The science behind sensory marketing has always been based on common sense first, and then in experiments that formalized the proposed theories. In the case of music, there are many aspects to be taken into account: the rhythm, the genre, even the instruments involved.
If it were possible to weigh all these factors, one could create a perfect mathematical formula that, when entering variables about our business, could yield the perfect music for our needs. But for now, this topic is one that we can only approach with common sense and a yearning for experimentation.
The key to determining whether certain music is suited to an establishment is congruency between business’s brand image the music the business plays. What exactly is congruency? Put simply, it’s when the music matches the message we want to transmit to the public.
The easiest way to understand congruency and how we can use it in our favor is to differentiate between retail and hospitality businesses, and then to extrapolate our conclusions to other environments.
Retail: Who Does Your Customer Want to Be?
In retail stores the key to positioning is thinking about what type of person our customer aspires to be when buying our products.
Society has reached a point where we unconsciously judge stores by the type of music they play. This is because auditory marketing done correctly utilizes music as an extension of brand. Shops with urban aesthetics will tend to play hip hop music, while “hip” brands will often play more music.
If we think about it, brands that use mostly pop music in their stores are those that are not geared towards any specific population segment. Their goal is to appeal to a broad demographic, however this strategy is a privilege of brands that already have global positioning. Brands that fail to match music to the rest of their aesthetic are at risk of getting stuck in no-man’s land.
Most people use music to define our identity, especially during the teenage years: it affects the environments we choose to spend time in and the friends we want to spend time with. Clothing holds similar power: we dress as the people we are, but we tend to buy according to the people we want to be. This is why at SoundMachine we are obsessed with creating sound designs to maximize the potential of every music genre.
It can feel easier to feel our identity is tied to a type of music than to a style of clothing, and our ears are there to help in the doubtful moments when the eyes feel overwhelmed and all the garments seem the same.
Hospitality: Experience Over Identity
In hospitality, it’s clear that identification with the music that is playing is not so much about the identity of the consumer as it is about the situation of the moment. Therefore, the strategy here is different: what is it that the consumer has come here to experience, and how can we add intensity to it? And no, we don’t mean adding intensity by playing Celine Dion’s greatest hits! If we want to create a cozy environment, we have to play cozy music, and if we want a high-end environment, sophisticated music will be our go-to option.
Themed restaurants are one of the best examples of how congruency is key. Illustrated by this extreme example, if in an Italian restaurant we find French music playing, our impression of the place will be negatively affected by it – we won’t feel a sense of authenticity in the place, and our perception of quality will be reduced. In the same way, at an Italian restaurant we will associate classical Italian music with a more authentic experience than current Italian hits.
Nathalie T. M. Demoulin did a study on this concept in 2011. Her experiments demonstrated that people tend to associate musical congruency with a higher perception of quality. The study showed that customers at a French restaurant had a better impression of their food when they had been exposed to French music, and they even gave higher ratings to the service.
Applicable to all Commercial Environments
The significance of these cases can be extrapolated to other scenarios once the concept of congruency is clear.
The most obvious examples are gyms and fitness centers, where background music has to be energetic to prevent clients from losing concentration. Examples that are less clear but have the same significance of impact are hospitals, where music is a companion to the need for a tranquil setting.
Music has to be part of the message that is being transmitted, and not only that which fills the silence. What is it that resonates with your customers’ ideals?