I don’t know about you, but when someone mentions background music in shops, the first thing that comes to my mind is Pretty Woman. We can all picture Julia Roberts wearing white gloves with a large smile on her face as she strolls from shop to shop to the famous Roy Orbison tune, fully enjoying the moment.

Reality is rather different, and the typical in-store musical experience differs from this perfect Wednesday afternoon picture. It’s often an afterthought—and sometimes even a nightmare.

Music in stores is too often considered just a blank to fill in. However, whether consciously or not, music is one of the first things that the customer encounters when he enters a shop. Facing the deep changes of the retail industry over the last few years, brands have a strong interest in thinking through this subject. The benefits are large: to appeal to customers and build loyalty, but also to create a more differentiated experience, distinguishing themselves from the competition.

Indeed, to keep the customer coming back to branded spaces and make sure he doesn’t wander away, brands need to offer him a unique environment, an experience, an extra touch. In order to reach that goal, music is a tool that offers beautiful prospects.

 Music, a tool that reinforces the brand’s image

Music is one of the many components that creates the brand’s universe in shops, along with colours, materials, scents, layouts, lights… Creating a cohesive environment among these elements, in terms of complementarity or continuity, is a first step towards a harmonious retail experience.

H&M tells a different story than Zara or Uniqlo and Botanic’s differs from Gamm Vert’s. These differences go beyond the brand’s visual identity and products; they also stem from the in-store soundscape. The music at each of these retailers delivers meaning in terms of style, textures or instrumentation, creating a unique territory for each brand.

How to actually make it work? First, brands define a strong and committed concept. It can be inspired by the roots of the brand or its heritage. It can also be derived from the brand’s visual identity (pop and colourful or ethereal, for instance) or its brand-voice tone (funny or corporate, light or engaged). It can be calibrated to a target or to the brand’s products as well (the cosmetics space obviously doesn’t carry the same resonance as the automobile sector… or does it?).

Next, the concept will guide the creative and artistic choices concerning musical programming and marketing activation on social media. It will therefore be a handy tool to choose the most relevant spaces in which to play music in the shop. This methodology will help season after season, during the whole life cycle of the retail point. It is key to maintaining long-lasting consistency and satisfaction among the sales team.

Think about music strategically! Use each segment differently to create a fuller, stronger and more cohesive experience

The retail sector is gradually transforming the client’s journey. From Monoprix to Rituals, including Persillé or the Cogedim Store, brands are daring to break the usual architectural and visual codes. They are aiming for a different experience, one closer to consumers’ expectations.

Thinking about background music in non-linear terms is a way of taking advantage on the benefits only sound can bring. Using background music efficiently, in order to bring rhythm to the customer’s journey, enables the brand to create a genuine sound experience.

A relevant use of sound while carefully segmenting your customer’s journey is sure to deliver results. For instance, you could define different areas in which you could create a range of local atmospheres depending on the offers you want to promote. You also may want to look into customising dressing rooms and storefronts, or using the sound sources in unexpected, original ways.

There are many means to broadcast sound in order to create gratifying results. This includes digital and connected solutions that reinforce the bonds with customers.

Interaction between music and digital: how to capitalize on these complementary tools in order to create interaction and commitment?

Digital represents a brand-new playground in which to go further and enhance interaction with the target audience. Once again, music and sound are instrumental in this new ecosystem: they empower digital systems.

Options range from creating animations for an entire space (digital landscapes, LED walls) to the outfitting of digital supports (hands-on terminals, multimedia apps). Music enhances your attractiveness to visitors, strengthens employees’ corporate mentality, and brings people together around the brand. There is only one criterion: the need to match the place’s objectives and align with the brand promise. Otherwise, there is a risk of impeding the tools’ main purpose, thus detracting from the goal.

The digital fish tank in the Trois Fontaine shopping centre in Cergy, France (and owned by Hammerson) is a good example. It is both playful and attractive because it uses digital to effectively reinforce connections with visitors.

© Agence Zen’to
© Agence Zen’to

Thinking about music in shops in alignment with communication and marketing channels

Visiting a showroom or a shop hardly represents the only opportunity to get in touch with the brand, and clients have numerous occasions to connect. Harmonizing means of expression is a way to nurture and strengthen the brand. Brands reinforce their identity and boost their recognition by taking control of their clients’ journey and gradually setting sounds in a specific style.

Dear brand managers, chief marketing officers, product managers, communication officers, salesmen, shop owners, architectural offices… think over this very important matter the moment you start to think about your business!

What you have here is an interesting way of delighting your visitors—and maybe making them smile à la Julia Roberts.

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Julie founded Ladoré Audio Branding after an extensive career in one of Europe’s leading sound design agency. As a Key Account Manager, she helped internationally renowned brands in various industries such as luxury, transports, automotive, insurances, health (...) in constructing and maintaining their sound identity in order to create value for their brands and increase the impact of their communications. Julie advises companies on how to deal with their sound communication to strengthen their brands, differentiate from the competitors, and to create more link with their audiences, through all touchpoints (shops, events, advertisements, videos, apps, telephone...).