Day in, day out, the CMO of an enterprise-level business with offices in Midtown Manhattan uses his lunch hour to walk around the city, headphones in, brainstorming his next marketing campaign while listening to Broadway musicals he loves. Lately, he’s been listening to the Hamilton soundtrack on repeat. In fact, he’s a little obsessed.
On one such brisk walk, late one afternoon last December, he took notice of an ad that seemed to target him directly: “Dear person in the Theater District who listened to the Hamilton soundtrack 5,376 times this year,” it read, “Can you get us tickets?”
Any other person would have thought, How did they do this? As a marketer, he asked himself a different question: How can I do this? How can I reach out to my customers this way?
Our CMO recognized that this campaign, dreamt up by Spotify, was the answer to all the worries he’d been feeling lately. You see, at his organization, content is created centrally and then pushed to local markets, with a perfect relationship and cadence between central and local. The company was doing great, but then, at the beginning of last year, things started to stagnate. Media buyers were not able to drive as much traffic with their content as they always had been, costs were going up, and revenue was definitely taking a hit. The brand was still creating what they believed to be good content—so what was wrong?
Well, now he knew for certain. The Spotify billboard made him realize almost immediately that technology is making traditional approaches to localization obsolete. It was time for him to dig deeper into the data and take targeting techniques to the next level.
But first, he had to know how—so he took a closer look at how Spotify did it.
According to Creativity Online’s interview with Spotify CMO Seth Farbman, “The idea for the data-driven campaign originated with 2015’s end-of-year Year in Music campaign . . . as it transpired that data from listeners in different geographical areas provided some interesting insights.” In Farbman’s own words, “that led to the concept of reflecting culture via listener behavior.”
“Thanks 2016, it’s been weird,” was the sign-off line of a campaign the company launched at the end of November, bidding adieu to a year that had been strange for many. (Not that it was necessarily weird for Spotify—in September 2016, the company reached 40 million paid subscribers for the first time.)
The campaign, designed by Spotify’s in-house team, proved to be an engaging way to crunch data and speak to customers in a way the company hadn’t tried before. Each version of the ad is inspired by data from listeners and pop culture events of the year. The ads were first released in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, and France, followed by launches in 10 other countries. They included funny, personalized messages to individual users, such as:
After all the discussion among marketers about understanding cultural nuances over the last few decades, marketing has reached a turning point: with companies increasingly able to fine-tune their perceptions of customer behavior, they may find that appealing directly to individual consumers makes their communication much more effective.
Personalization means taking advantage of the customer data to reinforce the message. As a 2016 study from Accenture showed, 75 percent of consumers are more willing to buy from companies that are able to recognize them as individuals and provide recommendations that meet their particular needs.
That’s what Spotify’s campaign was all about. The simple fact that someone was individually recognized and remembered implies that marketers can address and engage them in a way that fits their preferences.
That same spirit inspired the brand’s more recent ads, which make fun of odd user-generated playlist names.
If there was debate about data stifling creative thinking in the process of marketing transformation, this Spotify campaign has put an end to it. As Seth Farbman said: “For us, data inspires and gives an insight into the emotion that people are expressing.”
There are many ways to translate data into marketing. One way is to convey a sense of place, something the Seamless marketing campaign does flawlessly. Slogans such as “Pre-War Charm Always Includes a Pre-War Kitchen,” that are lost on non-New Yorkers, serve to show the brand’s connection to the city.
Another option, as Campaign suggested, is to go from big annual events like the Olympic finals or the Oscars to less conventional “cultural moments,” be they presidential debates or the end of a peculiar year.
Alternatively, pursue hyper-personalized content, as Kenscio Digital did in an award-winning campaign that strove to “enable [the] live display of personalized financial news and stock market information inside the email inbox.”
Spotify managed to do a little bit of each: conveying a sense of place and time and using hyper-localized figures from its own data. Because Spotify approached the campaign with humor, it avoided that awkward feeling that machines know too much about people; at the same time, it succeeded in having people recognize themselves in its messages.
Personalization is the future of content, because while customers are turning their backs to promotional messages, they do want to build relationships with brands that care about and understand them. And what could be more relevant for a person than their own obsessions—like the Hamilton soundtrack our Broadway marketer just couldn’t turn off?
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Featured image attribution: Siddarth Bhogra