Thumbs-up: Sixieme Son or Why You Should Consider Audio Branding as a Way to Differentiate Your Brand.


I haven’t done a “Thumbs-Up” entry for a while, so it’s time to change that. “Thumbs-Up” is a section on this blog where I write about people or companies I really find interesting.

Today’s company is Sixième Son (pronounced C-Z-M Son in English) which literally means 6th Sound in French and which specializes in Audio-Branding (sometimes referred to as sonic branding). Sixième Son’s US Managing Director is a longtime friend of mine, Colleen Fahey. Colleen is one of these fascinating and genuinely nice characters that always leaves you inspired and energized. The format I’ve chosen for this entry is a written Q&A session.

What is Sixième Son? What do you guys do?

You could think of us as an atypical branding agency.  Instead of using colors, shapes and typefaces, we capture and convey a brand’s meaning through rhythm, melody, harmony and instrumentation.

Just as you would get a visual logo from your strategic branding agency, you get an audio logo from us.   As you use a specific set of defined graphic standards, you get an audio style guide, and most important you get a unique audio universe that lets audiences recognize your brand wherever they encounter it.

We’re not a music house.  We don’t work on movies, TV shows or albums.  We only do one thing: audio branding.

After we create a custom-tailored audio identity, we adapt it to all the brand’s key touch points, including environments, app sounds, advertising, customer service lines, ringtones and expos.

Now you’ve got good brand hygiene.   When people hear your brand, they can tell it’s you.

Tell us a bit about audio branding and why it matters?

Two big reasons, proliferating touch points and increasing distractibility – and, if your brand is international, a need for global consistency

1. Since the 2000s, all new media has been audio-enabled. Marketers have embraced the omni-channel world. And yet, the very brands who pay close attention to their visual expressions allow their audio expression to ricochet all over the map.

Why is it OK for you event agency to use Katy Perry, your ad agency to use a licensed piece of 80’s music and your digital agency to use needle drop? Wouldn’t the precepts of branding call for a coherent universe?

Every brand projects an audio identity, coherent or incoherent, whether you manage it or not.

With the expansion of touchpoints, audio branding has become more urgent.

2. Everybody has heard of Linda Stone’s idea of continuous partial attention. Who “watches” TV without an iPad, mobile phone or laptop close at hand? Remember you can close your eyes (or avert them), but your ears stay open.

3. If you have an international brand, audio branding is critically important to help you convey the same meaning across geographies.

Here’s a gorgeous automotive audio brand, just one year old, that broke out of the traditional metallic and engine sounds of the category to infuse the brand with emotion and meaning.  Peugeot has tested it in France, Russia, China and Brazil and finds that people attribute premium qualities in all the countries.

Audio branding is still a fairly new discipline in the US? It seems to be way more developed in Europe. Why do you think that is?

Audio branding, also called sonic branding, is more developed in Europe by far. I’ll bet you can hum the French Railway SNCF  4-note signal, 98% of people in France can as well as many European travelers.

Europeans think of music as a part of their multi-sensory marketing kit.  They use it to express their difference from the competition.  I think Americans may mentally categorize music as entertainment instead of as a branding tool.

I also wonder if a European brand is more likely to aspire to become a cross-border presence.  The sizes of the US and European economies are neck-and-neck at about $17 billion, but you need to stretch across more languages to capture the European market.

Since music is a universal language, you can be sure that you’re understood across borders.  From Sweden to Spain, an effervescent and innocent brand sound would be understood to be different than an elegant and sophisticated one.   A brand that stands for scientific precision and discovery wouldn’t be confused with one that stood for tradition and hominess.

Colleen, you have a really interesting track record. What prompted you to become managing director of Sixieme Son?

One day, the scales fell from my eyes.  I realized that we marketers have been chasing new technologies and tactics, while a huge, deep area had been left unexplored:  the whole sense of hearing and the emotional and neurological change it brings.

This wasn’t a flash of genius, it was when I attended the first audio branding congress to be held in the US.  Within months, I had stopped all my other marketing pursuits to exclusively focus on audio branding.  My excellent luck was to fall in with the venerable Sixième Son, who has been doing this work for 19.5 years.

What are 3 key rules of audio branding?

  1. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking it’s about music. It’s about branding foremost.
  1. Guard against looking for something everybody likes, people like what’s familiar and that can lead you away from conveying meaning and distinctiveness. If you use your audio brand consistently, they’ll like you soon enough.
  1. Erase the thought that it’s all about advertising. To create an audio universe you have to adapt your Audio DNA sensitively to internal and external, digital and environmental,  tiny and extensive touchpoints.

Who should consider audio branding and why?

Hey, thanks for the soapbox!

  • If you are in a highly regulated industry, there are many claims you can’t make but you still need to create a bond with your audiences. Use audio branding.
  • If you’re global, don’t let your sound be different in Vietnam, Israel and Colombia. Get an audio brand.
  • If you’re launching or re-positioning a company or product, give it a boost with audio branding.
  • If your competitors can outspend you, you have to be sharper and use your tools more wisely. Arm yourself with an audio brand.
  • If you are a B2B company who has a sales film, presentation app, instructional videos and sales events, tie them together with audio branding.
  • If you have long corridors, big parking lots and create hundreds of videos (hospitals, are you listening?) create a better experience with audio branding
  • If you have branches, stores, outlets…you know what to do

As a personal request, please, please, if you have a product that “beep, Beep, BEEPs” at me, invest in a sound identity. Train doors, microwaves, ovens, alarm clocks, washer/dryers, airport people movers, ATMs,

You’ll make me love you and you’ll make the world a kinder place.

BTW, why Sixieme Son? What’s the meaning behind the name?

Sixième Son (pronounced C-Z-M Son in English) literally means Sixth Sound but here’s the cool part:   the words Son (sound) and Sens (sense) as in Sixth Sense are very close in pronunciation.  So, taken all together, the name conveys, “A sixth sense about sound.”

For more information about Sixieme Son, check out their website, or contact Colleen directly at

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