As a business owner, you can use sound 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 can make sound a direct avenue to a customer's emotions, and can lead to increased brand recognition for your company. In fact, Man Made Music, a company focused on sonic branding, says studies show that music can lead to a 46 percent 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.
How to use sound
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 respective industry while setting it apart from competitors. The best way a business can do this is by approaching sound through the lens of sonic humanism.
"What sonic humanism is really about is looking at all the dimensions in the way that thoughtful use of music and sound can make our lives better," Beckerman said.
There are a few other concrete skills as well. First off, businesses should try and differentiate themselves from their competitors by using sound. If your competitor plays a certain type of music in their store, don't play that same kind of music.
"Play something different," he 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."
This experience can reflect your business's culture, values or overall view toward the world. It's something that should complement your brand and provide a fresh look into the story behind your business.
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 percent when stores played slow music instead of fast music. This study was later verified by a group of scientists 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 you had, 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," Beckerman said. "You may want to play slower tempo music to have people really kind of look around and pay attention to, 'Oh, there's this salad bar, I'm buying all this other stuff, but let me get my lunch to go, too.'"
Fast music creates the opposite mood, prompting customers to get in, get whatever they need and keep moving. Depending on the type of business you are running, slow or fast music contributes greatly to the flow of customers heading in and out of your store.
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 – how grating that 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."
After understanding and thinking through these concepts, choose the right type of music for your business. This can be a big 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, evolutionary
- Piano/percussion – Heartfelt, emotive, personal, driving energy, velocity, or anxiety
- Drums – Driving, motivating, primal, communal
- Electric guitar – Power, youthful energy, rebellion
Is it working?
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? Beckerman boiled it down to one main way: the cash register.
"The number one thing is look at the cash register," he 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, however, 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."
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 better 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."