Are Retailers Becoming Music to Consumers’ Ears?

By Carolee Sherwood

Special to the eTail Blog

Pop quiz! What famous record company or DJ said: “We take pride in creating unique compilations you can’t find anywhere else. Because helping people discover their next favorite artist or recording is one of our favorite things to do?” Starbucks, of course! Sorry about the trick question, but it’s precisely that twist – the swivel of your neck as your attention pings back and forth between entertainment and retail – that makes the “brand-as-DJ” trend a point of fascination.

Did it start with Starbucks’ clever reconstruction of coffeehouse culture? It may have. The Starbucks website asks (then answers), “What would the coffeehouse be without great music? Well, it wouldn’t be Starbucks, for one thing.” It may be true. Consumers associate Starbucks not just with its product (presumably coffee) but also with music.

Brands put their own spin on content curation

Can other brands draw crowds by blasting good tunes? Several fashion retailers are giving it a try with regular music gigs on Twitter. At least two – Coach (@Coach) and Urban Outfitters (@urbanoutfitters) – are taking advantage of the popular weekly mosh: #MusicMonday.

Coach plays up the hashtag with tweets like this one from September 19 (which links to a music video on YouTube): “Our friends @PurseBlog are still loving Adele’s power-girl ballad ‘Someone Like You.’ Watch it here >> #MusicMonday.” On previous Mondays, Coach told us that @IntotheGloss’s Emily Weiss loves the Peas, @MatchbookMag girl listens to “A Sunday Kind of Love” and @david_boots digs “Go Outside” by Cults.

Urban Outfitters’ Monday tweets include “Five free songs! Happy #MusicMonday.” (September 19) and “Happy Five Free Songs Day. #MusicMonday” (November 7). Links take users to the brand’s blog where free tracks are available for download or streaming. In addition, @UrbanOutfitters has designed an app that combines free music with mobile commerce.

Retailer PacSun’s (@PacSun) musical repertoire sounds slightly different. PacSun favorites YouTube music videos, creates events like “New Music Tuesday” and even manages full-blown IRL concert tours. It also has a Twitter handle solely dedicated to music: @pacsunmusic. The spin-off‘s profile links to a dedicated PacSun Music site which features a pop-out music player with buttons for social sharing. Except for one teeny-tiny PacSun logo linked to the brand’s e-commerce site, there is no other (conscious) sales pitch.

Similarly, clothing retailer American Eagle hosts Made to Last, a blog that is primarily a showcase for music and videos. Though the blog’s categories include “fashion,” “accessories,” and “jeans,” the site is about music, and it contains no obvious hyperlink to the retail site. @american_eagle tweets often about music (and links to Made to Last) as in this tweet from November 7: “Get Inspired: See @kinagrannis’s music video for that was made entirely out of jelly beans on ‘Made to Last’:”

Getting consumers to listen

Wasn’t it Plato who said, “Music and rhythm find their way into the secret places of the soul and wallet”? No? Well, Leonard Bernstein did say, “The joy of music should never be interrupted by a commercial.” So how does this work? Will these brands ever be as successful as Starbucks? Ahem, will they ever be as successful as Starbucks at tying their brands to music?

It remains to be seen. At present, the @pacsunmusic account only has just over 700 followers compared with the brand’s main page which has more than 26K. It’s a long road ahead for all of them if the quest is to become synonymous with music. One of the reasons Starbucks makes a great brand DJ is that music + coffeehouse is a perfect – and natural – mash-up.

Here’s how other retailer DJs may succeed at selling their own personal mixes:

Keep brand top-of-mind. If #MusicMonday is jammin’ on Twitter, promote the brand in the stream.

Encourage repeat visits. Don’t miss a beat in-store or online. Give consumers playlists they like again and again, and they just might follow the band straight to your merchandise.

Showcase your style. American Eagle and Urban Outfitters know their audiences. Their featured musicians are mostly young, hip, attractive and smartly dressed. They reinforce brand image. They are trends, not commercials.

Dance to a different drum. Do it your own way. Note, for example, the influencer layer in Coach’s soundtrack. @IntotheGloss is a beauty blog. @MatchbookMag is an online fashion “field guide.” @david_boots is with Allure magazine. Coach isn’t just cueing up hits. It’s also rocking influencers in the fashion media at the same time.

Carolee Sherwood is a Conversation Manager at Media Logic, an agency specializing in marketing for a social world.