All of sudden comes the realisation it’s only 8 weeks to Christmas, or as those of us in business think – there’s only 6 weeks left till the end of the year.

That begs the question… When should we start the Christmas music?

The answer lies in what your business does and who it serves. Every year we talk about how much earlier Christmas arrives. This is prompted by brands competing to be the ‘memorable’ campaign of the season. While some wonder who will win the X Factor or Strictly and, for music lovers, who will be Christmas No.1, big brands like M&S, John Lewis, Argos etc. look to claim their No.1 spot, defining and putting their signature on your Christmas, and aligning your festive shopping experience to their brand and brand values.

As we get ready for Halloween, now is when most mainstream Christmas media campaigns launch. Normally the first TV or radio ad leads other businesses to consider when they should put their Christmas theme and music live.

This got me thinking . . . when is the right time to put on the Christmas music in shopping malls?

For SME type businesses, is it to show that the business is cool, progressive and in tune, to differentiate itself from its competitors that don’t? There is certainly no shortage of critics, or self-declared “Christmas haters”.

The answer, I feel, lies in understanding who benefits from the Christmas music? Who are your customers and where will they hear your music?

The Christmas effect

Examples help us understand who the music is for and how to optimise the experience. How do you transform your typical shopping centre into a winter wonderland, full of splendour and connect to your shoppers? Aside from the grotto, lights and decorations, it’s simple – music!

If you want to evaluate how important music is to your environment, remove it, and observe it with and without its music. This Christmas when you’re shopping stop and notice what is playing, and what the ambiance would be without it?

Timing is key

For many of the centres we work with, Festive music begins around the Christmas Light Switch on, a defining day in the launch of the Christmas shopping season!

This usually starts around the 15th November (or slightly earlier for those eager beavers!). From here, the music plays right up to the 25th and for some into the New Year.

This creates an interesting dilemma – ‘When does the Christmas music actually stop?’ Retail suggests that Christmas ends on the 25th/26th of December. However, don’t the 12 days of Christmas start from the 25th?

In retail, we can establish that Christmas music will begin around the 15th Nov, ending by the 25th or 31st December. The critical key, however, is the execution.

Who are you playing your Christmas music to?

Customers of course! Is that what you thought? Well yes, generally you’re right, but that’s not all.

Did you think about your staff? They are perhaps the most important consideration when choosing when and how to play the music. Staff are your first line of contact with customers, and the human factor can influence whether your customers have a good or poor engagement with your brand.

Your staff are your brand ambassadors and the key to your sales success. There’s a lot of well-established research that links the effect of music on behaviour. Get your in-store music wrong and the downside is significant. Staff retention, motivation and behaviour are influenced by in-store music, and this behaviour can impact the consumers’ purchasing decision.

Before you press play, consider what 18 tracks of Christmas songs on repeat will do to your staff. We’re all familiar with the Chinese water torture routine – you leave someone in a room with a tap dripping all day and night! Looped CDs in retail are the modern-day equivalent in the retail context.

Music speaks volumes

Make your music varied, non-repetitive and refreshing! Equally, how do you define your Christmas music? Pop culture offerings, or classic Christmas tunes?

Transition for effective delivery of Christmas music

Slowly introduce the theme and the music. Don’t rush to put 100% Christmas music on the 1st of November or even the 1st of December. Slowly introduce your music into the mix of the other music playing up to Christmas Day.

At OnBrand, we suggest beginning with 25% Mid to End-November, early December increase it to 50% and save the all-out Christmas content till perhaps the 15th December, when your staff and customers are more willing to accept 100%.

There are many factors to consider before turning up the tunes.

Ask yourself: Which channel will you look to play music into? What does your business do, and who are its customers? Who will hear the music, and how long will they be exposed to it? What type of content is right for you to play?

Avoid CDs, loops and repetition, and ensure you create an engaging and relevant experience for your audience. Finally, ensure you know when your music should revert to its normal pattern.

And you thought the recipe for Christmas pudding was the real Festive debate?