People tend to be fairly polarized about hearing holiday tunes as they shop or work. You're either in this camp

or this one.

But researchers have taken a hard look at holiday music, and they have a pretty good grasp of how to find a happy medium with all shoppers. Here's how to use seasonal tunes to your advantage, based on psychology and their science.

1. Phase the music in and out naturally, maintaining regular play of non-holiday tracks.

Researchers have found that enjoyment of music--holiday or otherwise--follows an upside-down U pattern. Our enjoyment increases, peaks and then drops. This might be because the brain initially likes novelty. But once we're adequately familiar with the song, we have to spend so much energy not paying attention as it constantly plays that we see it as annoying or a hindrance. A 2000 study supports this point--familiar music was found to have a negative influence on shopping because it was distracting. Start with a piece here and there nestled between "regular" tracks, gradually increasing the percentage of holiday music you play. Then taper off, letting the holiday music fizzle by New Year's.

2. Match the music to your brand.

John Bradley, chief music officer for Custom Channels, says holiday music should match the vibe customers already know and expect from your company. So, for example, if you normally play funk and soul, James Brown's Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto might be a better selection than, say, Handel's Messiah. The approach works because maintaining the style avoids jarring the listener, offering a consistent experience. Remember here that there are many different arrangements of classic holiday pieces. Don't automatically knock a piece off your list because of how you're used to hearing it.

3. Watch both tempo and mode.

Tempo is the speed of your track. Mode refers to whether the music is in "major" or "minor"--major tracks tend to sound happy because of the pitch intervals used, while minor tracks tend to sound more serious or sad. Experiments done in the 1980s found that supermarket shoppers and restaurant diners both spent more time in their activities when music was slower. In a 2012 study, researchers found that, while tempo didn't affect sales much for major tunes, music in a minor mode that had a slow tempo was more effective at increasing sales. So when you really want shoppers to relax their grip on their wallet or need your team to be mindful and patient through a project, use songs like What Child Is This, rather than something like Jingle Bells.

4. Pay attention to volume.

The effect of volume on shopping can vary by demographic. Some research suggests, for example, that younger shoppers spend more time shopping with louder music, whereas older shoppers stay in stores longer with volume lowered. You thus should make adjustments according to your foot traffic patterns and take into account your overall target group.

5. Include all cultures.

Seasonal music makes us feel happy because we associate it with so many good memories of holiday seasons past. Savvy retailers and leaders count on this connection, hoping that if they can evoke those good feelings, we'll be more willing to open our wallets and keep working hard. But as areas grow more and more diverse, playing holiday music from just one culture can leave a significant number of shoppers or team members feeling alienated rather than joyful. So although you need to make an effort to maintain your brand voice with what you play, make an effort to recognize different peoples, such as using an acoustic guitar rendition of Navidad de los Pobres (Mexico) right after a string quartet arrangement of O du fröhliche (Germany).

As you apply these strategies, let reactance theory guide you. Reactance theory essentially says that, when someone tries to force us to do something, we'll naturally rebel and do the opposite because we want to preserve our freedoms. Playing holiday music that doesn't fit the brand, that's too loud or that doesn't respect where others come from all can trigger this reaction. Let "natural" be your motto for this reason, and do your homework to find a framework for where you need to position yourself. Know your customers and workers and design playlists for them. If that means your playlist and approach is totally different than the store next to you, that's perfectly fine.

Published on: Nov 14, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.