How Consumers Process Music

From mixtapes in the 80s to the personal streaming radio playlists of today, people curate what they listen to based on certain attributes. Sure, they may like a song because it’s catchy, but more often than not, there’s a more cerebral element to it—a song may remind them of that college bar they always went to or its beat propels them to run faster on a treadmill.

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The same is true when someone enters a business and hears music over the sound speaker. Something triggers in their brain, initiating a response that is sometimes emotional, sometimes physical, but always one that connects them to their environment. In fact, the way music lights up the brain in different ways is pretty fascinating:

  • The physical response. When music enters the brain through the cerebellum, it triggers our coordination and motor skills, causing us to subconsciously match what we do to what we hear. It’s why relaxing, slow-tempo music leads diners to linger after dinner over additional glasses of wine, increasing their drink bill by 51%, and why up-tempo playlists encourage people to eat quicker, helping wait staff turn tables faster during busy times.
  • The association response. In a famous 1999 study, researchers found that when German music was played in a wine shop, the sales of German wine increased. When the music switched to French classics, shoppers put more French bottles in their baskets. Yet, when surveyed by researchers, shoppers were unaware of the effect the music had on their purchases. This phenomenon happens when our temporal lobe associates a sound with the familiar, causing us to respond in line with our past experiences.
  • · The pleasure response. When music plays, our brain automatically shifts into game mode. As the music changes in terms of timbre, pitch or key, our prefrontal cortex, the area responsible for anticipation and planning, tries to guess what’s next based on preconceived patterns. When it guesses correctly, a sense of pleasure overtakes it; when it doesn’t, it’s aroused by the excitement of the unexpected. As our brain is continually engaged, it distracts from the displeasure of waiting for a table in a crowded restaurant, yet heightens the hedonistic pleasure of dining once we’re seated and enjoying our food.

This research into the psychology of music has transformed playlists from afterthought to a key component of a comprehensive marketing campaign. More companies are recognizing that every song that plays in their store is an extension of their sales team, helping guide customers to a decision.

Download the full guidebook - From Playlist to Profit - to learn how How the Right Background Music Can Impact Your Business!


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