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The second of three episodes produced in partnership with SAP UK that were originally planned to be recorded at their Innovation X conference in March. However, due to concerns around the coronavirus, all our interviews took place online.
This episode is on the use of music within Experience Management.
Our first two guests were Dr Julia Jones, Chief Executive at Found In Music and Matt Champion, Customer Innovation Director at SAP UK who spoke about why music’s effects on the brain can drive better experience and engagement for both customers and employees.
Julia began by explaining that we have only a limited number of senses that direct data to the brain and therefore we shouldn’t ignore the ears because they are an important route to the brain and send information that dictates how we perceive the world and experience. So, it’s vital that experiences are seen as multi-sensory – too often she sees experience based around the visual experience and neglecting the acoustics and sound environment.
She added that all of the neuroscience evidence and the cognitive psychology research dating back decades, shows the positive impact that music and sound can have on wellbeing. However, this is still not common knowledge. It’s used in elite sports. It’s used extensively by Hollywood to trigger our emotions. And yet it’s not standard practice in workplace design, in employee wellness, employee experience.
Julia started her career as a sports psychologist working with the GB Olympic squads leading up to Sydney 2000 Olympic Games and she said music is part of the training mix. She said that there are different types of music for different feelings, whether it’s to reduce anxiety or to maintain motivation or to maintain peak performance through endurance, exercise and training and that music is specifically prescribed for the athletes and they use it religiously as part of their training. So, when you see the football players getting off the coach, for example, they’re not just tuning into the local radio station, they will be listening to specific playlists that have been embedded as part of their training program.
Matt works in innovation at SAP, he said that he is always trying to look at how they can help their customers, employees, partners and everybody that they work with think differently, in a creative zone. His work is is around mindfulness and helping people to be very present in their work and music is something that often isn’t consciously thought of. He added that music is not necessarily always at the forefront of how we think about designing experiences or even things like bringing it into meetings or workshops.
Matt explained how he and Julia began to explore how they could pilot something in the workplace that would actually help customers, employees, or anyone entering the workplace. Julia’s book – ‘The Music Diet’ – was a really big inspiration actually on this thinking, he said that it’s important that we are experimenting and incubating with programs like this, because SAP’s purpose is to help the world run better and improve people’s lives and in programs and initiatives like this that purpose is actually brought to life. In the pilot, Matt and Julia experimented with providing employees with activities such as guitar lessons and singalongs. According to Matt a lot of people reported that it was an amazing experience, but also it gave them just a break in a stressful day. They also started to look at how they can bring music into customer experiences, how can music be used in workshops to create mood, to engage people and how they can use it in their customer experience centres.
Julia added that SAP has really taken this to a much deeper level than many organizations to date because they really understand the science, so it’s been much easier to accelerate this program through the company and the enhanced versions that they are looking at continuing to innovate together to expand the wellness program.
Matt added that employee experience as well as customer experience is crucial, but he is particularly focussing at the moment on employee experience, and he said that music in the workplace is just a pivotal program now at SAP – it’s gone from a pilot to a mainstream programme and he wants to scale it across the business.
Julia predicted that they were going to be able to use this period [whilst people are working from home due to the coronavirus] to really encourage people to go through the short courses that they’re going to put up on the learning zone so that they have a deeper understanding about why this music program is running, meaning that the demand is going to be significantly increased when more people understand fully why they’re doing it.
Matt and Julia want to take their programme completely virtual. Matt said that people are already searching for connection and how do they connect more with employees. He added that it’s really important that they treat that very sensitively and keep providing this as a service for employees given the current challenges that they’ve got.
To measure the outcomes and monitor and evaluate people’s experiences, Matt and Julia said that they are using Qualtrics, which is an experience management and measurement platform. He added that they want to take it further and look how they continue to measure employee experience; how do they continue to get that pulse check from employees and customers as well? How do they continue to understand the impact that music is having is something that’s really important going forward?
