No. 287: Spotify’s brand potential


Spotify’s chief marketer is leaving Spotify and their next CMO has an opportunity to continue its sprint towards 50% market share. In his parting words with AdWeek, Seth Farbman said:

By all measures, we’ve achieved [our] goals, but we’ve also done something most companies only dream of doing—we’ve turned affinity for the Spotify experience into love for the brand. 

And he’s correct. During his tenure, Spotify found ways to grow brand equity despite the offensive by Amazon and Apple Music. The numbers from January to June tell the story. Spotify maintained a 36% market share with a total of 83 million subscribers. Apple grew 2% market share, reaching a 19% stake of the market (43.5 million subscribers). While Spotify added 11.9 million subscribers, Apple has grown 9.2 million members. And Amazon added a half a point of market share, currently holding 12%.

But according to reports, Apple Music is set to overtake Spotify in terms of paid subscribers. Apple’s early Apple Music strategy consisted of music exclusives (Chance the Rapper, Drake) and live DJ sets (Zane Lowe, etc).

The relationship between Drake and Apple Music benefited both parties. Apple Music got first dibs on Drake’s record-breaking 2016 album Views, while the rapper is now the avatar for the paid music streaming era.

An often overlooked part of Apple Music’s library is Beats 1 radio, which in the case of Drake, who has his own OVO Radio show named after his recording imprint, means his fans have a reason to hold onto their subscription even if no new album on the horizon. Artists like Bad Bunny, Pharrell, Deadmau5, Elton John, Charli XCX, and Frank Ocean all have their own Beats 1 shows, reaching dedicated fans who’d rather connect with their favorite musician than trust an algorithm for song recommendations.

Slate: Why Apple Music is Winning Spotify’s Game

The the recent strategy seems to be Apple’s deepening moat around its hardware. While Spotify’s brand is more beloved, Apple has a growing technical advantage: its devices. By all accounts, iPhone and Airpod users are discouraged from choosing Spotify over Apple Music through subtle UX and Siri roadblocks, akin to Apple’s preference of Maps over Google Maps. This is most noticeable when attempting to control the Spotify app through your Airpods or playing music on your lock screen. In Spotify forums, moderators and community members are advocating that users delete Apple Music if they want a better Airpod x Spotify experience.

Apple’s continued growth will be closely tied to how well it develops Apple Music into the iPhone’s default. By cutting off Spotify’s seamless performance with Apple phones, their strategy is similar to Instagram’s uncoupling from Twitter’s timeline. By making it difficult for Twitter users to view Instagram photos, Facebook fostered its own ecosystem of engagement. Apple is benefitting from the same.

Apple music is for music enthusiasts and Spotify is for casual listeners. While Apple Music believes that this is their advantage, it is Spotify’s key differentiator. And it could decide the future of streaming.

By design (according to Jimmy Iovine), Apple Music makes it difficult to discover music. He believes that the service should exist for music lovers; Spotify is quite the opposite. The platform’s entire user experience is designed around (1) the promotion of artist discovery and (2) amplifying pop music’s inertia. Either you’re learning something new, thanks to their algorithmic and manually-curated playlists or you’re being steered towards the songs that are popular. Apple deemphasizes discovery, in this way.

Spotify’s ability to overcome Apple’s notable growth will hinge on the service aligning their brand with others and developing exclusivity partnerships. While their CEO may disagree, the platform’s defensibility will be closely tied to their faculty to “sell” music. While this is of little surprise, Spotify’s future may be influenced by how it sells brands.

Brands have sounds too

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One of dozens of user-generated playlists.

There’s a vibe when you walk into Ralph Lauren’s restaurant in downtown Chicago. The walls are mapped in gold framing, velvet, and vintage pictures of anyone who’s ever worn a tuxedo and evening gown well. But something sticks with you long after you leave, the restaurant’s music.

