Danny Turner has built his career on music. He has worked as director of programming for XM Satellite Radio and is now global senior vice president of creative programming at Mood Media, a company that builds “in-store experiences” to improve the customer experience. In many cases, this includes creating and curating ambient music playlists and other media for consumers to encounter in the store. With the holiday season (and its seemingly constant soundtrack) approaching, Turner spoke with Marketing Daily about what goes into creating a great brand playlist.
How does a music playlist affect a shopping experience?
Music absolutely does impact and elevate the customer experience when done right. It’s very primal in its nature, in that music is one of the most evocative mediums out there. I don’t think there’s anything that evokes fond memories or perceptions of environment or experience more clearly than music. It touches everything that we do. What it comes down to is with the challenges that brick-and-mortar retail is facing, it’s all about elevating the customer experience, and music is one of the most singularly effective ways to do so.
What should the ultimate goal be of using music to elevate the experience?
It begins and ends with the brand. Often in this industry what ends up happening is folks start with a music solution first and try to work their way back to a brand. That strikes us as absolutely contrary, because it’s all about putting the brand experience first. Music is one of the last things that I talk about in the process, because it’s all about discovery and affinity for a brand. We look at a brand and what are the aspirations targets for the brand, and then we being to use those points to inform our music decisions.
What attributes are you looking for?
The attributes can be anything from the words that they use to describe themselves, because then you can distill the words that are centric. If it’s a restaurant, the environment is incredibly important. We look at the textures in a restaurant. We look at color combinations and tones, and we spend a great deal of time reviewing the menu, because the menu will reveal a lot about what a restaurant is trying to accomplish. Once you begin doing that, it’s easy to connect those attributes and informed music decisions.
How do you translate those attributes into a playlist?
We have a team of 35 music designers across the country. Each of these are accomplished music professionals. Whether they’re DJs with residencies, musicians or producers. Everyone that’s on my team has to have a special relationship with music. We’ll pair a brand up with a music designer that is spot on for that brand, lives the lifestyle and is better able to understand it. From there we create the linkages from those brands and music decisions.
Now we have machine learning that can put these things together. How does the human element play into what you do?
I’ve yet to discover an algorithm that incorporates context, subtlety and nuance. Those are the things that our team brings to the table. That’s not to say we don’t employ metadata. But we like to use a process that we call “informed curation.” We use metadata, but at the heart and soul of it, there’s a human being. You want to exercise great caution into what you bring into your branded experience.
How do you create a playlist or music that walks the line between noticeable and intrusive?
There’s several factors at play there. one of the first factors that you have to look at is asking yourself and your brand partner about the purpose of the music. For example, in a restaurant, music may be used to mask kitchen noise or from other diners, and also to create a foundation of an environment. It starts first and foremost with the realization that not every environment shouldn't be treated the same.
So what can music do, and what can’t it do? Can it actually increase register sales?
Certainly, and it’s a challenge at times to draw direct lines, but there have been studies that absolutely point to demonstrable fact that using music properly in a retail environment can increase dwell time and lift, and most importantly, it increases the desire to interact in a positive way with the brand. From there, we hope that will increase register rings and increase brand alliance. What it can’t do, is — when done improperly — it’s very difficult to undo the damage. When we talk about the positive impact, if deployed improperly or without thought is that it can have very damaging effects, particularly as we segue into a holiday [period].
It can work negatively if holiday music is not in line or harmony with your brand. Many brands — because we have decades of tradition that says we have to — relinquish the brand experience to the calendar. Holiday music executed without a strategy can have as much negative impact on a brand as one can imagine. That negative impact could be anything from playing non-secular music or religious-themed music in a retail environment where, in 2017, we need to be more sensitive to cultural issues.
How do you talk someone out of using holiday music non-strategically?
I hope we’re at the table as a trusted partner and a confidant. If a client is dead set on the traditional holiday music and the holiday aspects, perhaps there are things we can do that are more innovative and maybe fresher. Holiday music has a hard time of establishing itself. Most pop music has weeks and weeks to incubate on the charts. But if you think of holiday music, it pokes its head out like a groundhog for six weeks and then disappears.
Since music is such a personal thing, and everyone is an expert in the music that they like and know, how do you go in and tell someone, “We know more.”
What we like to do is involve our partners in the process, and hopefully in doing so, they’ll arrive at the same conclusions. What we do when we meet with partners, we will go through a very deliberate process of an audio discovery. And one of the reasons that we do that is so we can gain consensus and agreement across the board that we’re doing this with a strategy.
[This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.]