Why a one-size-fits-all retailer playlist isn't a good strategy
By Danny Turner, global senior vice president, creative programming, Mood Media
Contrary to what's been dictated by the industry for decades, one size doesn't fit all when it comes to holiday music in the retail shopping environment. In the past, there was a standard prescription across the retail footprint: Black Friday rolls around and brands would bombard customers with 100 percent holiday music, repeating Here Comes Santa Claus unrelentingly until 11:59 p.m. on Christmas Eve. Some retailers even start the holiday music onslaught earlier -- days after Halloween in some instances
But times have changed. Many retailers are beginning to smartly take a step back and ask themselves, "Wait a minute, is this right for my brand?"
Overall, in-store retail music has evolved significantly in the past decade. Retailers are starting to recognize the importance of curated experiences that exist in harmony with the brand. In looking through the lens of holiday music, the same tactic should be taken. Playlists must be dictated by a brand's core consumer demographics and reinforce the brand's attributes.
Timing is also critically important. One of the greatest roles of music during the holidays is to create a soothing atmosphere for frenzied shoppers. If holiday music rolls out prematurely, retailers run the risk of triggering anxiety. Brands oftentimes think it's a race to get to the starting line, but that tactic can backfire. A slow and more measured response is far wiser more times than not.
Further, it's important to remember holiday music can be polarizing and isn't for everyone. For every painstakingly curated holiday playlist, think about the folks that don't want to hear holiday music at all. If retailers reach 100 percent saturation, they're communicating to those shoppers that their store experience simply isn't for them and that they aren't compatible. Alienating customers will undoubtedly have a lasting negative impact on a shopper's likelihood to revisit a retailer, even after Rockin' Around the Christmas Treehas been phased out in the post-holiday period.
So how do brands combat holiday music fatigue? We're seeing more retailers roll out a slow and steady release of blended holiday music, increasing the percentage of seasonal tunes during the six-week window. Smart stores start with a modest percentage and then tweak as the season progresses. In my opinion — with only a very few exceptions — stores should never reach richer than a 50-50 blend. At 100 percent holiday music, retailers have surrendered their brand to the calendar.
Additionally, just as important as when you decide to start holiday music, your exit strategy must be considered as well. While the holiday season does extend to New Year's Eve, the tolerance for musical holiday shenanigans has well waned by then. Carrying that holiday theme through New Year's may appear logical according to the calendar, but according to musical burn out, it's long past its shelf date.
While we talk about musical selections that are brand appropriate, holiday music programmers should be watchful of novelty tunes. They don't age well and moreover, think of the burn out factor with the store associates. Unlike music from the rest of the calendar year, holiday music is ephemeral. It rears its head for six weeks and then disappears as quickly as it came. As such, music producers since the 1950s have leaned toward novelty, airing songs designed for maximum penetration during the short, six-week burst (Alvin and the Chipmunks, anyone?). But these days, we're beginning to see less shtick, as trite tunes tend to cheapen the in-store experience.
Instead, over the past few seasons there's been an inclination to become more seasonal in approach while touting a broader message. As a culture, we're beginning to realize that "I'll be Home for Christmas" doesn't resonate with everyone. We're seeing less specificity around the traditional trappings of the standard Christmas experience and an influx of songs about seasonality, family, friends and secular holiday experiences — everything from a Leonard Cohen classic like, Winter Lady, to more contemporary offerings like Fleet Foxes' remix of White Winter Hymnal. The message and spirit of the season has become less obtuse in its delivery, but the basic tenets — seasonal sentimentality and the warmth of gathering friends and family — remains front and center.
Beyond holiday music themes, interactive Shazam in-store mobile marketing campaigns are becoming more prevalent at retail. Incorporating in-store holiday messaging that works in tandem with music and takes shoppers to an active campaign creates a more comprehensive holiday experience. Such campaigns allow retailers to deliver special holiday promos directly to customers' mobile phones while shoppers are still instore.
The brand appropriate experience cannot be overemphasized during the holidays. During this critical time, not only do brands see their loyal brand advocates in-store, but there is also an incredible opportunity to expose the brand to new eyes (or ears!), and create a new culture of brand affinity and loyalists. Now is not the time to be taking chances with a lack of strategy.
It's important to remember that there's no fail-proof, one-size-fits-all approach. Every retail environment is different and there's a whole slew of variables to consider — from target demographic, to timing, playlist curation, and creating cohesive musical blends that don't alienate White Christmas-weary shoppers. When executed poorly, holiday music can alienate shoppers in droves. But the good news is, when deployed properly, it has the innate capacity to increase register sales, forge brand alliance and reinforce brand affinity.
Companies: Mood Media