Marketers Need to Consider Consumers’ Changing Music Preferences, Especially in the Holiday Season

Playing the same hits every year can only take you so far

Brands need to pay attention to how their audience is consuming music or risk falling behind this holiday season. Getty Images
Headshot of Danny Turner

Undoubtedly, the way that we consume music has changed drastically in the digital age. People are no longer tethered to a radio. We listen to podcasts, stream highly-personalized Pandora stations and cue up our own playlists on our own devices. Media has become much more individually curated and less dictated by a handful of local radio stations. These new consumption habits carry over into the in-store experience as retail marketers begin putting together holiday strategies for their most important six to eight weeks of the year.

With the overall decline of traditional radio listenership and rise of more personal services, there’s even less of a runway for new holiday songs to become holiday classics and less exposure to seasonal songs in general. Overall, holiday music has a more difficult sticking factor and has the capacity to feel more abrupt when it’s suddenly cued up in stores the day after Thanksgiving.

Here’s what you need to know as we embark into the holiday season.

Acclimating to the landscape

In the current ecosystem, it’s become more important than ever that retailers don’t create a jarring customer experience with the introduction of the wrong holiday music. Lucky for us, “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” is no longer playing every hour. The downside? Without the familiarity of as many new Christmas classics, brands that look solely to the current pop charts for newer, fresher holiday songs risk falling short in terms of tapping into the evocative power of holiday music in-store.

Holiday music has a more difficult sticking factor and has the capacity to feel more abrupt when it’s suddenly cued up in stores the day after Thanksgiving.

Why exactly is this a risk? Shoppers won’t have a built-in emotional connection with newer, unfamiliar songs, which is the whole point of playing holiday songs in the first place. However, hope is far from lost as long as there is a plan.

Adapting to modern music consumption

So how do brands conjure up those fuzzy fireside feelings when fewer new holiday classics are making their way into the mix? For one, marketers and brands will need to remain cognizant of changing musical tastes and the varied avenues of consumption as they determine their holiday music strategies. The way we introduce new holiday classics into the mix has to change significantly in light of all the shifts in listening habits. It’s very difficult for us all to get behind and champion a new release if everyone is listening to their own playlist. Familiarity is built first and foremost upon repetition.

Tackling emerging trends

We’re seeing brands begin bridging generational gaps between shoppers with playlists featuring remixed holiday classics. These remixed classics mirror the trends that we’re seeing in pop music in general. Retailers are taking older holiday tracks that consumers still have emotional ties to and make them feel more current with new artists and fresh iterations.

Recognizing the power of the remix

As the fragmentation of musical genres continues to splinter in new and different directions, holiday music will inevitably follow suit. There’s a whole fresh bumper crop of newer artists remixing older songs. When we mix two generations, like Nathaniel Rateliff doing “Santa Baby” or Valerie June’s rootsy “Winter Wonderland,” we can contemporize emotional conductivity. Shoppers can connect with the lyrics and melodies, but they don’t feel as tired and dated.

Identifying new interpretations

In addition to remixed classics, we’re also seeing more and more electronic interpretations injected into the in-store experience. There’s a new sound that’s echoing throughout many malls nationwide. Taking cues from the hotel sector, more and more retail marketers are crafting their seasonal strategies with a mix of electronic and lounge influences reverberating through their stores.

With so many ways to discover and consume music at our fingertips, we can’t rely upon the old holiday chestnuts to carry all the weight. The way in which we consume music is changing rapidly, and that’s going to have some effect on holiday tunes and the relationship that consumers have with that music. Moving forward, marketers will need to re-evaluate shoppers’ changing musical tastes and the varied avenues of consumption as they focus and hone their holiday campaign efforts. And certainly, one-way brands can successfully curate fresh holiday playlists is by looking to new interpretations of classics that invoke familiarity while simultaneously bridging generational gaps.


Danny Turner is global senior vice president, creative programming at Mood Media.
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