Want peace and quiet? Make some noise.

I had recently written about how carefully managed audio enhancements can improve retail sales.  Well, it was pointed out to me that carefully managed audio enhancements can do a whole lot more as well.

Per previous discussion, there is ample evidence that to suggest that manipulating people’s acoustic environment influences their behavior.  In addition to previous examples, a classic study in 1982 showed that supermarket shoppers stayed longer and spent 38% more money when slow background music was on than when faster tunes were played.  Studies since then have confirmed similar effects in restaurants and bars.  Even the number of bites per minute taken by diners in a university cafeteria.  All in all, the evidence seems to indicate that background music has merit from a retailer’s perspective.  In 2006, Francine Garlin and Katherine Owen of the University of Technology in Sydney , Australia, conducted a meta-analysis of 32 studies investigating its effects on consumer behavior.  The concluded that background music had “small-to-moderate, yet quite robust effects . . . [on] value returns, behavior duration and affective response” (Journal of Business Research, vol 59, p 755).

I had focused on influencing the decision-making process, but it turns out that the most widely reported examples are where aural cues are used to discourage people from doing something undesirable.  For example, the Mosquito – a teenager deterrent.  The brainchild of British inventor Howard Stapleton, it exploits the sad yet inescapable truth that as we age, our sensitivity to sound, and particularly high-pitched sound, decreases.  By emitting a high-pitched whine at around 17,400 hertz, it creates an environment that is acutely uncomfortable for loitering teenagers yet perfectly acceptable to well-behaved adults.

There are also examples of the “Manilow method” where easy-listening music is used to disperse teenagers.  In 2007, a supermarket chain in the UK experimented with playing classical music outside 105 of its stores and reported a 70% drop in petty crime.  Train stations on the London Underground have played Mozart to discourage loitering by disaffected youth and the use of classical music as a sonic deterrent now appears in official UK government advice to small businesses.

Interesting technology for certain, but what does that mean from a marketing perspective?  Well, first off, it means it’s pretty easy to drive people away.  It’s probably obvious, but if you play the wrong thing, people will leave – so don’t.  It also means that the correct use of audio enhancements may be able to influence just a particular demographic target.  If you have a retail environment that caters to all age groups (like Target), then the possibility exists that overlapping waves of audio information could influence decision-making within the same general area – like electronics section, for example.

At Target, all electronics (games, music, TVs) are generally in the same location.  However, having Orff next to Opeth in the alphabetical bin means trying to cater to (most likely) different audience types.  Imagine, however, if by using targeted speakers with sympathetic wave modulation, that you could have old people (no offense) hear – or sense that they hear – classical music, yet kids hear – or feel – a more pulsating beat.  You can keep the general retail music required throughout the store to influence behavior, yet create non-distracting aural cues to drive people to specific sections of the store.

You could even make a game out of it – have two people of different ages stand in the same spot and ask what they hear.  It could be a fun way to engage people in a display.  Of course, I immediately jump to the idea that we should put it in the toy section so little kids could hear a voice (like Santa) telling kids that Mommy really wants them to have the latest TRON toy and that they should put it in the cart.

Hmmm . . . I should do that and sell the technology as a loss-leader for a child psychology practice.  Then I could treat kids whose parents say their kids hear voices in the toy aisle at Target.

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