For Better or Worse: Your Environmental Sound is Affecting Consumer Behavior

Adam Pleiman
June 9, 2020

icture a kitchen, a husband and wife are cooking, stepping around each other while their 3 kids are playing nearby with one of 2 dogs. The music of Miles Davis is playing, but to be able to hear it the volume has been turned up slightly.

Sounds nice right? Some chill music for a chill moment.

Well, as time goes on the children and dogs get louder, the meal sizzles and the music level gets pushed higher. Soon rather than speaking to ask simple requests of the children the couple is talking louder and the kids decide that to be able to hear each other they have to be louder too. Slowly the collective blood pressure of the room starts to raise and once this ascension starts, no amount of Miles Davis can bring it back down. Inevitably something breaks it, a kid melts down, one of the chefs makes a mistake and starts to lose their Miles Davis cool.

What happened in this scenario is just a glimpse into how sound affects us in major and minor ways everywhere we go. In this article we are going to explore the factors that come into play when it comes to eliciting the right behavior from our consumers while creating a best in class experience.

Music Selection Matters

We know as brands that finding the right music bed or background music can be challenging but when it is right the pairing pays dividends in consumer loyalty and overall elevated consumer experience. But, what brands might not realize is that the music selection can actually change what our consumers buy.

A study published in The Journal of Applied Psychology observed wine sales at a grocery store. The store played French music and German music on alternating days and observed the sales patterns. What happened was that on the days that the French music was playing French wine sales were up and on days that German music played the opposite happened. The kicker was that when asked if the consumers noticed what music was playing some of them didn't even realize there was any playing (much less what style it was). Of course this causes all sorts of ethical questions, but It makes me wonder what we could be doing right or wrong with how we are handling our consumer experiences.

Sound Levels Matter

Not only does the song that is playing play a role in establishing the right consumer experience, but the level may be a much more important variable. Think of it this way, if you were to sit down in a super loud restaurant for lunch you would most probably eat quickly, pay your bill promptly, and leave. This is a strategy. That restaurant doesn't want you to linger. That restaurant will make more money if they can turn the table and get another parton there before the lunch rush ends. Conversely when drinks, after dinner coffee, and desserts are involved the music and sound levels are often times lower, creating a more comfortable atmosphere inviting the patrons to linger and order an additional beverage or treat.

The strategy of sound levels are not just for restaurants anymore.

Studies have shown that the level of music and ambient sound in grocery stores influences how healthy the decisions are of the shoppers.

For instance, on days when the music is louder, the store in the study saw an increase in processed food sales, while on days when the music was quieter produce experienced an increase. This happens because when we are at a heightened level of anxiety we tend to make the more emotional choice (tasty potato chips) rather than the rational one (the healthy salad).

Where to Start

It can seem daunting to tackle a strategic approach to music and sound but getting started is easy. With or without research budgets the safest starting point is to develop your brand's sonic principals, define what sounds and what music conveys the right amount of your brand's character. This happens through sonic moodboard workshops or online exercises. After that understand is achieved the ability to create or select music for your brand gets exponentially easier.

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