forward, and inspired conversation. The music became a life preserver for the message, creating vitality beyond paid time.

Sign 3 - “Oh, wait. What are we doing about the music?”

What it looks like: Concepts have been mapped out. Pitches have been given. The project, campaign, or advertisement is materializing into reality. Teams work diligently, contributing to the whole. The project nears completion.

Then, somebody proclaims, “Sh#t! We need music. Anybody got an ideas?

Some brands use music as a foreground component of their brand - becoming a tastemaker, being known for their music taste and style. These brands encourage their audiences to discover new music and share what they have found, creating conversation… Richard Jankovich, Hit Brands

The problem: Music is so often an afterthought in the marketing process; a pain (in the ass) point, banished to the background. Despite how powerful a part of any campaign the music should be, music is the forgotten stepchild, the last thought, and its use suffers because of it.

Music, as conversation and social currency, is one of the most important new developments for growing brands. Follows, views, fans, likes, and Shazams are proving to be a legitimate means for measurement. Music, which allows a brand to become a tastemaker, an agent of discovery, and a conversation starter, should not be relegated to a mere afterthought, or the annoying line item on the budget.

The solution: Sonic Identity workshops help brands rescue music acquisition from the end of the process, and insert it carefully within its correct place during planning and developmentmuch earlier. Music, that adheres to a brand’s guidelines, can then grow and develop with the project, ensuring the proper selections support and enhance marketing. The early inclusion of music strategy can also open the door to new and creative ways to incorporate music into the project, for example, the creation of custom music, or localized content. The appreciation for where music enters the project then allows brands to capitalize off of becoming the tastemaker, the source of discovery, and the conversation starter.

Sign 4 - Your sound can’t be picked out in a crowd.

What it looks like: Hypothetical situation time. You file a group of people into a room. You tell these people, who are all sneaker connoisseurs, to listen to music used in the commercials of several popular shoe brands. This group listens, and when asked what brand is behind the musical selections that represent your sneaker brand, they have no idea. Not a clue.

The problem: You know a Coke Zero commercial when you hear it. You know a Red Bull commercial when you hear it. Can consumers identify you by your music?

The erratic licensing of music robs your brand of the opportunity to create sonic consistency. Too many independent music decisions result in too many different types of music being used across markets. No team working with your brand would leverage a purple version of your logo if your brand colors are aquamarine, blizzard blue, and fuschia. No individual utilizes serif when the brand standard is sans. So why are we so willy nilly with music? Why does one creative director license a rock track, and another a folk track, and the other a dubstep track?

Sonic inconsistency, and artist/brand relationships forged at random, prevent you from distinguishing your brand among competitors and puts your brand behind the curve, a gaffe that brands can ill afford in today’s evolving landscape of B2C relationships. 

The Solution: One result of a Sonic Identity workshop includes the proper, consistent use of music as an agent of branding. Workshops ensure that human judgement, team consensus, and brand attributes like “Approachability” are vetted, prioritized, and properly applied. Once sonic consistency is achieved, teams are shown how to disseminate sound guidelines throughout the main and peripheral organizations, which ensures that everybody is playing ball according to the same rules. In the end, every music selection is with purpose, every artist amabassador is chosen with intent, and both within established brand guidelines.

Sign 5 - You’re not reaping the potential financial rewards of your music spend.

What It Looks Like: Quite often, songs created on behalf of a brand are used once, then coldly buried in a tomb, never again to see the light of day. Publishing fairies lose their wings when brands neglect to exploit content in which they have a revenue generating stake.

Problem: Lacking deep insight into rights management, publishing, and content creation, brands and companies find themselves missing out on opportunities to create revenue from their music selections. When you spend money, you like to get a little money back, right?

Solution: Sonic Identity workshops are not only designed to unify your brand’s music strategy, they teach brands how to financially capitalize off of the music they license. This is where brands and companies learn the strategies behind creating and monetizing music content, buyouts, custom music, and music publishing. Armed with knowledge and information, recipients of Sonic Identity Workshops can fare better in strategy and negotiations, while able to approach music not from just the point of the intended immediate need, but also the longer-term publishing potential.


In most areas of business, experts are hired to help. Finance, law, IT, logistics. Not in music, because music is thought of as fun. #fail Eric Sheinkop,

In failing to measure the efficacy of music choices, in choosing not to define value or keep score, brands simply enable the next irrational choice and the next ineffective negotiation. The vicious cycle rages on, engagement opportunity is lost, and revenue is impactedthe right or wrong use of music has a direct and tangible effect on money in the bank.

Sonic Identity Workshops rescue brands from the clutches of such a cycle, teaching them to focus their musical efforts towards the pursuit of one major goal: value to customers. The customer is the only one for whom musical choices should be made. It is the customer that brands to seek to create a connection with, and consistently and methodically tapping into your consumer’s passion point of music is how Hit Brands distinguish themselves from their competitors. But learning how takes direction, effort, consistency, and an earnest appreciation for the role music plays in your business. Then, as our CEO Eric Sheinkop says: “Once you get it right, the possibilities are endless.”


By: Christopher Rucks & Eric Sheinkop, Music Dealers


Photo Credit:

Photo Credit: William Murphy

Photo Credit: The Stacey Family