January 26, 2024
To many of us, it’s quite obvious that music possesses a power that we’re yet to fully understand.
Most people can recall reading about surprising new studies that have proven many wonderful powers that music can hold, such as bringing back memory for sufferers of Alzheimer's disease, improving the function of the immune system, or even helping stutterers with their speech.
When considering using music within a commercial setting, there are several key factors to take into consideration, from BPM to lyrics and the mood of tracks, as well as cultural or social factors. When this is paired with the knowledge of behavioural science, which holds information and insights on how music will adapt the behaviour of customers, it is possible to build a music profile that works towards all of your commercial objectives, supports them, or indeed makes them possible at all.
The following is an excerpt from our new book, Atmospheres That Sell - Using Behavioural Science To Create Branded Atmospheres in Retail & Hospitality.
People move to the music
At the risk of sounding overly basic, music tempo affects how people move. Want them to move quicker? Play faster music. Want them to slow down? You guessed it, play slower tempo music. People will take a cue from music that subconsciously adapts their behaviour, and one of the most basic adaptations is the speed of movement or arousal levels.
For example, a study by Milliman entitled, ‘The Influence of Background Music on the Behavior of Restaurant Patrons’, concluded that restaurant diners exposed to slow music spent an average of 11 minutes longer at their table than those who were exposed to fast music. That is quite the difference. Your task is to consider what pace of movement (and arousal) supports your objectives, considering all that we know about human behaviour.
Think back to (or read again) the discussion on System 1 and System 2 thinking in the first chapter - which of these better suit your objectives? If you’re looking for impulse purchases you’re likely to have a very different playlist curation than if you’re looking to increase dwell-time.
Sound as a distinctive brand asset
Source effect, also known as the halo effect, is the knock-on of one positive impression to another potentially unconnected piece of information. We see an athlete we like, we see them talk about a cereal they like - we merge the two and consider that we like the cereal. It’s the fundamental operation that supports celebrity endorsement, or as some like to call it these days, influencer marketing. It’s the borrowing of established beliefs and rubbing them up against the thing we want to transfer it to.
This is a simple description of what music can do to your customers’ perceptions of your brand. Want them to think you’re young, fresh, hip and hop (clearly I’m not)? Then you’re not likely to be planning in a lot of classical music. This is one area of music curation for commercial settings that most businesses find comes most naturally to them, and this is expectable since your brand is your value source.
One thing businesses are less good at considering is a more complete point of view of music and sound across your brand. What sound does your POS make? What does it sound like in your bathrooms? What sounds does your app make? What about your loyalty scheme, does that leverage sound? I’d encourage you to push your use of music and sound much further than simply in playing background music.
We worked with a fantastic US diner that wanted to consider every single touchpoint with the brand, offline and in-store, and every sound they would hear. Even down to the sound of the waste bins, or the close of the door behind them when a customer left. Their brand was imbued, reinforced and repeated in each of these touchpoints. This took what we know from the mere-exposure effect (crudely, the more we experience something, the more we like it) and paired with the power of familiarity - this brand worked harder than any of their competitors because they pushed it into every corner of the customer experience. And when these factors work well, guess which brand is more likely to be preferred? To be top of mind? To therefore enjoy repeat custom and better customer lifetime value?
Yes, music that imbues your brand's qualities is great, but really that’s only the beginning.
Music as a modifier
There have been many studies over the years that have shown music adapting behaviour within a commercial setting. They most often directly relate to revenue or spend, and could therefore place the use of music at the heart of any good business plan.
Here are some of the effects that have been reported:
- Playing classical music can lead to higher spending compared to both no music and pop music.
- Loud music causes customers to spend less time in stores compared to softer background music.
- Loud music can cause customers to buy higher-calorie foods, as their arousal increases, they increasingly reach for high-fat foods.
- Groups subjected to slower music spent up to 40% more on drinks compared to groups that were played fast music.
- Classical music can dissuade people from committing anti-social behaviour.
- Music can slow your heart rate, reduce oxytocin levels (stress hormones) and therefore increase the likelihood of dwell, product or ad consideration and browsing.
- Positive music can make you better at recognising peoples smiles and perhaps more surprisingly, make you more likely to see a smile where there isn’t one. In effect, it moderates your perception of the world.
This list could go on and on. There are two things that I’d like you to consider from this point; (1) music is incredibly powerful and can support some of your most critical business objectives, and (2) it’s highly context-sensitive.
Rather than present all of the above to you as plain facts that you can go ahead and implement, building a branded atmosphere, considering the complexities and tension between your objectives across all three factors (contextual, customer and commercial), it would be unfair and incorrect of me to suggest that music can be so simple. There are clearly many uses of music within a commercial setting, however, the process should be to test and then scale. For all that studies within some contexts have produced a certain result, that doesn’t mean that this will happen for you.
So of course, do your homework on the kinds of things music can support, but then it’s down to testing to see what works for you, and then scaling what works best. As we often say at Startle, music is powerful, but using it with intention takes skill. And that’s not to opt-out of giving away ‘inside’ knowledge, it’s the more robust truth of using music within a commercial context as a complex and sensitive beast. Treat her carefully.
To find out more about the world’s first behavioural science book specific to retail and hospitality, head here.