The Psychology of Music and Its Influence on Consumer Behavior

Imagine walking into a store and being greeted with loud heavy metal music. Does your mood change? Research shows that music can subconsciously affect our moods and influence our purchasing behaviors. According to science, tempo, mode, genre, and volume are the four main musical components that impact our desire to buy. By understanding the psychology of music and its effects, brands can use this knowledge to drive sales and improve the in-store consumer experience.

Your Brain on Music

Your brain processes music in the form of sound waves. Sound waves travel from your outer ear to your inner ear, and move to the eardrum, which causes it to vibrate. These waves travel until they reach the cochlea, which is filled with fluid containing 10,000 to 15,000 minuscule hair cells (also known as cilia). When the waves come into contact with the cochlea, the cells release chemical neurotransmitters to activate the brain’s auditory nerves.

Different parts of the brain are responsible for processing the various components of music. The right temporal lobe interprets pitch, another center processes timbre (which helps distinguish which instruments are playing), the cerebellum processes rhythm, and the frontal lobes interpret the music’s emotional content.

Powerful music can even stimulate the brain’s reward center, making us feel good. Dr. Andrew Budson, a lecturer in neurology at Harvard Medical School, says music can lift our moods. If you listen to music that starts off feeling sad but builds towards a resolution by the end, your mood may improve. He also says music can propel us forward; for instance, playing happy and energetic music can help us perform and complete tasks.

As humans, our bodies and minds subconsciously react to the music we listen to. The effects of music influence our behavior in our day-to-day lives–even if it’s playing in the background.

The PAD Model, Music, and Consumer Behavior

In 1966, Albert Mehrabian developed the PAD (Pleasure, Dominance, and Activation) model to describe and measure emotional intelligence through three variables: pleasure, arousal, and dominance.

Mehrabian and James Russel upgraded the PAD model in 1974 to depict how customers will either avoid or approach an environment depending on the environmental stimuli (in this case, music). In a more recent model, pleasure refers to how the customer feels; arousal refers to the degree that the consumer feels stimulated, alert, or active with the present situation; and dominance refers to how the individual feels dominated or free to act towards the situation.

psychology behind music

If the music evokes a positive response (pleasure), stimulates the shopper (arousal), and makes them want to explore (dominance), the consumer will spend more time browsing, which can lead to higher sales. However, if the music has the opposite effect, it can push shoppers away; and in some cases, music can make them leave the store. To instill the right response in consumers, retailers should study the psychology of music in order to play music that aligns with their target audience’s interests and personalities.

The Psychology Behind Music

Let’s review the four main musical components that psychologically influence consumer behavior.

Tempo is the pace at which the beat moves. When a song plays at a fast pace, we move faster. If the song’s pace is slow, we move slower. Studies show that shoppers will match the tempo playing inside a supermarket. When high tempo music is played, consumers spend less time browsing because they move more quickly through the store. When slower music is played, customers spend more time browsing, which can lead to impulse purchases. Knowing this, restaurants can play fast-tempo music to turn tables faster and seat more guests, and retail stores can play slower music to increase shopper browsing time.

Volume is the output level of music ranging from silent to loud. Studies discovered that when noisy music plays in a supermarket, consumers spend less time in the store; when softer music plays, consumers spend more time in the store. Higher volume level in supermarkets negatively affects final ticket sales. Volume that is too jarring can create a distressed response in shoppers.

Genre is the type of music such as holiday, soft rock, rap, jazz, pop, etc. Each form of music genre affects consumers on an individual basis. Studies show that jazz and lounge music increases the amount of money consumers spend. Interestingly, classical music leads to the purchase of more expensive selections in wine stores. Companies should play music genres that align with the target audiences and the experiences the brand wants to evoke (for example, a fine dining restaurant versus a local bar with live music).

Music Mode can be either major or minor. A 2011 study discovered that when mode and tempo perfectly combine, in-store sales increase. When downtempo music in minor (slow and sad) plays, in-store purchases increase. However, when downtempo music in major (slow and happy) are played, there is no noticeable increase in purchases.

The Takeaway

What kind of positive experiences do you want to create for your consumer? Do you want to turn tables quickly or increase browsing time? Organizations should study their target audiences’ preferences to determine what type of music to play. Hard Rock Café leans towards loud rock music, while fine dining restaurants may favor classical tunes. The answers to these questions determine the right kind of music that will evoke a preferred emotional response in your customers.

Once we understand who we are selling to, we can use music as an influential, psychological approach to appeal to and align with the target audience. With this music-based approach, customers can be subliminally encouraged to buy as they are put in a feel-good mood. This leads to repeat sales, return buyers, positive reputations, and happier customers.

How We Help

As phenomenal branding artists and scientists, we are masters at understanding human behavior. With our understanding of the psychology of music, we can help you enhance in-store consumer shopping experiences in order to boost sales and improve customer retention. We’d love to talk to you about your business. Schedule 30-minute introduction with us today.

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