How retailers can unlock the power of music and sound

The biggest change in retail we will see caused by the Covid-19 pandemic is an accelerated shift to eCommerce and digital. This growing movement has already caused the demise of many bricks and mortar shops and legacy brands in the UK and across the world. But this latest challenge has really exposed those who have delayed digital transformation and what may have been in the plan as a long-term shift has suddenly become the key to survival.

Consistent research has shown that companies who invest in their brands will propel with accelerated growth out of a recession. Whilst other brand-building strategies might be in place, brand building with the power of music and sound remains largely untapped. In a recent report by Ipsos, the global market research specialists, that looked at the effectiveness of distinctive brand assets, it was recommended that brand assets, such as brand characters or mascots, and sonic cues, are more effective than assets that are leveraged from wider culture, such as celebrities and music. And, while less frequently used, audio assets are, on average, more effective than some visual assets. This creates the perfect opportunity for smart retailers to seize the opportunity and stand out.

In-store experience

Footfall in physical stores has dramatically dropped, with the UK high street suffering its greatest ever decline and retailers still seeing low numbers despite lockdown restrictions easing. However, instilling trust, comfort and safety in customers remains paramount.

Retailers have a responsibility to show consumers that they are trustworthy and are prioritising safety. Many studies prove that music can help drive purchase intent but it can also play a powerful role in relieving anxiety, which is heightened now more than ever. Alongside consistent brand messaging on policies and procedure, music can provide a calming effect and has been scientifically proven to impact the psychobiological stress system. By implementing this as part of the wider brand strategy, retailers can ensure they are doing everything possible to keep the experience positive at this time.

Digital innovation and striking the right note with customers

Online retail sales have risen dramatically since the pandemic began. With many brands having had to fast-track to online shopping, making that experience as meaningful as possible is key. The use of music and sound is still largely underused in areas where it can play a key role in bigger brand building. If you take away the in-store experience which includes a visual 3D environment and real salespeople and move to a 2D digital marketplace it’s easy to lose that emotional engagement. Music can play a crucial role in bringing back that emotional layering that makes people want to linger for longer and ultimately shop more. Retailers should be looking at content that is truly impactful at this time, working on ensuring customers are recalling the brand and its messaging more and viewing it as in control rather than panicking.

For fashion retailers, music can be added to the videos showing the outfits on models, setting the mood that the outfit is designed for, heightening that browsing experience. Notifications that assure, inform and gratify can be brought into a wider sound strategy – for example, a sound notification that thanks the customer for the purchase, that tells you when it is being delivered, that offers discounts and offers. These sonic triggers are simple and functional but still rooted in the emotional engagement between company and customer. Food companies that use app technology could add interesting sound elements to engage with customers on a fun and gaming level. This ear-con suite can be used in their communications on TV and radio too that will drive recall to the brand (and subliminally make you hungry!). The technology infrastructure already exists so why not use it for bigger brand thinking. When a customer has a home supermarket delivery, that gratification moment where the order is signed for could be quickly followed up by a sonic cue via the app that completes the ordering process and thanks the customer, laddering back up to the service of the brand - which can be especially meaningful if a customer has had to wait longer than usual for the delivery during this time.

Technological shifts in retail

It was announced in recent weeks that Facebook is launching its Shop window that will allow business profiles to become storefronts. With plans to roll it out on Instagram later this year, music can play a key role in distinguishing brands from competitors.

Bond more emotionally with customers

With the rise in streaming platforms, such as YouTube or Spotify, there have never been more opportunities to extend customer engagement using music. We recently worked with Chiquita, a global banana distributor and the biggest in the US, in taking the iconic blue sticker that features on over 400 million individual bananas and adding a code for consumers to scan and access carefully curated Spotify playlists to suit different moods, including remixes we created of the brand’s iconic jingle. These additional brand layers also help transition the customer between the physical and digital worlds.

Similarly, podcasts have seen a big rise in listenership and retailers should be capitalising on this. For example, a fashion retailer unveiling a new collection could link to a podcast episode with the designer talking about what inspired the range. Supermarkets selling rum could link to a video or podcast with a world-renowned mixologist teaching viewers how to make the perfect mojito. A furniture company selling beds could deliver it complete with playlists. For example, chilled out tunes for getting ready to sleep.

A phone-line that has customers on hold could provide sounds and music that are enjoyable to hear and that root back to the brand identity. For example, imagine a message that says ‘the music you are listening to is part of who we are. Each second you’re on hold we are donating a % of money to charity’. This technical innovation offers a vast array of opportunities for brands, lengthening that brand experience in a positive and meaningful way.

The key for any brand is to remember that music is not a by-product but a tool that can increase the quality and meaning of your communications, develop recall to your brand and, most importantly, deliver trust and value to your customers. Create an emphasis on community and positive attention.

In Japan, there is a brand called Mujirushi Ryohin (MUJI) translating to literally mean ‘no brand, quality goods.’ The philosophy behind it is that less is more and that there was no need for consumers to pay huge mark-up on products. This gesture meant that putting the customers first and offering them good value was embedded in the heart of its strategy.

Like MUJI, create an emphasis on community and place positive attention and energy onto your tribe of trusted followers. They’ll remember you if you connect with them during the tougher times and can offer something more than simply product.