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Fashion Shows vs. In-Store Environment: The Music’s Context in Marketing

These days, the goal of preserving brand identity is at the forefront of every marketing agenda. Every so often, our expert music curators hear from store managers, asking us to add their brand’s fashion show music to in-store playlists. With the best of intentions, these managers are aiming to maintain cohesion across different facets of a brand. It might seem like a simple request, but let’s consider whether incorporating catwalk music at retail locations is an effective sales strategy.

Transmitting brand identity through music is just half of what must done; the other half is to enhance the customer experience in ways suited to the context of a particular setting and moment. As well-known British fashion designer Vivienne Westwood put it:

“[Music] is more important than the clothes… If the music isn’t right, then people aren’t in the right mood”.

When considering the difference between fashion shows and an in-store experience, the high-impact yet fleeting nature of the first is in direct contrast to the need for containment and follow-through in retail. The delivery mode for each is different, carving a path that guides us toward effective use of music to accompany two very different experiences.

Catwalk Music and the Hunt for Immediate Impact

Fashion shows last approximately fifteen minutes. With each ensemble displayed one by one, the role of music is to enhance perception of the garments by creating a specific auditory environment: one that instantly builds emotional resonance with the public. There are very few minutes to put your brand’s personality on record, to connect with your public, and to present a collection packaged in a complimentary environment.

The reasons for choosing certain types of music in a fashion show are almost as varied as the music that can be played. On the catwalk, music is much more than a marketing element. In fact, it takes on a life of its own, becoming one of the defining elements allowing fashion to be interpreted as art.

Taking this into account, it’s natural that in recent years we have been treated to a vast array of musical selections. Not limited to the usual specialized performances of DJs (or as they like to be called, “sound illustrators” or “sound designers”), we have also seen artists such as hip-hop artist Jay-Z redefine elegance at the historically conservative Chanel, and even a show held in complete silence (as when Marc Jacobs made simplicity his loudest feature).

The stakes are raised when music is expected to impact and surprise the public. We see new strategies employed, including a rising number of live performances being given on the catwalk. Prices for tickets to these shows are skyrocketing. A recent trend has been to launch new music right on the catwalk, such as the unreleased Prince songs at Donatella Versace’s show, and French electronic musician SebastiAn presenting new music via a Saint Laurent debut.

Another key differentiation between catwalk and retail musical styles is the element of rhythm. Catwalk music tends to have a strong beat throughout. This enhances models’ performance when walking in a predetermined speed, giving more control of the show to its organizers. Professional models are quick to profess that pronounced beats help even the youngest and least experienced among them to stride confidently down the catwalk, even in towering heels.

Clearly, strong rhythm is ideal for live fashion venues. This and many other factors add up to musical choices which may be perfectly suited to the runway. Yet they can also be in conflict with the clear principal objectives of retail marketing: to compel consumers to enter the shop and to make purchases. When cat-walk style beats and rhythms are applied in-store, challenges immediately arise. Customers arrive, pacing through the store at race-car speed, and then they leave. To put it mildly, this hurried response is not the desired effect for retail.

Maximizing Sales through Understanding the In-Store Customer

In-store, the company is face to face with a client who is in a much more formal stage of the buying process. At that moment, emphasis should not be focused on the high-impact impression suited to a catwalk. The customer is influenced by other factors, and probably has a pre-conceived ideas of what the brand represents. Music is used to reinforce those ideas.

In this phase, control of customer behavior takes an essential role (in contrast to the passive experience of viewing a catwalk). Retail music should be used as a fundamental element for sensory marketing. Naturally, we recommend selecting music that is consistent with the brand image. This means keeping things as centrally coordinated as possible: maintaining the same style in all shop locations and coordinating it in the case of chains. But the music must be specifically suited to retail purposes.

The entire concept of how sound works is different between catwalks and stores. Music at a background level, with store sound systems, can’t be appreciated for the same nuances that are the main highlighters of a fashion show. Instead the main features of the songs are highlighted at a lower volume typical of an in-store setting. Choosing effective music requires a strategic understanding of how to craft a compelling, brand-consistent customer experience in the retail environment.

At the end of the day, the context in which music is played has as much importance in sensory marketing as the idea behind it. Using venue-appropriate strategies and implementing proven auditory environmental techniques is the key to tying customer experience to the desired outcomes.  For more information on how to incorporate music more effectively for your brand, please contact our experts at

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