Brand Strategy

How Panera incorporated sound into its brand refresh

The chain has invested in a sonic logo to help it stand out.
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· 4 min read

Some brands (like a certain fast-food chain) have jingles so enduring we hear them in our sleep. Others, like Tostitos, have more recently turned their attention to creating sonic identities. Add Panera to that list.

The fast-casual chain has a new look under Drayton Martin, VP of brand building, who joined Panera from Dunkin’ just over a year ago. The company’s new aesthetic is all about “vibrancy,” Martin told Marketing Brew, complete with a “much more vibrant color palette.”

Martin, who worked with sonic branding agency Made Music Studio in a previous role, recognized an opportunity to make Panera not only look more vibrant, but sound more vibrant, too.

“We have this visual effect where you see our logo and then these bursts come off of it, and so the music actually choreographs perfectly with that bursting moment so that you have the audio and the visual stimulation,” Martin told us.

Though the sonic logo will serve as just one element of larger campaigns, Martin bets it’ll help Panera stand out.

Brands spend lots of money on ads. But sometimes (advertiser trigger warning), audiences don’t pay attention. Even for those who do vaguely remember the commercial they saw while they were checking their phone, they could easily misremember a Coke ad for a Pepsi one.

That’s a “painful reality,” Martin said, and one she’s hoping the new visuals, coupled with new audio assets, will help Panera avoid. It’ll “give us our best chance that, when we’re running an ad, if nothing else, you realize it’s Panera,” she said.

Cooking up a sound

When Martin and Made Music Studio president Lauren McGuire first connected to map out Panera’s sonic plans, they had a long talk about Panera’s changing identity. The brand was undergoing a refresh, which is “our favorite time to get involved,” McGuire said.

“A lot of times we kind of get brought in after the fact, or when you’ve already had an established brand, but we could be a part of all the discussions as they were happening and be able to mirror them from a sound and music perspective,” she said.

After a brief about Panera’s ethos, the Made Music team sat down with Martin and a group of Panera employees for a series of workshops listening to different styles of music. They ultimately honed in on Panera’s dedication to “real ingredients, fresh ingredients,” Martin said, and decided against using anything too synthesized in its sound.

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The resulting three-second sonic logo is half instrumental—played by a trumpet, an alto sax, and a baritone sax, according to McGuire—and half vocals. There’s also a one-second version, a six-second version, and a long-form version that clocks in at just under a minute, which Panera might use for situations like “walk-up music [for] our CEO,” Martin said.

Altogether, the sound is meant to “capture that spirit of exciting anticipation” and “joy” around the eating experience, Martin explained, with the vocal “ooo” at the end conveying satisfaction, McGuire added.

Recall, recognition, relevance

Made Music is also helping Panera measure the performance of the logo, which is easier said than done when it comes to audio assets. Made Music partners with a company called Sentient Decision Science to conduct this type of research for clients, according to McGuire.

Most brands don’t test individual assets like sonic logos, visual logos, and taglines on their own, since they rarely appear that way in campaigns, McGuire explained. The same is true for Panera, which is measuring its new sound by tracking metrics like change in brand recall, recognition, and relevance before and after the sonic logo as opposed to isolating its performance, Martin said.

Sentient Decision Science also ran qualitative and quantitative consumer tests of the logo, evaluating it based on a factor called “emotional appeal,” according to Martin. The results showed that it fell into the top 9% of all sonic logos they’ve ever tested for that metric, performing better than McDonald’s, Arby’s, and Netflix, per Made Music data shared with Marketing Brew.

These findings gave Panera the confidence to truly commit to using the sonic logo, Martin said. She wants to run it in ads for years to come to allow time for people to associate the sound with Panera.

“The key with audio, more than anything else, is discipline,” Martin told us. “I’m running this in a spot right now, and that’s great, but do people know it yet? No. Will they know it in a year? No. Panera needs to be so disciplined that whenever we show up, this is our signature, because sheer time is a factor in really cementing that audio association.”

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