Geo 101: What Are Earcons?

The way a brand sounds — even in the smallest moments — is an important part of identity today.

From geo-targeting to voice search, technology is opening up a world of possibilities for marketers. But it’s also complicated, as new capabilities and use cases seem to emerge every day.

With the goal of breaking down some of the most important concepts to provide a better understanding of the basics — and a jumping off point for exploring how far technology may take us — we introduce the next installment of our GeoMarketing 101 series: what marketers need to know about earcons.

What Are Earcons?

Reportedly coined by D.A. Sumikawa in a 1985 report titled “Guidelines for the integration of audio cues into computer user interfaces,” earcons refers to a brief and distinctive sound that represents a specific event or signals information.

Ironically, that’s a bit of a murky definition — but we all recognize earcons when we hear them. Think of the three-tone melody that identifies NBC in radio or TV broadcasts, or the double beep that lets you know Siri is listening.

In today’s world, earcons are more prevalent than ever, from the distinctive noises of Amazon Alexa versus Apple Siri to the potential need to create specific sounds for quiet electric cars that will alert pedestrians to their approach. But why does this matter to marketers?

Earcons And Audio Identity

Here’s why earcons are more than a quirky soundbite: As Philip Ellis put it in a Ogilvy blog post, while “we live in a visually oriented world, with consumers instantly recognising a brand’s logo or colour story… the way a brand sounds can trigger an even more instinctive form of recognition and trigger a required user response if used correctly.”

Essentially, brands need to think about their sonic identity, especially as they contemplate projects like launching skills for Alexa or coming up with their own voice/audio enabled apps. And with audio in the midst of a renaissance, the time to do so is now.

“Effective use of sound means building a strategy to pick and create the music that helps people understand the brand’s place in the world,” writes musician Joel Beckerman in his book, The Sonic Boom: How Sound Transforms The Way We Think, Feel and Buy. “With the right foundation, sound and music can help transform a business or a message by communicating a clear emotional story and helping people feel the brand.”

About The Author
Lauryn Chamberlain Lauryn Chamberlain @laurynchamberla

Lauryn Chamberlain is the Associate Editor of A New York City based journalist, she specializes in stories related to retail, dining, hospitality, and travel.