All of sudden from nowhere comes the realisation that its 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.

So, the question that begs… When should we start the Christmas music?

The answer, lies in what your business does, or perhaps more importantly who your business serves. We talk every year about how much earlier Christmas comes, and this is prompted mainly by brands competing to be the ‘memorable’ campaign of Christmas. So whilst some will wonder who will win the X Factor or Strictly and music lovers who will be Christmas No.1, the big brands like M&S, John Lewis, Argos etc. will be looking to claim their No.1 spot defining and putting their signature on what your Christmas is, and aligning your festive shopping experience to their brand, and brand values.

So, as we get ready for Halloween, then to launch the fireworks & light the bonfire, now’s the time that most mainstream Christmas media campaigns launch, hence my thoughts towards this question. Normally the first prompting from TV or radio leads many other businesses to consider when they should put live their Christmas theme and music. For me this post was inspired by a friend who asked me when he should put Christmas music on his telephone system at work.

And this got me thinking . . . when is the right time to put on the Christmas music?

Which led to me examine further, why we put the Christmas music on and for whose benefit?

For more SME type businesses, Is it to show that our business is of the moment, cool, progressive and in tune – so as to differentiate itself from its competitors that don’t? Or for the larger corporate, is Chistmas ambience a must, where those that don’t are more noticed for abstaining?

Certainly there are no shortage of critics, or self declared “Christmas haters” . . . a quick Google search found the following:

http://www.brucelawson.co.uk/2004/i-hate-christmas-music/

http://blogcritics.org/music/article/ten-christmas-songs-that-wont-make/

http://www.spambutcher.com/ihatechristmasmusic/

I especially like the last one, with an app to download for white noise and other ‘masking’ sounds.

christmas market

The answer I feel, lies in understanding for whose benefit Christmas music is actually for? Who are your customers and where will they hear your music?

Let’s take some examples so we can understand who the music is for and how to optimise the experience – and this is key – EXPERIENCE – Christmas is an experience. How do you transform your typical shopping centre into a winter wonderland, full of splendour and connecting to your shoppers – well, aside from the grotto, lights and decorations. – simple! – music! If you ever want to evaluate how important music is to your environment, then simply remove it, and observe it with and without its music. There is no better example than in a mall. This Christmas when you’re shopping stop and notice what is being played, and what the ambiance would be without it?

For many of the centres we work with, Festive music begins on around the Christmas Light Switch on, a defining day in the launch of the Christmas shopping season. Most malls will begin their Christmas music at this point, which usually starts around 15th November. From here on in, the music plays right up till the 25th and for some onto the New Year. This then creates another interesting dilemma – ‘so when does the Christmas music actually stop?’ Retail seems to suggest that Christmas ends on the 25th / 26th of December. However, don’t the twelve days of Christmas start from the 25th? Try and find someone playing Christmas music up till the 6th of January who hasn’t simply forgotten to take the CD out!

In retail, we can establish that Christmas music will begin around the 15th Nov and end perhaps by the 25th or 31st. The critical key however to this, is the execution. If you’re in retail then who are you playing your Christmas music to?

christmas decorations

Customers of course! Is that what you thought? Well yes, in the main, you’re absolutely right, but don’t think that that’s all. Your staff are perhaps the most important consideration you should be making for, when choosing when and how to play the music. Don’t forget your employees in deciding your Christmas music policy. Staff are your first line of contact with the customer, and simply said, the human factor can make and 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. A staff smile goes a mile. 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 the impact of this behaviour can really impact on the consumers’ purchasing decision.

So, before you send the CD out to the store, or put that CD in yours, consider what 18 tracks of Christmas songs in total repetition are going to do to those who spend the most time listening to it. Now, 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 and repetitive CD’s in retail are the modern day equivalent in the retail context.

Make your music varied, non repetitive and refreshing and you’ll make a big difference in the end result. Equally, do you define your Christmas music as the Pogues and Mud? or are you better off with a more Harry Connick Jnr / Dean Martin, cooler Christmas?

The trick to effective delivery of Christmas music is to slowly introduce the theme and the music – don’t rush to put 100% Christmas music on the 1st of November or for that matter even the 1st December – slowly introduce your music into the mix of the other music playing up till Christmas Day. Begin with 25%, then as you move to the end of Nov, early December increase it say 50% and save the all out Christmas content till perhaps the 15th December, where your staff and customers are more willing to accept 100%.

So, in summary, the answer to the question: “When should I turn on the Christmas music?” needs to be answered with a consideration to a number of factors. Which channel will you be looking 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 CD’s, loops and repetition, and ensure you create an engaging and relevant experience to your audience, and ensure you also make sure you know when your music should also revert back to its normal pattern.

Mince Pies

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