Audio Brand Trends 2021: how the sound of brands will change next year

Looking at trends that will define media, tech and marketing in 2021, amp – world-leading sonic branding agency – has earmarked the four key audio technology trends that we need to be listening to.

Based on interviews and interactions with more than a hundred leading brands, amp has identified the areas of sonic branding and tech innovation that brands will focus on next year.

In 2021 amp predicts:

  1. Brands will find their voice – investing in their own human voices

For the third consecutive year, the use of voice-enabled devices and assistants to enable purchasing has increased faster than any other type of connected commerce. About 31% of consumers now own voice-activated devices, it will be more important than ever that brands can speak to them. With growing interest this year, amp predicts 2021 will see a surge in the number of brands investing in the creation of their own voice profile. Amp suggests that facilitating digital commerce and DTC relationships with consumers will be a key driver. 

AI chat bot Amelia is an early example of a generic voice chat bot. Meanwhile Amazon Polly enables brands to create a pure AI-generated voice. But pure AI generation is only part of the picture. Amp predicts that brands will want their own very distinctive voice or voices, to further deepen the engagement with consumers. It expects techniques to develop brand voices will become increasingly sophisticated, using brand attributes to inform the voice and hybrid human / synthetic approaches to be adopted. They are likely to blend both natural real human voice with synthetic and AI resources that will learn to speak like the chosen human brand voice, to create authentic interactions across different channels from chat bots to smart speaker purchases and more.

  1. Designing sound into UX and UI

The fields of UX and UI have been largely dominated by visual or physical digital design. With e-commerce growth turbo-charged by Covid, knowing a secure and successful transaction has taken place – even when you can’t see it – will become increasingly crucial. Amp predicts that in 2021, audio UX strategy will become an important and integral strand of audio branding. It expects a growing number of brands from a wider range of categories to invest in their own unique audio UX as digital commerce.

However as screen-and non-screen tech evolves and issues of security and reassurance as well as fluidity and speed of use become increasingly important – audio UX design is becoming increasingly important. This year, Mastercard, Visa and Amex 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.

  1. 360 immersive audio makes the leap into the world of brand marketing

Immersive audio technology such as Dolby’s ATMOS technology is now widely used in movie production, and select musical artists like Billie Eilish’ ‘Ilomilo’ who created a full “immersive audio” experience, have begun to experiment with the technology.

With consumers spending more time at home, brands need to find ways of bringing the customer experience to them. Immersive audio has the power to create personal or shared sound journeys that leverage the latest home entertainment technology. However, immersive audio technology has not yet made the commercial leap into brand marketing in spite of the growing range of audio channels brands use to engage audiences.

Amp predicts this leap will be made in 2021 with a growing number of brands beginning to transform the way they sound with 360-degree audio in effect enabling them to create advertising sounds that move above, below and behind you as well as enhancing digital interactions (e.g. using sound to direct attention or the actions of service users).

The foundations for brands to use immersive sound technology have already been laid with the technology already integrated into the vast majority of devices and channels from headphones, Hi-Fi stereos and smart speakers to laptops, theatres and cinemas. Its commercialisation is also bound to lead to brands further wielding the technology for recognition, creating the feeling that we are being directly spoken to by the brand.

  1. AI generated music pointing to a world of personalised brand sound

AI generated music has been around for a few years – for example this track generated by AIVA for Nvidia. But 2021 could see the technology head in a brand-new direction. Ground breaking AI projects such as Jukebox created by OpenAI, are learning to produce original music in the recognisable style of famous artists. It’s clear in the early samples that the tool hasn’t yet figured out chorus structures and often veers into distorted sounds, so for now, there’s no comparison between human-made music and its AI-generated counterpart.

But as the landscape between us and AI continues to flatten, amp predicts brands will sit up and take notice. While the technology may not be used to create fake versions of Frank Sinatra tracks, it could be used to generate audio or music around advertising and brand experiences that is automatically tailored to our preferences and potentially fit with our moods and contextual experiences. So, while 2021 might not bring us a new AI created Elvis Presley album, it could be the year in which brands start planning for a creative future in which audio AI plays a key role.

By Michele Arnese, Global CEO of amp 

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