In a conversation with Lean Luxe founder Paul Munford, he had this to say about his effort to build his media brand through music playlists:

Keeps people engaged, keeps things interesting and fresh. Gives folks something cool to listen to each week under the LL banner. Keeps the brand top of mind in that way. It’s not a huge thing but is just another plot point for the brand that adds to the total sum, so to speak. Plus, it’s fun. I don’t think people are used to media or publications behaving this way. But that’s not to say the interest for publications to do more things like this isn’t there. You never know until you try.

Browse Spotify for your favorite retail brands and it’s possible that the brand will have some presence in the app, whether through an official brand playlist or – more commonly – as a fan-generated project. You’ll find “The Glossier Megamix”, “Ralph Lauren Classy”, “Lululemon Spring 2018”, and dozens of lists devoted to Victoria’s Secret. Spotify has a unique opportunity here. More and more brands are using playlists to shape their brand image. Music can provide a halo effect that helps to keep retailers at the top of consumer minds.

2PM Data

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August 2018 on Spotify: “Lucid Dreams” and “In my Mind” bolstered by Spotify playlists

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Method for music discovery (United States: 2018)

Growing playlist spins through partnership

Given Spotify’s recent decision to secure exclusive podcast partnerships with two celebrities, it’s clear that partnerships are on the executive team’s whiteboard. But this isn’t just about performers and brand evangelists aligning with Spotify. Spotify takes pride in experimentation and, as such, the company is primed to take a page out of Apple Music’s original playbook. The streaming service could make great progress by emphasizing its partnership division.

By the time a song lands on Today’s Top Hits or other equally popular sets, Spotify has so relentlessly tested it that it almost can’t fail. “There are very few artists that get into the flagship playlists and then get kicked out,” Holmsten says. When “Call On Me” made that list, it was already destined to go viral—even though most people had still never heard it.

WIRED: on the power of Spotify’s playlists

Spotify has been somewhat of a kingmaker for independent artists and on-the-bubble pop stars. To amplify this effort, Spotify is overdue to take a page out of the direct-to-consumer marketing playbook. Here are the top proposed partnerships with physical “retailers.”

By attaching discovered music to positive, physical retail experiences, Spotify can amplify a key performance indicator (KPI): repeat listens of new and popular music. Here are a few ideas:

  • Orange Theory | OT has earned a network of over 1,400 locations and a loyal following of fitness enthusiasts and business travelers.
  • Core Yoga | This studio is known for its unique practice and a franchise network of over 160 locations.
  • Soho House | The famed members-only club has 50,000 members and a unique vibe in each of its 23 locations.
  • WeWork | Their offices manage 100,000+ members and over 10,000,000 sq. ft. of workspace.
  • Delta Airlines | known for its pre-flight track list, the premium airliner has the ability to set the mood and the wifi for the Spotify deep-dive to continue throughout the flight.

By generating playlist spins through these locations, Spotify can accomplish two things: (1) generate more revenue for artists and (2) convince artists to sign exclusive deals by way of guaranteed minimum spins per month based upon estimated engagement times at Spotify’s potential retail partners.

Apple Music is catching up with Spotify’s lead by building a competitive advantage into its hardware. The company has grown despite glaring weaknesses in the app’s user experience. Spotify may not be able to ship hardware like its chief competitor but that doesn’t mean that it cannot partner with physical retailers. They can redefine their approach to hardware. Beyond their superior engineering, Spotify’s chief advantages could be their partnerships with retail spaces and up-and-coming musicians. Spotify has an opportunity to find an advantage where Apple has yet to look.  Their CEO says it best,

I think long term, we at Spotify have some defensible moats, but success for us will be determined by our ability to move faster than everyone else in the space. And just keep on innovating.

Read more of the issue here.

By Web Smith | About 2PM

No. 285: The End of Ownership

Scene: the perfect vacation experience, fueled by rented products.

Go on vacation and you’ll undoubtedly encounter at least one couple who snaps photos of their perfectly manicured brunch experience. They took an Uber to get to the general area, asking the driver to play their favorite Spotify playlist for the 17 minute drive. Rather than walk the final .7 miles, they both grabbed Bird’s to the brunch spot. Hey, it was more scenic and memorable that way. The husband followed along so that he could snap the perfect candid shot of his wife’s Rent the Runway dress billowing in the wind. And when they finally arrived to their seats, he snapped another photo of her with their DSLR from Parachut. It was the picture perfect experience.