The programme has come from Julia’s book, The Music Diet. She said that she wrote it through frustration of all of this research that exists, not being out in general public awareness. The book gained a lot of press coverage and Julia said that it became obvious to her that it’s good to have a book to try and get the word out, but if you can activate that book, then it helps spread that message even further. And so that’s where the workplace wellbeing program came from. She believes that if people understood that there are a handful of chemical reactions in the brain that are very significant in terms of how we feel, how we behave, how we function and that sound and music are immediate triggers to be able to control those neurochemical and hormonal reactions, it would help people look after their own mental health. She said that people tend not to look after their brain health because they can’t see their brain, if they could see it, they’d pay more care. Julia also added that in the current situation, where we are all confined, is a good opportunity to get this programme out there and get people to focus on their brain health because they’ve got everyone’s attention. She is keen to try and get the learning materials up online and make them really simple and quick snippets, in order to spread awareness about this. Teaching people how the brain works and then teaching people how to use music and sound, could have a dramatic impact when we are eventually all reunited socially.
Julia said that the goal is to encourage people to look after their mental health and the brain health and Julia and Matt use music as the vehicle for that – it’s an engaging tool that delivers the same response. Julia explained that we used to think that the brain didn’t generate new brain cells when we were in adulthood, but the scientific evidence now shows that it does, especially in the hippocampus, which is a key part of the brain for learning and memory. So, guitar and other learning instruments in particular is an amazing brain workout because they simultaneously trigger multiple regions of the brain. She said that the key is to not just deliver a guitar lesson but also the knowledge that people understand why they’re doing the guitar lesson alongside it so that they can understand that you are giving your brain a workout which is contributing to the neurogenesis and the development of new pathways in the brain and making the brain more efficient and more healthy.
Two clips of music were played on the podcast, which Julia went on to explain the effects they have. She said that the first clip, a more up-tempo and faster paced piece of music is a lot more energetic which would have an energising, uplifting effect. The second clip, she explained, is a soundtrack which they use in open plan offices to encourage focus and block out distractions. So, that type of sound is aimed at slowing the brain down and getting it to focus on one task. She added that one’s an accelerator and one’s a brake to show that different types of sound do different things.
Matt explained that when they’re working with customers, for instance, in a workshop setting, they want to know how they use music consciously to evoke a mood or to improve creativity in those kinds of settings in a customer experience centre. How do they make sure that the music that they use is engaging and interesting and really appeals to the emotional brain? And then also how do they share what they’ve been doing with their customers and partners? Matt said that they are also looking at how to continue to make sure that their facilities are wired for sound, he said that they want to make sure that they’re playing background music in their coffee shop areas, social areas and customer areas, because that adds to the overall ambiance of experience.
Julia added that there is no difference when you’re designing it first for human brains, whether they’re an employee or a customer, it is irrelevant to the brain. The brain hears sound and it processes sound and it reacts to the sound and that’s why the knowledge aspect and the science is key to that, because if you don’t understand how the brain works it is very difficult to design a high-quality experience.
A 2019 report from the World Health Organization also recognized the significant role that music can play in well-being. Julia explained that it was a review of over 3000 peer reviewed research papers, which is quite significant. She said the overall outcome was that the significant role that music can play in well-being is not being recognized. Julia is working with the NHS and Department of Health to try and get a blanket music license in place because it’s just so complicated for hospitals to use music. They’re trying to make it easier, especially in dementia care, where music can be very important when nothing else is working. She said that it’s actually that work with the dementia programmes that has really driven her desire to educate people about brain health. She added that it’s very complicated and there’s no cure on the horizon for dementia, but a third of cases could have been prevented if people had reduced the risk factors of brain degeneration during working life. So, if we can encourage people to look after their brain through work, through their life, then they’re less likely to develop neurodegenerative diseases when they’re retired.
Jez began by telling us that he thinks music as a psychological tool isn’t used particularly well and often it’s kind of thinking more about being a nice ambience or mood enhancer.
