How the music industry can set the tempo for brand experiences

The following is a guest post from Stefan Tauber, strategist at creative agency SET.

A journey is a trip from one place to another, often filled with limitless unpredictability and winding roads. Some days, a journey can be a mountainous adventure and others it's a well-worn morning commute. Similarly, there are infinite ways for consumers to travel in an omnichannel retail journey before they buy a product. Some might see a social post and visit a store afterward, or interact with a brand entirely online. Others may be absolutely oblivious about your brand until accidentally walking by a store.

If you're a retail brand, this can make adaptation seem impossible, but there's an unlikely model for success: the music industry.

In an era where brick-and-mortar record stores have been usurped by digital downloads and streaming, the music industry has still shown guts and perseverance. Labels, brands and artists alike are taking risks and adapting to ever-changing markets and demands, building their own omnichannel experiences to captivate their audience online and in real life.

Regardless of your offering, music marketing holds crucial lessons that are relevant to any culturally connected brand category.

Amplify existing behaviors

Streaming services have been at the forefront of music consumption, with more than 100 million users paying for subscriptions in 2017 alone. Naturally, consumers take their music library with them everywhere, and listening to music in transit and on-the-go has become as common a behavior as reading a book or checking emails.

You've seen music activations through the most basic of subway, bus or kiosk placements, so why not leverage the overall mobile consumption and existing behaviors of daily commuters to enhance your own brand? Whether a potential audience is gazing around or scrolling through social feeds, why can't brands leverage mobile usage or daily routines to their benefit? For a music brand, they could place a poster for a passersby to plug headphones into and enjoy a new tune, or take over a bus stop to play one's favorite Spotify tunes through a speaker. Other popular brands like Adidas or Nike, meanwhile, can upholster bus stop seats or waiting areas with the latest cushioning material to enhance the experience of waiting for a bus by not only providing a moment of comfort but creating a unique form of brand association.

Whether you're in home goods, CPG, travel or tech, this type of simple activation could effectively amplify the sometimes mundane, one-sided experience of brand advertising by transforming efforts into a larger-than-life, shareable event.

Make it tactile

Who would have thought that 2017 would mark the bounce-back of analog media? Vinyl became "black gold" with demand overwhelming the industry. As a result, new vinyl plants started popping up around the world and vinyl sales outstripped digital for the first time ever. The unique experience of physical vinyl gave the medium a second wind.

Listening to vinyl builds memories, and unlike streaming music on phones, it's a highly tactile, personal experience that builds a sense of ownership. Within that music industry insight is a lesson for all brands — building tactile experiences into your omnichannel journey can help consumers foster lasting emotional connections.

Take Sonos' flagship New York City store, for example, which connects with consumers on a visceral level through tactile experiences within a series of customized sound pods. Evoking a sense of home with lounge-like atmospheres, visitors can look, see and feel within a wall of sound and vision to truly embrace the brand.

Get social in sync

Of course, the "music experience" isn't just about downloads, streams and records. Music festivals are a core revenue driver and perhaps the most direct bridge for artists to connect with their audience. Take the Ultra Music Festival in Miami. In 2017, the event drew a staggering 330,000 people in attendance over three days. More impressive was the online engagement during that time, with over 14 million fans viewing the DJ sets online. Ultra, in turn, received 5.4 million mentions on social media, more than any other three-day music festival in history, demonstrating why brands should take social media seriously and leverage its power to amplify experiences.

High social engagement and fostering the concept of shareability during or after an experience, especially when it comes to retail experiences, are valuable starting points to developing a deeper relationship with your consumers. This means proper online identities are crucial, and including your handle on your materials, social postings and signage can keep your brand top-of-mind. While hashtags and handles significantly improve the likelihood of sharing, be disciplined with your efforts so it feels authentic to your brand.

Lastly, finding the right balance is crucial so the experience doesn't feel like an advertisement that dissuades consumers from participating and sharing. Whether it's pop-ups, displays, 360-degree slow-motion videos, green-screening or even clever GIF generators, create an organic experience that aligns your offering with consumer needs and invites playful sharing.

Let music set the tone

Consumers crave a level of immediacy that creates an uninterrupted, direct connection with a brand. The music industry serves as a worthy example as it fulfills audience needs by providing an unprecedented level of transparency and trust. Just as the music business lets fans be a part of an artist's journey from studio work to live performances, retail brands can offer their own version of audience-centric ventures, giving consumers control over the outcome of each experience and making them connect with the brand on a more visceral level. Brands should be inspired by the direction the music industry has taken and the behaviors it instills, from store to stage, creating memorable omnichannel experiences that keep the rhythm of retail going.

Jen Coy