This article was written by Charles Gadsdon, the Global Director of Growth at international music and sound creative agency MassiveMusic.
Yo-Yo Ma is one of the world’s foremost cellists. From child prodigy to 19-time Grammy Award winner, he has dedicated his life to music and the music industry.
Ma has also proven himself to be very insightful. “Music,” he says, “is powered by ideas. If you don’t have clarity of ideas, you’re just communicating sheer sound.”
Music and, by extension, world-class audio, requires innovation. It doesn’t simply appear out of thin air. This is why so much time and energy has been invested in researching the science behind sound. People have dedicated their lives to finding out what kind of audio resonates well with audiences.
The same can be said for retail. Brands are constantly searching for marketing, engagement, and retention strategies that play to their target consumers. Increasingly, one of those avenues is audio. Music and sound can be a powerful marketing asset when utilized correctly.
After the industry’s recent shake-up, courtesy of the pandemic, audio is arguably more important than ever. Sonic strategies have consistently been underutilized by retail brands.
But as they navigate today’s physical, digital, metaverse hybrid landscape, retailers have a unique opportunity to invest in developing a distinguishable sound identity.
The question is: where to start?
A new retail landscape changing the record
Faced with multiple lockdowns and social distancing, consumer behaviors have changed. Online shopping has become a staple of society, and experts estimate that the pandemic accelerated the growth of ecommerce by around five years.
Brick-and-mortar stores used to be the frontline for retailers—a place to connect with audiences face-to-face. COVID-19 transformed this landscape, foot traffic fell as online spending rose.
As a result, the value of the global retail ecommerce market is forecast to reach more than $5 trillion in 2022, rising from $2.98 trillion in 2018.
For many brands, the challenge is learning how to fully utilize the value of omnichannel retail—including the fast-growing real estate of the metaverse and trends of token gating and NFTs. Retailers like Nike, Burberry, and Victoria’s Secret are already investing heavily.
Sound plays an important role wherever and however your shoppers are browsing. For example, a 2015 eye tracking study proved that shoppers read little in-store because it slows them down. Sound can also be leveraged to help consumers navigate a physical retail space.
Ironclad sonic strategies are effective at tying digital and physical experiences together. Brands pursuing the omnichannel approach - and seeking to drive improved salience - must have continuity. This means using the same voiceover artists and having a consistent sonic DNA to create uniformity across both your website and brick-and-mortar store.
Sound advice for retailers
For many retailers, especially those at the start of their sonic branding journey, knowing where to begin can seem daunting. It’s important to align the way you sound to your values as a brand. That’s why we developed the world’s first data-driven sonic branding tool, MassiveBASS, which allows brands to input values to identify the sound that best connects the brand to listeners on an emotional level.
Building this emotional connection is key, especially as consumer expectations are shifting - music and sound are now integral parts of modern retail environments.
But audio does not need to be the focal point. Retailers can use it in tandem with the other senses to hone, and improve, consumers’ overall experience.
Point of sale and utilizing audio for directional purposes
Offering continuity throughout the discovery, shopping, and transaction processes is vital. Digital tablets and signage have already modernized consumers’ experience by providing easy access to information.
Audio can enhance this experience. Tactics like placing directional speakers placed at the point of sale (POS) checkout area or placing voiceovers in strategic positions can offer enhanced experiences during the checkout process while ensuring other shoppers aren’t disturbed.
Develop consistency across branding
Establishing a sonic strategy is important, but retailers must recognize that there isn’t a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution.
When it comes to in-store playlist curation, the choice of sound and audio must be tailored to fit both the retail space and customer base, and this applies to both brick-and-mortar stores and virtual spaces. In fact, a 2019 HUI study found that employee-chosen music could reduce total sales by 9%. Instead, brands should intentionally curate playlists that fit their brand personality and ladder up to their overarching sonic strategy.
Providing consumers with a positive environment to interact with—irrespective of if you are targeting in-person shoppers or online browsers—is essential. Using audio to breed familiarity will help drive retention and sales higher.
Music tempo also plays a crucial role. Studies find that fast-tempo music can be responsible for driving consumers out of the store—a principle also relevant to successful e-commerce sites. Slower music can relax customers, increase browsing time, and boost the likelihood of making a sale.
MassiveMusic recently worked with Nespresso to enhance brand identity and improve customer experience. After spending time with the Nespresso team to better understand the brand identity, we created three concept playlists for its 700 retail stores to be played in the morning, afternoon, and evening.
These differed in tempo, mood, and style but still aligned with Nespresso’s core musical concept of “new luxury” encapsulating tones like fresh, positive, warm and welcoming. All three playlists also supported the goal of enhancing the brand’s identity, consumer experience, and dwell time.
Over the course of the project, Nespresso has grown to 84.3 billion Swiss francs as of 2020. This is up from 15.6 billion in 2016, with the boutiques accounting for approximately 30% of revenue.
How to implement your sonic strategy
Audio can facilitate fantastic results in bricks-and-mortar stores, on e-commerce sites and within virtual worlds. Whether you’re focused on growing your online presence or refining your brick and mortar space, it’s important to develop an effective sonic strategy. This relies on three core steps:
1. Put your values at the center of your sonic brand
Your sound needs to align with your values as a brand as it’s the most effective way to emotionally connect with your consumers, drive recall and increase distinguishability against competitors. The right sound can increase in-store spend by 9.1%, so it’s a big opportunity for brands.
2. Execute your strategy across all touchpoints
One of the biggest benefits of investing in your sonic strategy as a retailer is being able to link the experiences across ecommerce and physical in-store. Wherever customers find you, it’s important that they can recognize you by your sound. It can be a key driver of physical to digital transformation and build brand equity.
3. Hire sonic strategy experts
Consider partnering with a specialist music agency to learn how to use the right audio to reshape your brand identity.
Selfridges worked with MassiveMusic to develop new playlists for its four UK stores—each needing a unique sound. After researching the brand’s target demographics and building a customer profile to increase browsing time, MassiveMusic enabled Selfridges to grow from £810m in 2019 to £853m in 2020.
Agencies such as MassiveMusic can provide you with the tools you need to transition into the audio space with ease.
Music speaks louder than words
Yo-Yo Ma is far from the only individual in the world that appreciates the power of sound. Still, it has taken far too long for brands to understand the lucrative rewards that premium sonic strategies can offer.
Music and sound can provide consumers with a warm, welcoming atmosphere—the type of environment that incentivizes spending. Music and sound have been around for centuries. Now more than ever, retailers should tune in and listen to the benefits.