Music as Engagement

Today's extract from HIT BRANDS centres on the universality of music, specifically in relation to the engagement of consumers within a retail environment.

In our earlier chapter documenting the history of music branding, we touched on the physical location of retail, restaurant and hospitality brands. In this chapter, we are going to dive deep into this area and discuss the fundamentals of how brands can use music to really engage with their audience. It doesn't take a mountain of research to know that music, like all emotive art forms, engages and touches its audience.

Let’s look at some recent studies demonstrating that music is the single most engaging art, media or entertainment form on the planet. In 2009, MidemNet and Music Matters conducted a survey to better understand music consumption around the world. They surveyed 8500 individuals across 13 different markets (including China, Brazil, the United States, the UK, France, India, Australia, Canada and more). Sixty-three percent of respondents consider themselves to be PASSIONATE about music. That is an extraordinary two-thirds of the entire population of the Earth! This is in comparison to only 6 percent who indicated that they DO NOT CARE about music.

Similarly, the Youth and Music Survey of 2009 from Marrakesh Records and Human Capital explored the importance of music among British 15-24 year-olds. They found that even though these young adults are unwilling to pay for music, it is still vital to their everyday lives. Sixty percent would rather go without sex than music for a week. Similarly, the 2007 Brandamp study from Millward Brown showed that music is the medium that people would least like to live without (beating the internet, film, books and TV). In the same study, 85 percent felt that music changes their mood. So, we start to see that people value music even though they do not wish to pay for it.

And just as much as people love music, they avoid ads. A recently conducted survey by the National Institute for Consumer Research (SIFO) showed that 75 percent of people actively avoid advertising, whether it is on TV, internet or radio. This means people are recording their shows, avoiding banner ads and changing the radio dial during a commercial. If you are an advertiser with a $300 million ad budget, it should cause alarm to know that $225 million of that ad buy is being actively avoided. Using the right music in your ads is one way to engage people and our previous chapters and case studies point to some pretty successful examples. But when we look at the retail level and online social media channels, we find that music offers other compelling and impactful ways of keeping your customers engaged.

We have often understood that music had an impact on a brand's shopping environment. In January 2012, qualitative and quantitative research was conducted in a variety of stores across different markets in the United States including Atlanta, New York, Dallas, Chicago and Los Angeles. Over two consecutive days, each individual store was tested with the branded music on and off. From 600 quantitative surveys and 80 shop-alongs, we observed trends in traffic patterns, product and staff interactions and the length of time customers spent in store. In all conversations, we questioned shoppers about the reason for their visit, their satisfaction with the store experience, their reactions to the environment and opinions on the music, or lack thereof. We found that music plays an important role in the store experience - both blatant and subtle — and is a particular driver of energy. Pre-recruited interviewees described the store when music was present as upbeat and energetic, even during slow times.

They even used the brand's own attributes (‘welcoming’ for example) to describe the store, which proved that our soundtrack was successfully underscoring their brand. When music was not present, they described the store as quiet and slow. Beyond energy, music was shown to create a ‘sound shroud’ to help dampen other customer and employee interactions. Music diffused unpleasant interactions with employees and even minimized perceived wait time. On the days when music was present, customers appeared to be more relaxed and move more freely about the store. They were also more likely to browse and pick up products, even after their transaction was complete. One customer was quoted as saying ‘I want music when I am looking at gadgets’.

Perhaps most interesting, the shopping experience was considered to be three times more enjoyable for customers in stores that had the branded music. This supports the idea that music is essential to a productive and pleasant store environment and we would always recommend the presence of music to enhance a customer experience.

Dr Oliver Sacks, the well-known author and professor of neurology at the NYU School of Medicine, has published several books that discuss the power that music can have on those afflicted with a host of ailments. His research shows that music can help those coping with debilitating conditions, in particular head trauma. When discussing Musicophilia, the New York Times bestseller he released in 2007, he wrote:

Music can move us to the heights or depths of emotion. It can persuade us to buy something, or remind us of our first date. It can lift us out of depression when nothing else can. It can get us dancing to its beat. But the power of music goes much, much further. Indeed, music occupies more areas of our brain than language does — humans are a musical species. Obviously, for us and our colleagues and peers, the key in that quote is ‘persuade us to buy something’. And while we can't point to a single, unifying theory that music can make a customer purchase certain products, there are some interesting studies which support the effect that music has on the shopping environment. We will cover those shortly.

Music can be the message

Some brands use music as a foreground component of their brand becoming a tastemaker, being known for their music taste and style. These brands encourage their audiences to discover new music and share what they have found, creating a conversation among their shoppers. To illustrate this, we would like you to go to Twitter right now and hit the search bar. Type in the term ‘playing’ along with any tastemaker brand (think Urban Outfitter, Abercrombie& Fitch, American Apparel). You are guaranteed to see chatter among the audience — either loving (or hating) the music playing in these stores. In fact, at work, we use this all the time to measure how our soundtracks are doing among our clients’ customers.

It helps validate what we have promised for our clients — a compelling and engaging music soundtrack. Consumers who are tweeting the music heard in a store are engaged, whether it is intentional or not. Even though we know that customers are avoiding advertising, we still see that consumers are moved by the music they heard during a 30- or 60-second spot. All over the web, there are websites dedicated to uncovering songs heard in a commercial (see,, for example). These consumers are having a conversation without the brand's involvement, which can be a good thing when people are eager to know the song they just heard. It continues to confound those of us experts in this field, however, why and how brands and the music industry have left it up to consumers to dig up this information on their own. That people are willing to build websites and share this information without anyone asking them to shows how overly compelling music is. Imagine how that conversation among consumers could go if it was actually facilitated by the brands themselves.

A 2000 study by Hargreaves, North and McKendrick found that ‘Music affects customers’ estimates of the maximum sum they would pay for products.’ Knowing that the right music compels an audience to increase the value of a product in their minds is extremely powerful. This goes back to our reason for collaborating to bring you this book in the first place — bringing value, adding value, using music to increase value to a brand.

Looking at restaurants, we have seen studies in which up-tempo music played, say, during lunch service would increase sales, or that diners stay longer and dine longer when slow-tempo music was played at night. This is something that restaurateurs already know — it is obvious — but the research underlines it.

Two studies in the late 1990s showed that music in a store is not a passive experience. The Gallup Organization Survey of 1996 found that ‘33% of shoppers admitted that the music in a store influenced their decision to make a purchase’, while Music Choice reported in 1996 that 91% of shoppers said music affected their behavior’.

Now, it may have affected them to leave the store or shop after a longer or shorter time. whatever, but it did affect them nonetheless. Music is clearly having an effect on your customers — so how can you harness that?

Today, there are countless ways that music can be a tool of engagement for brands. We follow this introduction with conversations with our clients about how a brand can use music to engage their customers. Some take a forward-thinking approach, while others try a more conventional route; some feel music is a cornerstone, while others view it as ‘filling up the silence’ in their stores. Either way, they all agree: the right music for the right customer experience is vital. Have you ever walked out of a store or restaurant because the music is so inappropriate or off in some way? If you answered yes, then you are halfway to understanding this power.

Daniel M Jackson, CEO - CORD

with David Marcus, Richard Jankovich and Eric Sheinkop