From Assembly Line to Playground: Sound’s Crucial Role in Experiences

Talk of e-commerce experiences often involves a smattering of familiar words: “intuitive this,” “quickly that,” “so-seamless-my-five-year-old-son-could-redecorate-our-house-in-the-dark” easy. (eBay shows us Karlie Kloss can do it in 24-hours, so can you!). Clean, simple and user friendly. Because of this shift, the role of the physical retail environment has been reimagined. It has slowly morphed into the fun uncle – the one that you want to visit on a road trip, that will tell you jokes, give you freebees, and make you feel personally attended to. The retail store has become a product in itself where design, technology and emotions intersect.

This shift allows for brands to build flagship stores that are personal, experimental and can become seamlessly integrated into the local landscape. Let’s think of a few recent examples: Need a nap in the middle of the day? Go to Casper’s showroom. Want to meet up with friends to chill out and listen to music? Go to one of the listening rooms in Sonos’ Flagship Store.

One of the most impactful ways to tap into this design shift is music and sound. At Man Made Music, we were lucky enough to get the chance to create a sonic branding experience for the newest AT&T flagship retail store at Union Square in San Francisco. The store, housed in a historic 1921 landmark building in the heart of the city, is one of the most immersive experiences ever seen in a retail flagship store to date in the telecommunications industry. A living manifesto of the promise of a world made better with connected technologies and the human experience that they unlock. As the Sonic Branding Agency of Record for AT&T, Man Made Music has created a full sonic identity system, but for this experience we wanted to acknowledge the opportunity to be personalized and connect with local visitors. Our team decided to create an immersive sonic experience that showed awareness and appreciation for the San Francisco community.

We used the sounds and sights of San Francisco as a cultural blueprint, a city known for its diversity and multicultural history. A large percentage (36%) of foreign-born residents call San Francisco home, with the largest group coming from China. The city is dotted with vibrant neighborhoods, including Chinatown, the Mission District, and North Beach and is also known for celebrating its multicultural roots through various festivals and events throughout the year.  In order to capture the essence of the city, we created three tracks to be paired with a nanolumen display that showcased visuals inspired by the murals of the Mission District. These tracks were meant to be reminiscent of a local San Francisco gathering: an authentic and approachable vibe, a space that celebrates artistic-expression with a global feel. To deliver on this flavor, we composed pieces with Asian, Latin American and African inspired melodies and recorded two world class percussionists that used instruments from Africa: congas, bongos, and an Udu drum, and from Latin America: timbales, compana cowbell, and a guiro. For the tracks listen here:

As with AT&T and other spaces, music and sound provide us a unique and efficient way for stores to become emotion-driven tourist destinations, where the design can be personalized and experimental. Research (what better way than facts to back a claim!) further helps us make this case. “Consumers today are looking at purchasing as an experimental activity, and want to enjoy the entire process of buying from the word ‘go’ to the post-purchase stage” says the International Journal of Management. A multitude of studies show that pleasant experiences created by music can lead to longer dwell time, higher purchase rates, higher likelihood to recommend the experience to others and future visits. As physical retail environments continue to evolve into playgrounds rather than assembly lines, we encourage brands to use music and sound as a tool to bring local or unexpected flair to an experience that elevates and differentiates it from its e-commerce experience.


Maya Friedman is Strategist at Man Made Music. Talk with her on Twitter @mcfried7.