This post originally appeared in our November issue of “Live Report from the Future of Marketing,” our monthly Post-Advertising newsletter. Subscribe for free here.
Free music streaming services are here to stay. So when will brands really come out and play? Saviors like Spotify and MOG, plus the now-seasoned vets Pandora and Last.fm—which have dragged the music industry kicking and screaming into the 21st century—are now the best bets at monetizing and spreading music legally into the future. And now, via social platforms like Facebook and its Open Graph, they’re encouraging more sharing than ever before.
Top that off with the hundreds of ingenious apps and web sites taking shape through music’s newfound online freedom and you’ve got one hell of an opportunity—one that most brands have squandered. Turns out, there’s much brands can do, as both advertiser and Page admin, to utilize these valuable new tools.
Today’s range of music tools and platforms—which help listeners discover, curate, mash up, and make social all things music—is simply staggering. This graphic from Fast Company (below) illustrates just a small crop of the 200+ apps that utilize the Echo Nest, primarily a searchable database for app developers of every possible data point imaginable of 30 million songs called the Musical Brain. Included in this effort is how the brand has teamed up with EMI to offer a full range of songs and artists for app developers to create with.
In addition, the Echo Nest recently wrapped up their second-ever Music Hack Day in Boston, which yielded over 50 fully-formed music apps using a variety of APIs including the Echo Nest’s database.
THE STATE OF MUSIC: SPOTIFY, MOG AND MORE
As July’s successful launch of Spotify on North American shores proves, music fans are hungry for a free service that offers access a massive library of songs from anywhere. Sadly, brand involvement with Pandora and Spotify so far has mostly been limited to brand-sponsored radio stations and vaguely associated playlists, respectively.
Competitor MOG offers another way to cut the ties that bind listeners to local libraries in favor of the cloud—not to mention countless other applications that are legally using labels’ catalogues in new and original ways. While MOG is perhaps more innovative in their solution to offering free streams of legal tunes, both platforms lean heavy on the ads (banner and audio) to foot the bill—paid placements that are decidedly interruptive in approach and unfitting for forward-thinking web 2.0 platforms.
Running web banners and audio spots between songs is not post-advertising. It’s traditional, intrusive, and intolerable in the long run by users. And if having to endure advertising on Spotify encourages a user to pony up for a subscribe just to avoid having to hear and see them, what does that tell you about Spotify’s commitment to advertisers? In this day and age, what brand should knowingly pay for these ads that are so obnoxious and repetitive they inspire the audience to turn against your brand completely?
While Spotify’s free variant solely supports itself on the back of ad banners and ad spots between songs, MOG offers a more respectable solution: a limited number of songs for a given period of time, as indicated by an in-dashboard meter or “gas tank.” Increase it by performing a number of social tasks like sharing a playlist on Facebook, referring a friend or listening to one of the platform’s currently promoted artists—great ways to encourage discovery and, in the instance of sponsored artists, a great alternative to force-feeding it. Imagine, as an extension, brand-sponsored playlists that earn users more listens or a brand’s own MOG account, which can be followed in exchange for points. It’s not that far of a stretch.
The solution shouldn’t be to use archaic advertising methods as a negative reinforcement for fans to sign up for an unlimited, no-ad subscription (the rate of ads is expected to rise in the coming weeks as the “honeymoon” ends for us users). In the near future, such ad-baiting (if that’s what these services are really up to) won’t be tolerated by users—and, won’t be paid for by brands who will no longer accept anything less than meaningful partnerships that engage their audience.
HOW CAN BRANDS LEVERAGE NEW MUSIC PLATFORMS IN UNTRADITIONAL/NON-INTERRUPTIVE WAYS?
In order to understand how brands might better work with platforms like Pandora, Spotify and MOG, we must recognize what primarily makes these platforms work: music is an inherently social good. As such, every popular music app has experienced an explosion in new sign ups and activity since Facebook made recording, tracking and sharing listening habits simple and effortless. Famously announced at f8 by way of Spotify, another four million people have joined since September 22nd. MOG has grown by 246% and Rdio 30-fold since the conference, reports Mashable.
