Nowadays, it has become the norm to have music playing in the background of dining establishments. If you ask most restaurant managers why they play music in their stores they’d probably give you an off-hand comment on how it improves the store’s ambiance. While that is true (see article on Sensory Marketing), in most cases this isn’t executed properly.
We've discussed with a lot of marketing managers their rationale behind the song choice for their store’s playlist. Almost all of them base this on what they feel their customers would like to hear. If they notice that a lot of their patrons are Millenials then you’d have artists such as Ariana Grande, Taylor Swift, and Justin Beiber blasting through the speakers. If they observe a more “masa” crowd in their stores then you’d have OPM artists such as Ogie Alcasid, Sharon Cuneta, and Aiza Seguerra serenading you with the hits of yesterday. If you’re guilty of using the same strategy in crafting your own playlist then what you are about to read next might be immensely valuable.
When we choose music based on our stereotype of what a particular market segment listens to, we are making a sweeping generalization that oftentimes is not true. One’s taste in music is a highly subjective affair. Two people of similar demographics may enjoy entirely different kinds of music. It is an almost futile and misguided effort to assume that a particular market segment prefers a certain kind of music. It’s like saying that all teenage girls are fans of Justin Bieber.
So if we can’t use generalizations in choosing what music we use then what should we do? Well, a lot of research has been done on how restaurants can use different aspects of sound and music to trigger certain behaviors in their customers. These behaviors usually bring about an increase in sales for the stores. The most effective music aspects that marketers can utilize for this purpose are volume, tempo, mode, and genre.
One of the earliest studies- Cain, Smith & Curnow (1966)-on how music can affect customer behavior focused on the role that the volume of the music played. Researchers found that when music was loud, customers tended to spend less time in stores. When the music was softer, customers spent more time in the stores. However, the study also found that there was no significant difference in the amount of money customers spent regardless of how long they stayed. One key takeaway from these findings suggests that for restaurants with a smaller seating capacity, playing loud music could increase your customer turnover, and in turn, generate more sales from the increase in number of customers served.
In 1986, renowned marketing professor Ronald E. Milliman, explored how restaurants could utilize the tempo of the music to influence customer behavior. His findings revealed that the tempo of the music had significant effects on the purchases and length of stay of customers. An article from The Irish Times elaborates on the results of the study:
The study found that, while tempo didn’t have a significant impact on the amount of food purchased within the timeframe, it did influence the amount of alcohol and bar purchases. When the tempo was slower, Milliman’s team found that people purchased more drinks, and the average spend was $30.47, as opposed to $21.62 when the music was fast-paced. This somewhat surprising result is explained by Milliman as an example of how people will only eat so much food. “It is not acceptable in most situations to consume more than one entree of food,” Milliman writes. “However, it is quite acceptable to consume more than one (perhaps several) alcoholic beverages. Thus, in a relaxing approach atmosphere, patrons consumed more alcoholic beverages.”
Western music has long been dominated by two tonal systems, or modes: major and minor. An unsophisticated view on these tonal systems would say that music written in a major key sounds happier (e.g. YMCA by the Village People) than one written in a minor key (e.g. Californication by the Red Hot Chili Peppers). How can marketers use these tones to their advantage? Well another study has explored how a combination of music tonalities and tempos could increase sales. To summarize the results of the study, the best mode/tempo combination for boosting sales is a downtempo and minor one. The results indicate that people tend to buy more on average when an establishment is playing slow and sad songs rather than happy and fast songs by a margin of 12%. What songs fit the bill for this magic combo: Well look no further than your angsty teenage playlist for a goldmine collection such as Losing My Religion by R.E.M, Don’t Speak by No Doubt, and Dream on by Aerosmith.
At this point you may be wondering “But none of those songs fit my store’s ambiance” and that indeed is a valid concern. Well here’s where music genre comes in. There are circumstances wherein genre trumps all the effects that volume, tempo, and mode provide. Take for instance this 1993 study that compared the effects of top 40 music versus classical music in a wine shop. It turns out, when classical music was playing in the background, shoppers bought more expensive wines than when the Top 40 music was playing. This could be a result of how music affects the perception customers have of a store. Customers who were exposed to the classical music playlist viewed the wine store as higher class and therefore adjusted their purchases accordingly. In order to be seen as sophisticated and upscale, the proper cues should be in place to strengthen the association of these traits with the actual store. Music, as it turns out, is one of the more powerful influencers that aid marketers in achieving this goal.
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