Getting customers in the right mood — whether at a hotel, retail establishment, restaurant or even doctor’s office — is part art, part science. The wrong sound, smell or sensory stimulation can be an immediate turnoff and even the right tone at the wrong volume can send shoppers running for the door.
To further explore the topic of sensory solutions — including the role of the human touch — we sat down with Ken Eissing, president of in-store media, and Danny Turner, global senior vice president for programming and production, both at Mood Media. This is an edited version of our conversation.
Q: How do the senses play into customer experience?
A: The biggest challenge is elevating the experience – making it enjoyable to buy, to eat, to rest, to stay – while supporting a degree of brand equity.
Q: What’s the role of music and smell?
A: When we compete with sensual messaging, we cut through the clutter. We don’t want to add to the din. Music is the strongest tool we have at our disposal. It’s evocative, personal, and has a unique ability to inspire mood and recollection. The only thing stronger is the sense of smell, which is the biggest trigger of memory but not always conducive to the retail environment.
Hearing is a primal trigger. When I walk into a retail store, there’s no guarantee I’ll see an end cap display but you can assume I’ll hear music.
Some places have a “signature smell” that is part of the comfort level and tell you you’ve been there before. It’s all subconscious.
Q: How do you pick a music playlist?
A: A playlist is just a one-off. In a custom program, you put together a methodical, well-articulated and designed experience – with purpose and intent.
Q: How does this work?
A: Determine the brand’s positioning. Is it aspirational? Comforting? Nostalgic? Start from there and then pick defined and intentional selections.
Q: How does programming work at retail?
A: Aloft Hotels learned quickly that looking at a day is not just 24 hours. There’s a traffic pattern with four different day-parts prescribed by different types of crowds. As foot traffic increases, look at increasing the volume and the sonic density to cut through. Look at it through the eyes of the customer, not just the brand. Music and tempo have to work together. If you look at restaurants, it’s the difference between lunch and dinner.
Q: What role do store associates play in music selection?
A: A lot. PetSmart had no music. The sales associates helped drive it. But they have two audiences – the humans and the pets. We’re developing a sound track now to create an experience for their pet hotel. It’s like a spa or hospitality environment – avoiding high-frequency changes in tone and energy using consistent ethereal spa-like tones.
Q: How important is it to satisfy the store associates?
A: Store associates really are the front line. If the sales associates are engaged and excited, this can only be passed along to the customers. Especially when many brick-and-mortar stores are saying, “How do we maximize the in-store experience?”
Q: Who do you think does a good job of customer experience?
A: Think of the Hard Rock Hotel. It’s a cool experience. Memorabilia in the rooms and in the halls is the right way to go. Everything is cool. Think about how different an environment this is from a typical hotel. When it’s done right, you can just feel it.
Sephora also does a good job. If the music is appropriate, you just get it. It’s best to not be noticeable, to stay in the background. If you walked in and they were playing Metallica, you’d notice that right away.
Q: What’s popular in retail?
A: It’s entirely cyclical. Nineties R&B is exploding. Millennials who went away to school in the ’90s are now in purchasing positions. Many of our partners are liking alternative versions of the classics.
There’s a degree of comfort playing something someone in an older generation can recognize, but that a younger generation is just now discovering.
Q: Are humans needed anymore?
A: We can ascribe mood, energy, tempo, and a number of other variables to each song. There’s an undeniable power in metadata, but you can rev it up with human intuition – especially in the retail consumer environment with a sacred bond of trust with the consumer. Nuances in context can only be made through human curation. We pulled “I Shot the Sheriff” after a shooting. What you don’t play can’t hurt you.