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On Hold Marketing vs. On Hold Messaging

These are all terms that are commonly used interchangeably to describe the services of having some form of Audio playing on a company’s telephone system to callers when they are placed “on hold”. This white paper is designed to help clarify the differences among these labels within the On Hold industry.

Basic Definitions:
Marketing: - “Marketing is the process or act of bringing together buyers and sellers.” – Wikipedia

Advertising: - “Advertising is paid, one-way communication through a medium in which the sponsor is identified and the message is controlled.” – Wikipedia. We would also add, Advertising is usually integrated into a larger Marketing campaign.

Message: - “Message in its most general meaning is an object of communication.” – Wikipedia

Defining Music On Hold & On Hold Messaging:
Music On Hold is defined as playing pre-recorded or streaming music on your telephone system to callers while they are on hold.

On Hold Messaging is the simplest form of adding audio to ones telephone system, next to Music only. Generally, On Hold Messaging will consist of a basic set of statements read by a voice talent, designed to, reassure callers, deliver apologies for being on hold and deliver basic information about the company they are calling, (i.e. hours of operation, location, etc.). These prerecorded messages will then be mixed over a single music track to create a “looped on hold production” where the music is faded in and out at preset intervals while the statements are read. The average length of a “looped on hold production” varies between 2-4minutes before repeating itself.

An average statement within an On Hold Messaging campaign may read like:

“Thank you for calling XYZ Company. We are located at 12345 Main Street near the shopping center. We appreciate your patience while on hold and someone will be with you momentarily.”

Defining On Hold Marketing:
Before defining On Hold Marketing I think it is important to further define marketing itself. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia defines it by saying; “In popular usage, ‘marketing’ is the promotion of products, especially advertising and branding. However, in professional usage the term has a wider meaning which recognizes that marketing is customer centered.” They also go on to define two different types of Marketing:

1. “Strategic Marketing attempts to determine how an organization competes against its competitors in a market place. In particular, it aims at generating a competitive advantage relative to its competitors.”

2. “Operational Marketing executes marketing functions to attract and keep customers and to maximize the value derived for them, as well as to satisfy the customer with prompt services and meeting the customer expectations. Operational Marketing includes the determination of the marketing mix.” You may have noticed we have not yet defined On Hold Advertising, and it may be obvious as to why at this point. Advertising is one of the functions of Marketing, and to solely focus in on the Advertising aspects would also mean you are missing the bigger picture at hand.

On Hold Marketing is the use of spoken words and music, to create customer oriented audios for a telephone system, which promotes current advertising and branding campaigns for the company. Additionally it must further attract and keep customers and maximize their perceived value of doing business with ones company by adding educational, customer service related announcements. And by providing case studies and testimonials it will also lower potential customers’ perceived risk of doing business with a company. On Hold Marketing encompasses both: Strategic Marketing, by creating a medium of marketing that your competitors may be overlooking or using incorrectly and Operational Marketing, by creating a customer focused marketing campaign.

The Difference in Statements:
An effective On Hold Marketing statement may read like:

“XYZ Company is holding public hearings on proposed service reductions and fare increases on June 5, 6, 11 and 13. Ask your Customer Service Representative for times and locations as soon as they return to your call, or visit for more information.”


“If you are calling about your XYZ account, please be aware that you can review and make changes to your account by logging on to Here you'll be able to review your account history, obtain your account balance, update your account information, and make inquiries via e-mail. That's Thank you for holding we will be right with you.”


“If you’re looking for a way to protect your auto, home or even your pet, ask to speak to your personal banker when we return to the line. XYZ Bank now provides customers with answers to insurance questions through a partnership with the Insurance Answer Center. Visit for additional information.”

After reading the three examples you should be able to clearly note the differences between On Hold Marketing and On Hold Messaging (see Defining Music On Hold & On Hold Messaging). On Hold Marketing provides a professional customer oriented statement that is designed specifically around your company’s customer’s expectations and needs while they are on hold, whereas On Hold Messaging is a simple and basic statement about your business that may or may not have any relevance at all to your customers while on hold.

On Hold Marketing Statements require research to be done on what type of potential customers and customers are calling you, what the most common calls are about, what other types of marketing you are currently utilizing, what products and services are most important, etc. On Hold Marketing Statements also needs to be closely monitored and updated on a regular basis.

Many callers may become “numb” to your On Hold Marketing campaign if it is left static without being updated or refreshed on a regular basis, we recommend updating some of the statements a minimum of 4 to 12 times a year. By updating your statements you insure that the On Hold Marketing campaign is always Customer Centered with current information thereby creating better odds of seeing a higher ROI (Return on Investment).

What About The Music:
We mentioned earlier that, in an On Hold Messaging campaign, prerecorded statements will be mixed over a single music track to create a “looped on hold production” where the music is faded in and out at preset intervals while the statements are read. Let’s assume the average length of these music tracks are about 4 minutes. That means in a normal 8 hour business day that music track has played 120 times and to every single caller placed on hold. Because the music never changes it adds to the caller going “numb” to your On Hold Marketing Campaign. Even if the messages are changing the music becomes rhythmic and easy to block out. And as time progresses the caller will begin to ignore your campaign all together.

Ideally an On Hold Marketing Campaign should be using one or more music playlists on hold. Let’s assume you had a single 30 minute music play list that you played on hold and you operated on an 8 hour business day. This means your playlist would only repeat itself 16 times. Think about that. With the advent of new technology, that offers separate statement and music playlists, odds of a repeat caller hearing the same music, with the same statements over it, are virtually impossible. This is not only a Customer Centered idea, in the fact that it keeps your caller more interested while holding, but it also insures you are maximizing the exposure of your campaign to all your callers. This idea could be taken even further. Imagine if you could play a 20 minute music playlist from midnight to noon and a different 20 minute music playlist from noon to the following midnight.

It is important to point out here that, just because you have a music playlist, it does not necessarily mean it is appropriate for your business. Your music playlist should be created by professionals that understand your typical caller and type of business. Using specific genres and tempos is important in keeping callers interested in your campaign.

In an Avaya Press Release, Don’t Play it Again, Sam, they offer “real-life examples of inappropriate hold music”:

• “A hospital casualty unit found to be playing the ‘Funeral March’ by Chopin”
• “A clothing firm specializing in larger sizes for women playing Queen’s ‘Fat-Bottomed Girls’”
• “A mail order company playing “Hanging on the Telephone’ by Blondie”
• “One company advised its caller that their call would be answered shortly and then were played the chorus of ‘Rocket Man’ by Elton John, ‘I think it’s going to be a long, long time:’”

An understanding of the typical potential customer and/or customer calling your company in relationship to the background music may be as important as the statements themselves. A caller on hold needs to be “tuned in” to the statements, not “turned off” by the background music.

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