Research finds that the right music mix drives increases, while popular-music playlists fall flat.

Sponsored by Soundtrack Your Brand.

Many restaurant leaders wonder if playing music in their stores is a worthwhile investment, as well as what types of music should be played. A recent study conducted by researchers from HUI Research, part of the Swedish Trade Federation, in partnership with Soundtrack Your Brand, a Spotify-backed company that provides music streaming for businesses, demonstrated that not only is music a critical part of brand experience, but playing the right music can have a massive impact on sales.

The study is the largest-ever of its kind, tracking 1.8 million sales transactions and 2,101 customer surveys at restaurants over a period of five months. By using Soundtrack Your Brand’s streaming technology, researchers were able to pinpoint exactly how music selections impacted sales second by second.

The results showed that “brand fit music,” which is music that strongly matches a concept’s personality, lifted overall restaurant sales by 9.1 percent over playing a randomized selection of the most streamed tunes on Spotify. It drove even larger growth in specific categories, such as desserts, which rose by 15.6 percent; shakes and smoothies, which rose by 15 percent; and side dishes, which grew by 11 percent.

“Music sets the tone for the brand—literally,” says Spencer Rubin, founder and managing partner at the Melt Shop, a fast-casual grilled-cheese concept that uses Soundtrack Your Brand for its music program. “Music speaks to the personality of the concept, but most importantly, it helps uplift the mood of our guests and team members.”

But simply relying on the radio or generic playlists of top music can actually harm sales. The study tested whether playlists that only used songs from the top charts or carefully selected mixes of well-known and lesser-known music that fit the brand’s personality had a larger impact on sales. Researchers found that playlists that played popular music that fit the brand lifted sales by 1.2 percent over silence, while a mix of popular music and lesser-known music led to a 4.3 percent sales decrease over silence. Additionally, survey data showed that guests satisfaction improved when they listened to brand-fit music over only popular music.

This highlights that it is not only critical for restaurant leaders to consider music selections carefully, but also that it is necessary to think about how playlists are created and how each song supports the brand message. Relying on the radio and random mixes can actually be a liability for a restaurant.

“CDs can skip and they abruptly end; radio often has banter that may not be on-brand and ads that create annoyance,” Rubin says. “Creating a thoughtful playlist with the right beats per minute, played at the right volume during different parts of the day ensures guests connect with the brand through music in a relevant way.”

In an industry in which tight margins make a crucial difference, every sale is vital. A music program can offer a huge return on investment if restaurant leaders pay close attention to how music enhances brand messaging. Finding partners that can help restaurants ensure music is the right fit at the right time could make a significant difference.

“Mediocre playlists are very easy to come by,” Rubin says. “If you want to differentiate your brand, spend the time looking for the right partner who will help you personify your brand through music.”

By Peggy Carouthers

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