I still remember when I walked into that small cool Berlin store some years ago and directly felt awkward and clumsy. Simply because there was no music, no sound, no noise whatsoever. Instead: silence. No matter if their sound system broke down that day or if it was the concept of that store, it made me realize how important the audio factor is for shopping.
German based agency HearDis!, founded in 2005, has built its business exactly upon this factor and wants to help brands to find their corporate sound. Their clients include Mykita, Hugo Boss, KaDeWe Group, Blue Tomato, Victorinox, Breuninger and Bikini Berlin.
We talked to Robin Hofmann, creative director and managing partner of HearDis!, about what ”acoustic brand communication“ actually means.
What’s the first thing you do when working on a sound concept for a brand?
Actually, the first thing we do is to ask them ‘what does your brand sound like’? In many cases you realize that on the brand’s side no one had ever really thought about that. So in the beginning of this audio branding process we find out about the identity of the brand and put it into its single fragments. By that we want to find out what sound should be connected with the brand. It’s also important to know where the brand wants to go, if it wants to re-position itself for example.
You mention the term ‘audio branding’ – what does that include? The first thing that comes to one’s mind is always in-store music...
It depends on the service the client requests. But in fact audio branding includes everything acoustic. In-store music is one part of that, but there are many other dimensions when sound becomes relevant: think of a logo sound, background music or sounds for a website or the music running during the waiting loop on a telephone hotline. It’s also planning special occasions, for example what music do you want to play in your stores during Christmas time?
Let’s stick to in-store sound for now: how do you develop the actual playlists?
No matter if for in-store music or any other sound request: the so-called ‘Sound Manual’ is our most important tool by bringing the music and sound range of a brand to life. Our music-consultants translate the individual brand characteristics in an acoustic sound landscape that fits the brand. They have access to a daily growing archive of currently 70,000 songs that are connected to up to 125 brand characteristics. Single facets of a brand are transformed into music features and highlighted with single songs. The result sets a certain standard for the sound of a brand. It connects science with emotion, we work with algorithms that think like a DJ.
Once the standard is set how do you create the individual line-up?
With the help of the ‘Playlist Generator’, a music platform we created together with digital design agency Panda. The Playlist Generator can set up very detailed rules for a playlist: when to repeat a song, what music style you want to play in the morning and which one in the afternoon. When all of this is defined, the playlists are automatically generated.
How about just playing the charts – that is obviously the most popular music...
We want to offer an individual soundtrack for a brand and can even produce individual music. It’s rather no charts and music of major labels on the playlists, we would recommend music that’s in the charts tomorrow, simply because this creates a fresher sound.
What’s the cost for a brand to install an in-store music concept?
Obviously this is hard to say because it depends on the services a brand requests. To give a very rough idea for in-store music you should consider about 50 to 100 Euro per store per month.
What aspects should be considered in general?
A store is not a nightclub. In that context we talk about sound economy and sound ecology – generally speaking, it should not be too much and not too loud. And of course also the audio quality plays an important role, means you need a good sound system.
Has the relevance of in-store music changed in the last years?
It definitely has, but in general the importance of sound and the emotional power it has to influence customer’s mood and shopping behavior is still underestimated. Though, according to several studies, successful sound exposure can help that customers stay in a store 20 to 40% longer. Well-made in-store music is like a good DJ who reacts to any occasion or mood in his surrounding. He responds to the mood of the audience, but still has his own style. And there’s another side effect: good music that is freshened up regularly also motivates the staff.
What’s one of the biggest mistakes a brand can make in terms of in-store music?
Well, either a brand does not care about music and sound at all or they let anyone of the staff take care of the music. And of course everyone thinks he or she has the best taste, so in the end you might have a weird mix of music in your store that always changes and has nothing to do with your brand identity. Sound, such as the logo or the product design of a brand, is a field that also an expert should deal with.