Managing your personnel’s expectations of instore music

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I have written about the delicate relationship between store personnel and instore background music before. In that article I described the considerations you have to make in this field when creating your music strategy. In this post I will dive deeper into how to manage your personnel’s expectations and demands after you have implemented your instore music strategy.

As a retailer you carefully design a shopping experience that reflects your desired identity and optimally supports your commercial goals. This strategically founded formula is one of the most important factors in determining whether your endeavors will succeed. Music is an important medium in such a formula since it has a huge impact on the overall feel of a space. And, as we have covered in previous posts, it affects how we perceive a shop and its offerings, and even how we behave an how much money we spend. So having a solid instore music strategy developed for your retail formula is crucial.

In modern retail, music is no longer a simple bit of entertainment in the background. It has become a science-based marketing tool that allows you, as a retailer, to carefully fine tune the shopping experience you offer. It does not feel that way to your employees though. To them, it is a means of diversion that helps them get through the day. Here lies a potential conflict.

You (or an external specialist) may have carefully crafted a music profile that optimally supports your retail formula. Chances are slim that the music you are now playing happens to be your personnel’s personal favorite. I can assure you: complaints will come.

Music is something very personal. And your employees will recognize it as such. What you need to do is communicate very clearly that the music in your shop(s) is not there for fun. Let your personnel see the bigger picture. Tell them why this music is important to the formula and how it is designed to interact with the consumer.

In fact, your employees can form a valuable source of input in developing your strategy. Who has a better view on who the customers are and how they behave than the people on the floor? Their knowledge of your customers is of great value. At the same time, their personal musical taste is not.

I often encounter this problem in my daily practice. I meticulously develop an instore music strategy together with the retailer and a custom playlist is crafted with great care. The result perfectly matches the brand and its goals. It might even be tested by the retailer by doing customer satisfaction queries or measuring performance data such as sales. And then an employee sends an email saying “Look, this new music is really boring we should play Rihanna because she’s hot right now.” And in most cases the retailer will instantly abandon his formula and ask us to adapt the music because a complaint came in.

Obviously changing the music is possible at all times. The problem lies in the motivation. If you have developed, implemented and tested a strategy and it works, stick with it. Being too impulsive with these matters results in an incongruent and messy shopping experience.

Think of it as if it were any other part of your retail mix. If an employee says “We should get another counter because this one is white and I would never have white furniture in my house” you will probably laugh. So why change the music when an employee does not like it? They will probably not choose to wear your branded company clothing in their spare time either, but they understand they will have to during work hours because it is part of the brand they represent. The same goes for the background music. It is not there for their entertainment, it is an outing of the brand they are there to represent.

The answer to this common issue lies in communication. If an employee is unaware of the design choices and motivation behind the music profile, he/she will not be able to accept it as a brand outing. It will simply come across as music. Any music. I encourage retailers to share the documents describing their instore media strategy with their floor managers and personnel. This way you will gain support for your strategic and artistic choices and everyone will value the strategic importance of the music you are playing.

If an employee still has issues with the music you are playing, perhaps he or she is not so well suited to represent your brand after all.

Listen carefully to the complaints you are getting. Employees might have valid strategic insights as to why some of the choices you made might not be working in practice. If this is the case it is important to see whether adaptation is needed. But be careful as the vast majority of complaints comes from personal preference and should not have any influence on your plans.

Ofcourse it feels bad to get a complaint and tell your valued employee to just accept that things are as they are. You would much rather make adaptations and keep everybody happy. But this will damage the performance of your enterprise.

Let me reassure you: wherever someone makes choices about something as personal as music in a public space, there are always going to be complaints.

Thomas van Straaten
Instore Media Consultant

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