He added that there has been quite a lot of academic studies that have been carried out by psychologists looking at some really interesting facets. He mentioned a study in 1982 by Milliman. What they were looking at was how background music affects the behaviour of people in a supermarket – they looked at both fast and slow tempo music in order to understand what that might do in terms of priming customers to either spend more time in the store or in the first case of faster tempo, what happened was people were more inclined to move through the store faster and not buy as much. What they found was there was a significant positive difference for actually playing slower music in the store because it calmed people down and they’re more relaxed and they were more likely to make more impulsive decisions in the store at that particular time. Milliman states in the paper that this might not be true for every environment, but there are other environments where you might want to have faster music to encourage faster behaviour such as in a bar, as higher BPMs (beats per minute) can get people excited and get people to drink more. Jez also gave the example of fast, casual dining restaurants using this kind of music, where they want table turn quickly so they can maybe do maybe two covers every sitting.
He also mentioned another study by North, Hargreaves and McKendrick from 1999 titled – ‘The Influence of In-Store Music on Wine Selections’, carried out in a supermarket in the UK. In this study, one day they played French (Parisian style) music and one day they played German music. What this study observed was that on the day that they played French music, French wines outsold German wines by a factor of five to one and when the German music was playing, the German wines outsold the French. Jez explained that these are called ‘priming techniques’ and people don’t know that they’re actually being primed in these ways for these certain behaviours. People were asked as they came out of the supermarket why they bought that particular wine, and what the study found was one in 42 people said it was due to the music, so 41 out of 42 people came up with some random post rationalisations, such as ‘I prefer French wine’ or ‘I really like that grape’ and whilst that might have been the case with some of those people, the majority of them, the music in the background was influencing their purchasing decisions. Jez said that following these studies, he thinks that there’s still a lot to learn about sound.
Jez explained that some behavioural science or behavioural economics is a new field of psychology is starting to re-emerge, where in the past it was seen as a ‘soft psychology’, which wasn’t necessarily embraced by people in business. He believes that we are going to see a lot more of these types of studies in the future as people will want to practically apply them to their business. He said that even if an academic paper is 10 or 20 years old, some businesses will recreate the relevant experiments in order to drive business success.
An example that Jez gave us that his company had run, using some of these techniques, was when he worked with a government run programme called Healthier You. If you’re of a certain age, over 50, 60, normally and you’ve got higher blood sugar levels and might be at risk of potentially developing type 2 diabetes. He said that the government has an amazing voluntary programme which you’re referred to by your GP. He went on to explain that they work with the Leicester Diabetes Centre in association with one of the providers, called Ingeus. The content was really strong with the nutritional information, some of the psychology about how you can estimate how much sugars in things and how you might do simple things to help you exercise. But what Cowry looked specifically at was the psychology of the experience that they were creating for the attendees. They looked at the way in which music specifically was used at the meetings that were part of the programme. To paint the picture, Jez said imagine you go to a church hall, you’d attend and you might get there early and you’d sit there and the nutritionists, psychologists that would be running the session hadn’t been trained to create a good experience, they’d been trained to deliver the programme of content. So, you might be sitting there in silence with nine other people uncomfortably for around about 15 minutes. It was just it wasn’t a great atmosphere. And we know from the psychological perspective, more commonly known as ‘first impressions count’, the academic language is that first primacy of the experience is really important. He said that there’s no better way than introducing it with a smile, but also having some music as well. Some studies, such as one by Alpert in 1990 or the more recent one by Knoferle, Spangenberg, Herrmann & Lanwehr in 2012, have shown that music has the power to evoke emotion and drive a more positive mood, which can be measured biometrically and specifically to find that there are certain correlations between certain types of music. These papers showed us that music in a major key, with a tempo lower than 72 BPM would have a positive effect. Examples of this kind of music could be, Bob Marley and the Wailers’ ‘Three Little Birds’, or ‘Life Goes On’ by Noah and the Whale, or ‘Stay With Me’ by Sam Smith. Jez said that one song that particularly resonated with the generation of people that were part of the Healthier You programme was ‘What a Wonderful World’ by Louis Armstrong. He explained that if you went into a hall that was full of people that you think are enjoying themselves, listening to the music, then the conversation starts and it gives off the impression of a good experience that you would want to be a part of. It is important to understand that sometimes these seemingly small things that often seem a little bit silly or trivial, actually can make the content and all of the programme work so much harder and help people essentially live a healthier life and reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes.
