Music and perception


Okay let’s really dive into the matter now. I will try to give you an idea of how music can alter our perception and how this power can be used commercially.

The world around us and how we perceive the world around us can differ vastly. This is caused by highly complex processes in the brain and the senses that analyze, summarize and categorize the sensory input we receive. The fun part is that we can alter this process by sending out specific sensory stimuli; in this case music.

By listening to music, we are affecting the functioning of our brains. Time analysis for instance, is easily manipulated by music. The brain has a simple method to judge time: “if I receive a lot of information, a lot of time must have passed”. This means that music that contains a lot of information makes the brain think a lot of time is passing.

So what is “a lot of information” in this case? The heft of musical information depends on many variables such as tempo and loudness. So let’s assume your customers have to wait in line for quite a while in your shop. You want them to perceive that time as being short. The trick is in giving them light sensory input, so their brains will reason only a small amount of time has passed. Slow, soft music is therefore highly preferable over loud, fast music.

Time is not the only perceived variable we can affect. Quality and price perception are very important in retail and these too are strongly affected by music. A good example can be found in the findings of my own research that earned me my masters degree.

I conducted this research in an up-market wine shop. The shop was expensive and offered high quality wines. The personnel was knowledgable and they took their time with every customer to make sure they would go home with a great wine that complements their specific dinner choice of the evening.

I started out with a survey among the customers. To the shop keeper’s amazement, the clients did not perceive the shop as being up-market. Quality and price-wise they compared it to a large budget chain of bottle shops. A strange discrepancy between the real world and the perceived world!

The shop keeper had a local pop music radio station playing in the shop. Knowing that musical genre has a huge associative impact on people I proposed to switch to a blend of lounge and light jazz music. the fun thing is that the whole atmosphere instantly felt different.

I organized another query among the customers, while keeping all other relevant variables equal. And indeed we found that both the perceived quality and the perceived price had gone up significantly. They were now perfectly in line with what the shop actually was.

Making sure your customer’s perception is in line with your actual identity is crucial. How crucial? In this case the shop’s sales instantly went up by 15,7%.

This case shows how strongly dependent a shop’s performance is on atmosphere. Crafting the perfect atmosphere to support your strategy is key. As we see in the examples above, music has a very powerful influence here.


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