Technology’s power to reshape commercial property operations has been at work for decades. We observe the waves of change in e-commerce as if nothing similar had ever happened before, but the fact is that the electronic era has constantly produced new realities for the commercial property industry to adopt, adapt or ignore at its peril.
The idea that background music of a certain tone adds value to retail and office spaces is an old and proven one. When I saw that Muzak, the company most identified with providing that element is changing its tune, ditching its 79 year-old name, I looked into the company’s history and found a mix of commercial psychology, marketing and music that we take for granted in any store or office walkthrough today.
Technological Upheaval, 1920s-Style
In the 1930s, Muzak grew from a 1922 patent on delivering music into buildings across electrical power lines. The company was a cutting-edge technological marvel in its heyday, and property owners lined up to order the service, at first out of novelty then later in a bid to understand and affect the psychological states of the shopper, the worker, the visitor. The commercial property industry terminology for this is “performance”, a measure of economic productivity value generated per square foot, value needed to offset (at least) or dwarf (at best) all the costs that space presents.
Muzak Becomes Mood
As reported by New York Times Ben Sisario, the psychology of mood and the economics of retail grew into a huge business. And that Muzak, the iconic brand of that ambient, pleasant hey-stick-around-it’s-nice-in-here audio programming was taking on a new more direct name: Mood.
Mood Media, based in Concord, Ontario, has become a leader in so-called sensory marketing, providing stores and other businesses the sights, sounds and even smells to envelop their customers. In addition to Muzak, which it bought two years ago for $345 million, Mood has divisions for signs, interactive displays and scents, which it says reach 150 million people each day at more than 500,000 locations around the world, from Saks Fifth Avenue to Petco.
On Tuesday, the company will announce that it is consolidating its services under a single brand, Mood, thus eliminating the Muzak name.
“It’s the end of an iconic American brand,” said Lorne Abony, Mood Media’s chairman and chief executive.
The move reflects the growing sophistication of in-store services, as well as the pressures facing physical retailers in the Internet age. At Mood’s interactive kiosks, for example, shoppers can try on clothes virtually, while the company pipes in upbeat songs and scents intended to set a mood or cover up unpleasant odors.
“There’s a huge opportunity and a need for physical retailers to make the experience more interactive as they do battle against online channels,” said Edward S. Williams, a digital entertainment analyst at BMO Capital Markets in New York.
Property managers and tenants will tell you the devil is in the details — small factors such as ambience add up to the performance of a property. Until the numbers tell the ambient music industry otherwise, expect to keep hearing lite versions of pop tunes in the successful retail and office spaces.
(Photo credit: jplpagan)