If you've ever spent even a single afternoon in your local Starbucks, you're aware that music plays a significant role in the customer experience. But have you ever stopped to consider the employees who work in a music-forward environment such as this? Fast Company recently reported on the music at Starbucks, calling it "bad" and asking, "When does [the music] become a workers' rights issue?"
I have great empathy for service-industry workers who endure daily, predictable cycles of music. I've been on that side of the register myself. A music experience may be fantastic for the customer whose linger time is short; on the other hand, poorly conceived music experiences can leave employees feeling overlooked or ignored entirely.
Employee engagement has never been a hotter topic than it is now—it plays a role in profitability, improves retention rates, boosts workplace happiness and productivity, inspires innovation and more. If we should strive to treat our employees as we do our best customers, how can we do better by them with music?
Thoughtfully crafted music strategies have the power to significantly impact our relationship to brands—for both employees and customers—and deliver on business goals. It's crucial for any business to consider these principles when developing a music program for their in-store (or any immersive) experience.
Here are what brands need to consider when developing or curating in-store music and sound:
Just as colors, textures, decor, uniforms and tone of voice figure into an in-store experience, so does music. But where in the customer journey should music play a role? Is music foreground or background? What is the personality you are trying to convey? How do music and sound further the story you are trying to tell with your brand? Music should never be monochromatic or one-note. A dynamic creative brief for in-store music will provide an appropriate lens through which to judge the experience for customers and employees alike.
Considered (and Constant) Curation
Longer, more compelling and varied playlists that span at least a full work week, and ones that are frequently updated with new material and pruned based on both customer and employee feedback, are crucial. Giving employees some means of input or control of their environment is empowering and will increase their satisfaction. Time of day (morning vs. evening), shift schedule (when employees are coming in fresh vs. in need of a mid-day energy boost) and factors like location, weather and season—even what's happening in the news—should factor into, and help inspire, an ongoing curatorial approach.
Every brand should be asking itself how it can more authentically tap into music as part of its personality. Returning to Starbucks' recent headlines around its playlists, how could a brick-and-mortar coffeehouse chain reinvent its music experience? Music and coffee are a perfect pair. The local coffee shop was my primary destination when seeking live music, slam poetry and political discourse as a teen. Premiere, exclusive in-store listening events, artist dialogues and guest music curation are all ways to invigorate a brand's relationship with music without turning to themed playlists that sound like a good idea in theory but backfire in execution.
One size does not always fit all. Is the beauty of your brand that it's fixed and consistent globally? Or is it important to be attuned to the cultural nuances of each locale? Music is a cultural signifier. Even if a visual identity remains consistent, it's important to consider that music will always play a significant role, consciously or not, in communicating to customers and employees whether they "belong." Tap into local expertise to ensure your music experiences resonate with all of your audiences, and adjust as needed to foster a welcoming environment.
Celebrate Your Team
You never know where the next great musical talent may come from. Take a cue from Uber's 2018 Grammy campaign and consider offering your employees mentorship, continuing education, retreats or a platform on which to share their creativity. Even if your initiatives don't lead to the discovery of the next global superstar, you've fostered a culture of support and dialogue that has the potential to boost loyalty and perhaps yield the kind of out-of-the-box, entrepreneurial thinking that could open a new door for your business.
Music and sound are at the forefront of the conversation around experience more than ever before. At its best, the right music and sound will foster brand connection and loyalty not only for customers but for employees as well.