What does this tell us? That each and every brand Page on Facebook should be working to include post brand-appropriate Spotify, MOG and similar platform content into future posts: curated playlists, select song shares when appropriate, contests calling for the best playlists or the creation of collaborative playlists. Lindsay Fultz at Middle Child New Media has a number of quick-and-easy ways to incorporate Spotify’s library and feature set. In general, these platforms offer the chance to incorporate music—an emotional touchstone and connective tissue of society—without legalities into any number of situations as a way to color a brand’s personality and content stream like never before.
SPECIAL RECOGNITION: BRANDS TAKING ON STREAMING MUSIC
Brand: Mercedes Benz
Campaign: The Coupe Remixes
Why It Works: German luxury automobile maker Mercedes Benz took things up a notch by working with streaming service Grooveshark recently on a full-scale remix contest. Listeners voted for their favorite song from a brand-curated list of 12. The top 8 were chosen to be remixed in an exclusive new album, “generated by you.” Perhaps a basic, limited contest, it still takes MB a step beyond the usual interruption-based advert, successfully getting the brand’s musical tastes across (“curated specifically for you”) while keeping the listener control of the contest (“generated by you”).
Campaign: Engineering Amazing: Campaign site and on Pandora
Why It Works: Instead of simply linking off to a campaign website unrelated to Pandora, Lexus took the opportunity to produce a full radio station curated by Nic Harcourt around the idea of “future proof” as it relates to music. Part of their Engineering Amazing campaign, Lexus also produced a video with their tastemaker further elaborating on theme and how it relates to both music and Lexus’ sustainability efforts. An in-banner text field allows the listener to suggestion their own “future proof” song. Compelling stuff.
Furthermore, Lexus has integrated Pandora functionality into their next generation 2013 GS sedan’s Enform entertainment system, proving, as a brand, that they’re taking the platform seriously. Similarly, Ford announced its new Focus would feature Spotify connectivity.
WHAT DRINKIFY MEANS TO MARKETERS: AN OPPORTUNITY MISSED
Along with the brilliant-but-brand-challenged streaming, socially-spreading heavy hitters Spotify and MOG, there are similar platforms like Grooveshark and Rdio, slick discovery tools like Discovr, Pocket Hipster and Groovebug, uploading and sharing tools like Soundcloud and fun, ingenious one-off ideas like Turntable.fm and Drinkify. All these great tools are life-changing listener solutions, primed and ready to grow with the right partnership. (Case in point: MTV’s Music Meter, a match made in heaven.)
Drinkify in particular resonates as a telling example of a missed opportunity on the part of brands. Created as a part of Music Hack Day Boston 2011, the simple site generates the perfect drink to pair with any given artist or group. It uses a combination Last.fm’s API for photos, name corrections, the Echo Nest for artist info and their own proprietary drink database.
How about if Toasted Head wine (client) had developed the idea themselves? A specific Toasted Head version could focus on entertaining and more broadly play you a genre of music based on, say, type of wine you’re drinking, location (it looks at weather, climate) and environment (indoor/outdoor) in order to provide you a number of pairings—not just what music to pair with your wine, but which food, activities, conversation topics, movies and so on. Or perhaps still, imagine Drinkify as a helpful app from a large alcohol retailer to offer mixed drink package deals and as a way to introduce specials on certain artists/genres/etc.
At the very least, a site like Drinkify is ripe with opportunities for brand sponsorship—try searching for most indie bands and you’ll get Pabst Blue Ribbon or Red Stripe. What if the corresponding brands sponsored these drinks and funded functionality to locate PBR or Red Stripe at liquor stores or bars that offer PBR or Red Stripe drink specials?
On the subject of radio channels available on iTunes-like streaming music platforms that mimic Pandora’s approach, consider Spotify’s radio channel, which picks tunes based on which tag you select. What if Heineken had its own tab, which played pre-selected, brand-appropriate songs, like the ones regularly used in TV ads.
By licensing out their API or capabilities to a 3rd party, groundbreaking platforms like Spotify and MOG can help sustain themselves better and at the same time stir genuine innovation—a brand’s content must be great in order to captivate and catch on, after all. On thing’s for sure: music’s future does not include ads that hold listeners hostage. In the listener’s world, the brand should be an active participant and have a personality formed around the subject matter. Anything less is advertising as usual.
What branding opportunities on these emerging platforms do you think have been missed?