Visa Spent a Year Developing a ‘Signature Sound’

Several months ago, 10 Visa marketing employees and agency staffers met to debate the merits and nuances of sounds that could represent the Visa brand.

One of the finalist chimes was eliminated for sounding “angry,” and a couple of the sounds elicited “visceral reactions,” recalled Visa’s marketing chief, Lynne Biggar. The last two finalists “fit the criteria of being energetic and optimistic and not overly intrusive.”

From there, the team hashed out a winner: a less-than-a-second sound that signals “speed and convenience,” according to Visa.

People will hear the signature sound when they make a payment through a mobile device or at a cash register. The company is also launching a unique vibration and adding animation to its logo.

The creation and selection process, which took a little over a year, involved focus groups, three specialist agencies and rounds of elimination to whittle down 200 different sounds. The new sound, vibration and animation are the culmination of months of global research spanning eight markets, including “neuro-research”—hooking people up to machines and studying their physical reactions to the various sound options.

“We wanted to make sure we had the global view. Not just four-to-five uninformed people deciding which sound won the popularity contest,” said Ms. Biggar. “You’d be surprised by how excited and how competitive or opinionated we all can be about very short sounds.”

The unique tone is part of Visa’s effort to usher in a new era of mobile payments.

With fewer people seeing the company’s logo on cash registers or using logo-carrying credit cards at checkout, Visa wanted a sound that consumers would hear, associate with its brand and trust when making in-app purchases and using their phones to make payments in stores.

“With the launch of different kinds of payment experiences, it became obvious to me and us at Visa that we need to ensure that the Visa brand mark is as prevalent in these new ways to pay as it has been in the old ways to pay,” said Ms. Biggar. “Its another component of our strategy to evolve how our brand is presented to consumers.”

The sound will be revealed in a new ad campaign featuring Olympic athletes making payments in a number of ways—swiping a credit card and tapping a phone at the checkout of a store and completing online mobile purchases. The ad, which will appear on broadcast TV and online, will debut in January ahead of the Winter Games in South Korea.

While sound strategy isn’t brand new—Ms. Biggar noted signature sounds from Intel and NBC—it’s now top of mind for brands as consumers increasingly rely on voice assistants like Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home instead of traditional online searching or web surfing.

“We all are becoming very responsive to the use of sound,” said Ms. Biggar.

Visa was also spurred by research that showed the importance of having a brand presence at the point-of-sale, versus just in TV ads or other marketing materials. With the Visa mark at point-of-sale, consumers are more likely to think a merchant is reputable, go into an unfamiliar store and return for a repeat purchase, said Ms. Biggar.

Visa will be piloting its new brand cues in early 2018.

Visa “really truly is everywhere you want to be,” said Ms. Biggar, referring to the company’s three-decade-old tagline. “It meant something at the time, and now it truly is evolving as the world of payments evolves.”

Write to Alexandra Bruell at [email protected]

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