Jez also mentioned that more recently they have worked with some financial services companies, such as Aegon. What Aegon found was that most people find their pension statements hard to read as they come in a paper booklet once a year and often it just gets put on a pile and not read at all. However, Aegon needed people to engage with their pensions, so they came up with the idea to create a video which was personalised about their statement. One of the critical points was essentially looking at the music and the voice over for the video. From the studies mentioned earlier, Jez pointed out that often faster music can make us feel as if we have spent longer somewhere, yet slower music can lead to more engagement, as seen in a paper by Caldwell and Hibbert in 1999. The music is not too distracting, it’s quite relaxing and that relieves us and creates us in a good state to engage. Jez added that it was interesting in terms of the impact that it had because people would watch the 90 second film and after the film, they asked them to start to engage with their pension, which is something that not a lot of people do, yet they found that there was double digit increases, 20 to 30 percent increases in people that were actually checking whether it was the right amount or not. He said that a significant proportion of people actually were prompted to look at the funds they’re in. They saw a big increase in people switching funds and what they also found was that people were actually enjoying the video but also engaging with what they were looking to do. They found there were significant shifts in terms of how people consolidate all of those pensions into one place. This shows that music can be very, very powerful, whether its speeding people up or slowing people down and getting people to enjoy what they’re doing so that they can make more considered or balanced decisions that are in their interest.
Jez explained that a lot of businesses don’t put enough importance on music and mostly focus on words. Looking at a lot of the recent Coronavirus statements from companies, they have been made with a block of text in an email and Jez said that he thinks this was relevant when the only tool we had to convey information was a typewriter, but now we’ve got word processors and amazing tools that can do amazing things. So, imagery is really important but also so is sound, not just music but soundscapes. Jez spoke about one of his favourite ones for Aegon which was at the very start of the video [mentioned above] there was the sound of tweeting birds. The video took the customers on a journey, with pictures on the wall in somebodies house in an illustration style and it went from picture to picture and chunking up all the information. He explained that from an evolutionary psychology perspective tweeting birds are very, very powerful as a soundscape, because they make us feel safe. The reason for this is because if you have tweeting birds around it tells us at a subconscious level that there’s no predators around. He said that he doesn’t believe that enough time is spent on visual or audio cues, particularly when it comes to the question of why certain types of music are being played and what behaviours are trying to be evoked and how is that going to help us? The combination of all these three, when you get them right, it just really, really works.
Music in Podcasting
Jez said that he had worked in marketing media for over 30 years and they use the term ‘sonic tag’ when talking about music that you hear at the beginning or end of a podcast or the well-known tunes for the ‘Intel inside’ or McDonald’s. These have been proven as a very, very powerful way to drive saliency and recall and also prime for certain behaviours. He said that he thinks having some form of sonic tag at the beginning and end primes people to say this is going to be good experience.
One of the features Jez said he finds really interesting is the editing of advertising on a podcast, either consciously through technology or subconsciously by not listening. He said that he isn’t sure that the advertising messages are strong if they are proceeded with some form of sonic tag to let you know they going into an ad break – he’s doesn’t think that is particularly helpful. However, the beginning of an experience and the end of the experience are really important as they’re called primacy and recency effects and they’re well-documented, it’s essentially having something which is still relevant to you.
Jez also has a book out called Ripple. He said that a key feature of the book is that it is easy to read, unlike some other behavioural science books. It’s very practical, very accessible and very, very usable. The book tells a story in each chapter and it builds your knowledge and application of the type of things talked about in this interview. It’s all about the big effects of small behaviour changes in business and it’s available on Amazon and all the bookstores.