You might not be aware of it, but your brain is in a constant struggle to manage the huge load of information it receives through your senses. To do so, it must take shortcuts. Your brain has a smart way of drawing conclusions about the present, based on a combination of instinct and previous experiences. Research has also shown that our mind likes to summarize, summing up sensorial input to create the experience as a whole.
Strong evidence of the existence of such a summarizing mental process was found when a study (North, 2011) found that background music affected the taste of wine. Respondents described the taste of wines using the characteristics of the background music that was playing. When heavy classical music was played, the wine was rated as being full bodied and heavy. When subtle and refined music was played, people indicated the wines tasted subtle and refined as well.
This shows that our brain has the tendency to approach an experience as a holistic entity. This makes sense, as it is an effective way to reduce the amount of data that has to be processed. It keeps things manageable and it works well for us, 99% of the time. It does make us sensitive to manipulation though, as the example of the wine tasting shows.
One result of this mental summarizing is an effect known as priming. Our brain takes a sort of referential framework from the sensorial input it receives. It puts you in a certain mood that forms the basis of your analysis of the rest of the environment. This is why playing classical music in a shop often results in a higher perceived quality. Your brain is primed by the music. The sophisticated, high quality feel of the music forms the base on which you build the rest of your experience. Naturally, the environment will feel more sophisticated and high quality as a whole.
This means we should approach shopper marketing holistically. Every bit of communication adds up to a total experience. Consumers do not evaluate your different media and branding choices individually. They summarize and experience the shop as a whole.
It is, therefore, crucial to bring your shopper marketing channels in line. Make sure they convey the same message. Ensure that the priming effects of the music are perfectly congruent with the goals of your formula. And that any other media you implement add to the overall experience you are after.
The rewards are great. Multiple studies show that the positive effects of instore media are boosted dramatically when multiple channels convey the same message. A particular study (Matilla & Wirtz, 2001) showed strong rises in customer satisfaction and impulse purchases when instore music and scent conveyed the same message, as opposed to when they were at odds with each other.
A congruent experience starts with a proper instore media strategy. You can read how to develop one in this previous article.