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Spotify’s CMO on Using Data to Create Content Marketing Hits

Published on Mar 9, 2021

Spotify’s CMO on Using Data to Create Content Marketing Hits
Dawn Papandrea
Dawn Papandrea studioID

There is a fine art to leveraging data to understand your consumers, and few brands are doing it as well as Spotify.

Recenty, Seth Farbman, Chief Marketing Officer of Spotify, shared how the music streaming service is able to understand individual customers on a personal level, as well as pinpoint larger cultural trends by digging deep into its data.

Here are the key highlights of his talk – or, what we like to call his ultimate “How to Rock Content Marketing Data” playlist.

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Seth Farbman, CMO of Spotify, at #ThinkContent 2017.

Track 1: Think People, Not Data Points

A few years ago, “big data” was the buzzword that had marketers thinking about infinite possibilities, but Farbman says it was a lot of smoke and mirrors: “Suddenly, we could know everything that’s valuable to know about our consumer, and follow our messaging and its impact on the sales funnel, all the way down to lifetime value. But it was mostly bull.”

What actually happened is that big data gave marketers what Farbman calls the most banal, disruptive and annoying part of marketing: retargeting.

“So if you explore the web and buy shoes online, we marketers can try to get you to buy more of those shoes incessantly. The data was reducing you down to your smallest moment – the moment you bought a pair of shoes,” he says.

But, of course, your customers are more than one purchasing decision.

They are emotional, unique human beings whose moods may shift moment to moment. That’s why today’s successful brands must look at data with a much keener eye, and begin to draw insights that speak to customers as humans and build lasting connections that actually improve business outcomes for years to come, according to Farbman.

Track 2: Understand People in Cultural Context

“If you are simply intaking massive data, you’ll quickly become overwhelmed,” says Farbman. With the amount of information Spotify collects, he should know. Just think of the active users (more than 100 million) and playlists (more than 2 billion), alone.

Instead, brands must start with a premise, then look for culftural trends and patterns in their data, Farbman says.

“We have data on how people are using music in their lives. It’s highly emotional. We can tell when someone has broken up with someone. People have created playlists to send to their soon-to-be former significant other. We know when people are running, studying, trying to go to sleep,” he says.

Besides noticing repeatable patterns, your audience might also be telling you about themselves directly.

“You have to be listening,” says Farbman.

“When someone creates a playlist titled ‘I hate Bob,’ we’re pretty sure we know what’s going on there. For us, data is this incredible insight to know what’s happening deeply inside someone,” he says.

As a music company, such information helps Spotify recommend more songs. But more importantly, it allows Spotify to peek inside the customer’s head, and use that as creative inspiration.

Here’s an example: After every presidential debate last year, Spotify realized that more and more playlists were being created that had the title “moving” in them.

“Clearly there was this feeling that people really wanted to move to Canada. We saw this inside the client but also as a cultural phenomenon,” says Farbman.

Spotify decided to create an advertisement called “Moving” that featured a couple literally driving their house to Canada with the Flo Rida song, “My House” playing in the background. The idea was to show consumers that Spotify really gets what they’re feeling.

Track 3: Get Personal

As with the above example, data can reflect something big and cultural, but it can also be drilled down to the individual level as well. That’s why Spotify’s creative team spends time creating ads and other content that is extremely targeted to smaller customer niches, or particular neighborhoods.

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Another example of Spotify having fun with its data is when they realized that sometimes people give their playlists funny and odd names.

“We reach out to individuals and say, ‘We like your playlist, here’s the joke,’ and ask if they’re willing to participate. We’ve never had anyone say no,” says Farbman.

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Perhaps the most successful content personalization Spotify does, however, is its Year in Music.

“We had this idea to return to people their music history. For 130 million people, each got an individualized email to an individualized link to an individualized experience that shows what they listened to throughout the year, and what artists they helped break. It allows them to brag about it and share it,” says Farbman.

Think about how you can personalize your customer experience, whether it’s by inviting your fans to share their own content, or giving them something of value that is just for them.

Track 4: Go Bold

Don’t pass up an opportunity to experiment outside of your creative comfort zone, says Farbman.

That’s why when Barack Obama made a quick comment to the former ambassador to Sweden about wanting a job with Spotify as his term was ending, they jumped on it.

The Spotify team came up with the idea to create a job positing on the Spotify career page called “President of Playlists,” and have Daniel Ek, Spotify’s founder, tweet it out.

It was a fun piece of content that captured the playfulness of the brand’s voice.

And, surprisingly, 850 people actually applied for the job.

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Track 5: Let Data Trigger Your Message

Beyond viral job postings and funny ads, data is really about improving customer service and retention.

“We get signals of early retention issues all the time. We can tell when someone is using Spotify less, sharing it less, building fewer playlists. But on the flipside, if I can get you to make a playlist, we know that the chances of your lifetime value going up and churn going down are about five times more than if you didn’t. So the content message should be, ‘Let me show you how to make a playlist,'” says Farbman.

As a fan, you get more enjoyment out of the product, and that greater enjoyment will affect retention rates.

Similarly, if someone on the free, ad-supported version of Spotify is trying to do things only available on the premium paid version, they will get a message letting them know that with a premium subscription, there are less restrictions. Something like: “We see you’re trying to skip songs 15 times…”

Ultimately, Farbman says, as marketers get better at harnessing data, systems – not humans – can be created that automatically pick and choose the right content to deliver to the right person at the right time.

But until then, keep listening to what your data is telling you about your customers so you can keep producing the content hits they’ll truly enjoy.

For more insights from Seth Farbman, check out his full talk here.

Dawn Papandrea is a studioID Contributor.