People want to hear what your product sounds like

If it matters how powerful your product is (e.g. cars, blenders), let customers listen to it in action when they shop online or in-store. The louder it is, the more they’ll pay.

We value sounds. 

In 2014, after years of noise complaints, Formula 1 Racing introduced rules to limit how loud cars could be. Fans and racing teams were outraged. Opposition was so strong that Formula 1 had to overturn its new rules, and from 2021 cars will once again be very very loud.

This is also why some people spend £1,200 to make their Tesla sound like a Lamborghini.

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Let people listen to your product in action, the louder the better

Impacted metrics: Customer spending | Customer acquisition
Channels: Ecommerce sales | Retail store | Product

Recommendation

If you’re selling a product for which power is important (e.g. cars, blenders, lawnmowers, electric toothbrushes), let customers hear its sound in operation. They will be willing to pay more.

Online, let people play the sound along with images and phrasing that helps people imagine it in use (e.g. “click to hear it in action”). Alternatively, have a video that shows the product in use with its sound. In VR, the effect will be even more powerful.

Offline, you can either let interested customers hear the product in operation or prerecord the sound and allow customers to play it (e.g. add a small speaker to the product display).

Effects

  • People were willing to pay more for products they could listen to ($102.76 vs $87.86 for a blender) and would pay more for louder compared to quieter products ($41,127 vs $36,305 for an SUV).

  • The effect works only when people are thinking about using the product (e.g. mowing their lawn, using the blender) not the outcome (e.g. a well taken care of lawn, a fresh smoothie). So it may not work well if used with some benefits-focused marketing messages.

  • It only works for products in which power is important and sound is not a big drawback. For example, it would probably backfire for a dishwasher.

Why it works

  • Loud sounds suggest more power.

  • When we buy products for which power is important, we’re willing to pay more for a product that we believe is more powerful.

Limitations

  • Products were tested with or without sound, but not in competition with other products with different sounds. So we don’t know for sure how this would affect the comparison of different products in a real-world retail environment.

  • The research did not analyze the effects of intentional product sounds, such as the beeping of a washing machine once a wash is finished.

  • Researchers measured willingness to pay, not actual purchases, which can sometimes be unreliable.

Companies using this

  • While sounds are often used in ads for powerful products (e.g. sports cars), they aren’t normally used in product displays, online or offline.

Steps to implement

  • Give prospective customers the possibility to listen to the product in action in your online or offline product displays. If you’re selling on Amazon for example, where you don’t have freedom to design the user interface, you can include a video with a prompt to “turn on your sound to listen to hear it”.

  • Record the sound and let people play it. The louder the better.

Study type

Lab and online experiments, United States

Source

Ringler, C., Sirianni, N. J., & Christenson, B. (October 2020). The Power of Consequential Product Sounds. Journal of Retailing.

[Link to paper]

Affiliations

Culverhouse College of Business, University of Alabama and Smeal College of Business, The Pennsylvania State University, United States

Remember: Because of the groundbreaking nature of this paper, it could be disproven in the future (although this is rare). It also may not be generalizable to your situation. If it’s a risky change, always test it on a small scale before rolling it out widely.


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