- Sound can be used to influence customers at a physical location.
- The way sound is used and the volume can either increase or decrease the time a customer spends at a business.
- Considering how sound relates to your brand is a critical part of employing audio for sales and marketing.
- This article is for small business owners and marketers who want to influence customer behavior and experience using sound.
When you think of marketing, you might think of a static visual ad such as a magazine spread, billboard or advertisement on social media. However, there are many other ways that your business can strengthen its brands and drive sales. One of those ways is using sound. When we talk about sound or audio marketing, it is less about the spoken word than about using tones, ambient sounds and music to connect with customers on an emotional level.
Sound can be used to market your brand, drive sales and connect with customers. It takes only 0.146 seconds for a human being to hear and interpret a sound. This makes sound a direct avenue to a customer’s emotions and can lead to increased brand recognition for your company. According to Man Made Music, a company focused on sonic branding, music can lead to a 46% increase in brand favorability.
But not everyone is a composer or musician, so how can your business use sound effectively? There are a few quick and easy ways to implement sound into your business – whether you’re trying to pump up sales at your retail store or rebrand your whole business. At the center of this practice, however, is critical thought – it’s crucial to listen to music and sounds and analyze how you feel before implementing anything.
Different types of audio marketing
You can use sound in a variety of ways, depending on what you are trying to achieve. Here are the key strategies to use sound in your marketing efforts.
Your business probably already has a graphic (visual) logo, but did you know that you can also have a sonic logo? A sonic logo is a short series of notes that is unique to your business. Sonic logos include the dramatic “ta-dum” of Netflix, NBC’s cresting xylophone notes, the McDonald’s “I’m lovin’ it” whistled tune and Mastercard’s synthesizer tones.
Sonic logos strengthen your brand and are usually played while your visual logo is being displayed in a video or television ad. They reinforce your company’s branding. In the examples above, the sounds communicate certain moods and themes:
- Netflix: Drama, excitement
- NBC: Balanced, family entertainment
- McDonald’s: Casual and carefree
- Mastercard: Modern and digital, ready for e-commerce
Soundscapes are custom-created continuous or long-lasting combinations of music with other sounds. They are meant to set a mood.
For example, a resort-wear store may have a soundscape that combines Caribbean steel drum music with the sound of surf and seagulls with a little tinkling of ice in a glass mixed in.
A store selling whimsical clothing for young girls could have a soundscape that includes flute music trilling magical sounds. Soundscapes can be used in retail environments, healthcare (soothing sounds to alleviate anxiety) or at events.
Playing music in a business environment – in-store or on-hold music – is the most commonly used form of sound marketing because it is the easiest to implement. Many stores play music from commercial-free satellite radio, or curated song lists from Spotify or sonic branding companies. Alternatively, you could commission custom music for your industry.
Considerations in choosing your sound
You can achieve the following by playing music at your business:
- Inspire emotion. Do you want customers to feel secure, lighthearted or calm? These are questions you should consider when selecting tones or music to play at your business. The sounds in the environment can shape how customers feel during their visit.
- Influence consumer behavior. Most retail businesses want customers to spend more time in their stores so they spend more money, so a slower tempo is best. Fast food and fast casual restaurants benefit from quicker table turnover, so a more upbeat tempo will help create that fast-paced environment.
- Tell your brand story. The music you would play in a store for teens will be wildly different from that played in the waiting area of a private banker. Think about what your customers’ music taste is and go back to the emotion you want to elicit to inform your music selection.
Joel Beckerman, founder of Man Made Music and author of The Sonic Boom: How Sound Transforms the Way We Think, Feel, and Buy, is a composer who has worked with sound and business to build sonic brands. He says that small businesses – from marketing companies to corner grocery stores – can use sound in a way that cements their brand in a specific industry while setting it apart from competitors.
1. Choose distinct and memorable sounds.
Try to differentiate your business from your competitors with sound. If your competitor plays a certain type of music in their store, “play something different,” Beckerman said. “Play something that is thoughtfully geared toward two things: differentiation so that you sound different than all the other [competitors], but even more important is [sounds] that are perfectly in sync with the kinds of experiences people want to have.”
2. Choose sounds specific to your business.
The auditory experience can reflect your business’s culture and values. It should complement your brand and provide a fresh look into the story behind your business.
3. Choose the right tempo.
The pace and beat of the music you play can also have a direct impact on the overall feel of your store as well as the buying habits of your customers. A study conducted by Ronald E. Milliman in the 1980s found that supermarket sales went up by 38% when stores played slow music instead of fast music. Researchers verified this study in 2011, proving that music does impact buyer behavior. In the case of some supermarkets, slow, mundane music subconsciously slows customers down, so they spend more time looking around at different products and end up buying more. Beckerman agreed with this theory.
