Shaken & Stirred - Influential Brand Profiling and Positioning

Music for message / Dr Vicky Williamson

Dr Vicky Williamson writes … During previous blogs I have discussed the many different ways that music strategy can add a feeling of quality, care, comfort and energy to a retail environment.

But music is not only a powerful and valuable in-store contributor in isolation; it can facilitate other key aspects of a store layout, brand and identity. It can also set the tone for maximal potential impact of its sister sound; language.

Music and language have a shared evolutionary history and there are many scientists that believe that they co-evolved in humans for a long period of time. In his book ‘The Singing Neanderthals’ Professor Stephen Mithen talks about musical sound as a form of  ‘protolanguage’, a method by which our ancestors were able to communicate basic important messages before they developed language.

Music remains an important message carrier even today. We speak to our children in a musically exaggerated form of language known as infant directed (ID) speech. You would never dream of speaking to a new colleague in the same way as you do when you are introduced to a friend’s baby. But ID speech is extremely important for our species as it helps us communicate with preverbal infants, allowing us to signal our intentions and our present state of mind. It also lets us to modulate their mood and behaviour.

And even in adulthood, music continues to carry subtle messages which we respond to on both a conscious and subconscious level. As Michael Morrison once said “Music establishes the mood, helps motivate the subconscious and can create a lasting impression on existing and potential customers” (see Immedia science pages for more information)

Let’s now think about in-store communication. Nowadays, in-store communication has been cleverly adapted for direct commercial and non-direct marketing messages such as event information (e.g. vaccination days in high street pharmacies), staff initiatives (e.g. charity runs), and brand relevant news/ current events. There are a number of ways that music can contribute to maximising the impact of in-store communications in all their many forms.

Firstly, as you have been reading, music can carry its own message. This means that by matching music and in-store verbal communications you can create a more effective transmission of information. You can create a message that has impact through two forms instead of just one. Another method of triggering a dual message is to take advantage of the associations contained within music (see previous blog on ‘mind popping with music’ ), and to capitalise on those for driving on in-store communications.

The psychology of primacy

Then there is the psychology of primacy, the idea that music (or any stimulus) can prime our mind to be more receptive and quicker to respond to similar information that follows. So music does not need to be played at exactly the same time as in-store communications – you can balance presentation so the music that precedes your message is cleverly chosen to trigger sentiments that are consistent with that upcoming message.

Music can also trigger context dependent memory, whereby we are better able to remember things that happened to us when we are in a similar context as when the memory was originally made. The famous example of this effect is a study by my mentor Professor Alan Baddeley . He had divers commit a list of words to memory while sitting on land or underwater. He then tested their memory for that list in both contexts – sure enough, their memory was better when the context of recall matched that of the original memory. Music can also trigger context dependent memories.

This feature of our memory is valuable for in-store communication when you consider the power of synchronicity – applying consistent music strategy across disparate locations. If a person visits a favourite store in a new town and hears similar music to their home store then this could trigger a memory of the message that they previously heard alongside the music. Then when that message is heard again there is a strengthening of the memory and an expectation satisfaction response in the consumer (see last blog for more on synchronicity and expectation).

Language and music have been intertwined since the time of our ancestors and remain a powerful tandem form of communication. As a result there are multiple pathways of effect by which the right music temperament can add the right flavours to messages in store. Well chosen music can also improve the chances that the message is processed effectively and retained in memory.


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