Ola Sars is a music man of sorts. His company provides background music playlists to car dealerships and other retail spots.
For some shoppers, the melodies go in one ear and out the other.
But piped-in tunes in their own way, and done right, enhance customer experiences and buying behaviors, says Sars, CEO of Sweden-based Soundtrack Your Brand that offers a B2B music platform.
A self-described music lover, he founded his company after working in private equity investing and management consulting. “My passions are sports and music, so I pursued one of them in my career change,” he tells Wards.
Sars believes in the psychology of background music and how it affects customers’ in-store experiences.
He cites survey results from MRC Data, a data and analytics provider to the music business and consumers, on what U.S. consumers think of background music:
- 39% say the right music influences repeat business at a retailer.
- 54.9% have stayed longer at a business location because of the music.
- 41% would spend more time and money in a retail location if they’re enjoying the music.
“It’s a matter of playing the right music at the right time at the right place,” says Sars.
And what’s the wrong music at the wrong place and time?
Well, playing “Dead Man’s Curve” by Jan and Dean might not stimulate dealership shoppers to buy a car. On the other hand, “Drive” by the Cars might put them in the right mood.
Dealership background music genres vary from store to store, region to region. “What’s playing at a VW dealership in New York in the evening might sound different than what’s playing at a dealership in Chicago in the afternoon,” Sars says.
It also depends on the automotive brand. For instance, ZZ Top tracks wouldn’t cut it at a high-end Cadillac store, he says: “There’s nothing wrong with ZZ Top. But with Cadillac, it just doesn’t represent what you are selling.”
Dealership people, who are attuned to such matters, agree.
“The type of music we play varies by brand and location,” says Stephanie Skinner, corporate marketing manager for the Michigan-based LaFontaine Automotive Group with 35 stores.
She notes playlists at the group’s Ford store in Birch Run, 87 miles (140 km) north of Detroit, differ from what’s played at LaFontaine’s Ford dealership in Lansing, the state capital, 90 miles (145 km) northwest of the Motor City.
“Birch Run would skew country,” Skinner tells Wards. “Lansing would skew urban pop.” Either way, the goal is “to make customers comfortable and happy.”
The most popular genres of streaming music are easy listening, country and pop, she says.
Sars’ firm offers millions of songs to clients, automotive and otherwise. The company uses digital technology to assess what music works best for a particular brand and its outlets.
“We provide specific models,” he says from his office in Stockholm. For instance, if a client wants “elegant mainstream,” Soundtrack Your Brand, a Swedish company that bills itself as the Spotify of business, will assemble appropriate playlists. Such analytically compiled playlists depend on genre, key and tonality.
Dealerships are among the businesses that play music as part of a strategic element of the customer experience, Sars says.
Though music can be beneficial when played in businesses, it shouldn’t overwhelm customers. After all, a dealership showroom is not a rock concert arena. Nor is it a setting for a group sing-along.
“It’s called background music for a reason,” Sars says. “It’s ambience. It’s supposed to register, but not take over.”
What about volume?
That depends on the business, Sars says. “Obviously, background music at a bar is louder than at a dealership. The worst thing is to play the wrong music too loud.”
Background music isn’t just about putting customers in the right mood. It’s also about how it affects employees, he says. “A good track can motivate the staff.”
Another consideration: Beware short playlists. Adopting them can annoy everyone, but especially employees who hear the same songs repeatedly. That can have the opposite impact businesses try to create.
“It can drive people crazy,” Sars says. “They’ll say, ‘Get me out of here.’”