“If you’re a bodega, let’s just say … in addition to selling a bunch of products and services that are available at the other stores, that you had the most awesome salad bar,” he said. “You may want to play slower tempo music to have people really kind of look around and [say], ‘Oh, there’s this salad bar. I’m buying all this other stuff, but let me get my lunch to go too.'”
4. Consider your audience.
The third thing to keep in mind when implementing sound into your business is who your audience is and in what context they’re interacting with your product or service. It’s important to know your audience, what they like or dislike and how you can play into these ideas with sound. Similarly, understand the context in which your customers will be interacting with your product. A quaint bookstore, for example, may not want to play heavy metal rock. This is an extremely important aspect of using sound, as getting it wrong could mean turning a customer off forever.
“When you get the sound wrong, people hate experiences,” Beckerman said. “People don’t realize how grating, like, something that’s just a little bit off … is to people. Even eliminating the sonic trash from people’s lives makes a huge difference. Even before you get it right, you just don’t want to get it wrong.”
Tip: It’s also important to get the volume correct. For most businesses, it should be loud enough that people can hear it but not so loud that it becomes their focus or requires them to shout to be heard.
After understanding and reflecting on these concepts, choose the right type of music for your unique company. This can be a daunting task, and it’s impossible to define exactly how each type of music affects people.
Man Made Music provided a list of instruments and the thoughts and feelings they evoke. This is a great launch point for deciding what music to play in your store or what sounds you want to associate with your business.
- Strings: Warmth, scale or scope; passionate, uplifting
- Horns: Power, elegance, impact, importance, strength, honor, bravery and heroism
- Synthesizer: Modern, forward-thinking and evolutionary
- Piano or percussion: Heartfelt, emotive, personal, driving energy, velocity or anxiety
- Drums: Driving, motivating, primal and communal
- Electric guitar: Power, youthful energy and rebellion
Emotions and sounds
A study at the University of California, Berkeley, identified 13 emotions provoked by different kinds of music.
- Amused: Upbeat, high-pitched songs like “Yakety Sax” and slide whistles
- Annoyed: Unstructured and dissonant sounds like very modern jazz
- Anxiety: Suspenseful music with sudden changes in tone
- Appreciative: Beautiful music, including many classical pieces such as Pachelbel’s “Canon” and Beethoven’s “Fur Elise”
- Soothed: The type of music you hear in spas, and sounds such as waves or rain
- Cheerful: Upbeat to medium tempo songs and sounds – especially those with positive lyrics such as “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” or “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz – and sounds like a baby laughing or birdsong
- Dreamy: Slow, flowing music or sounds with a repetitive theme, such as lullabies
- Energized: Upbeat music such as rock with guitar riffs, club and dance music
- Sultry: Slow music in lower notes, like songs by Al Green and Mavin Gaye
- Defiant: Rock and heavy metal music like Joan Jett or the Beastie Boys
- Sad: Slow music with deep piano sounds, like Adele’s “Hello” or Olivia Rodrigo songs
- Afraid: Very slow, dramatic music; howling wind or baying wolves
- Triumphant: Soaring, anthemic music such as the “Star-Spangled Banner”
Tip: When choosing your music or sound, consider other sensory characteristics of your brand and business location – such as the color and shape of your logo and your business decor – and make sure they are compatible.
Evaluating your marketing strategy
After you’ve done some critical evaluation and implemented new music or sounds into your business, how can you tell if it’s leading to more sales?
“The No. 1 thing is [to] look at the cash register,” Beckerman said. “You change a variable, and it’s like anything else in research … you see how it changes things. What’s interesting is there’s different expectations for different kinds of music and different parts of the day.”
This means it’s important to analyze sales throughout the day and consider how music is affecting those sales. Different pacing of traffic times could call for different types of music – rush hour could mean it’s time to put on fast-paced music, while off-peak hours could benefit from slow music. Beckerman said to make sure you’re wary of how the time of day is related to sound.
The other way to understand how sound is affecting your business is to ask customers. By asking a customer how they felt as they’re leaving the store or business, you can gauge how sound could be influencing their perception of your store. The most important aspect, however, is not to directly ask them what they thought of the music or sound. It’s better to understand their overall feeling instead. The key to all of this is experimentation.
“I think that the answer is to have people explore and try little experiments,” Beckerman said. “Something as simple as cash register [sales] and a little three-question exit poll can make all the difference in the world.”
Using sound to boost your business
Sound can be a powerful tool, so it’s important to experiment and figure out how you can use it best for your business. By using sound and music, you can directly relate to your customers and communicate your brand’s message through feeling and emotion. The best part about sound is anyone can try and use it to improve their business.
“Everybody has a Spotify subscription,” Beckerman said, “and it doesn’t have to take big bucks to be aware of this stuff and to think about it and apply these principles.”
Jennifer Dublino contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.