Let’s breakdown access vs. ownership: 

  1. Rather than drive their vehicle, they accessed an Uber.
  2. Rather than listen to their music, they accessed a Spotify playlist.
  3. Rather than walk .7 miles, they accessed a Bird scooter.
  4. Rather than own the dress, she rented it from the runway.
  5. Rather than buying the iPhone, the husband has access to one through AT&T.
  6. Rather than configuring his own DSLR, the wife sourced one through Parachut.

But the memory of this was very much their own. They owned that memory and it’s well documented in the place where America stores their moments: Instagram. A place that keeps what we really care about owning. Above all else, we care about owning great moments. The couple accessed rented goods to own an experience.

Issue No. 265: Can A DNVB Achieve Modern Luxury

Buying experiences over buying consumer goods is a trend being adopted by the luxury-set. The interpretation of the word luxury means something altogether different for the types of customers who have the means and awareness to shop with DNVB brands. Skift’s latest research shows a clear shift in demand for more transformative travel experiences among upscale travelers (Skift / May 2, 2017). Whereas expensive products used to be the consumer desire: products, community, and service now play the role of enabling experience economy.

What’s the access economy? An economy driven by a business model where physical goods and services are traded on the basis of access rather than ownership: it refers to renting things temporarily rather than selling them permanently.

If you ask Joe Fernandez, CEO of Joymode, he’d tell you that a consumer revolution is coming. This belief is an increasingly popular sentiment held by founders and executives of the companies fueling the access economy. And there’s validity to it. Consider sector startups like: Rent the RunwayArmarium, Parachut, and For Days. These startups provide hard goods in exchange for a monthly subscription fee. For consumers, this shift isn’t just about personal economics or reducing the cost of ownership. It is a redefinition of what it means to “own” and whether or not permanent possession of a product is more valuable than access. Some would argue that access is ownership.

BMW is testing it’s new program called “Access” of all things. Here’s an excerpt by Andrew Hawkins of The Verge:

For $2,000 a month, users can choose between models like the X5 SUV, 4 Series, and 5 Series sedans, including all plug-in hybrid versions. For the higher-tier $3,700-a-month fee, they can get M4, M5, or M6 convertibles, as well as X5M and X6M SUVs, but it doesn’t include access to BMW’s highest-end 7 series. The fee includes insurance, maintenance, and roadside assistance, BMW says.

Consumerism is a part of America’s DNA, it’s what drives us. It powers our national economy, it fuels international trade, and it incentivizes entrepreneurial innovation. But even a casual observer can understand how the accumulation of goods, accelerated by eCommerce, can have detrimental effects. Consider this passage from a recent article in The Atlantic, “We Accumulate a Mountain of Things.” 

Thanks to a perfect storm of factors, Americans are amassing a lot of stuff. Before the advent of the internet, we had to set aside time to go browse the aisles of a physical store, which was only open a certain number of hours a day. Now, we can shop from anywhere, anytime—while we’re at work, or exercising, or even sleeping. We can tell Alexa we need new underwear, and in a few days, it will arrive on our doorstep. And because of the globalization of manufacturing, that underwear is cheaper than ever before—so cheap that we add it to our online shopping carts without a second thought. 

In many ways, Joymode is at the forefront of the movement to alter consumer behavior, with respect to the concept of ownership. At first glance, it’s easy to look at Joymode and reduce them to an events company, a place to go to have fun. But only at first glance. Upon further exploration of their offering, you’ll notice the featured products are everyday items. The platform rents everything from an Oculus Rift set to camping essentials. There is access to products for events and products for everyday life. It makes you wonder. If this is where things are going, how many products do we really need in our closets, cabinets, and basements?

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Essential products. Do we need to own them?

There is a massive backlash coming in the form of a cultural shift in how people consume. I love that we get to be a part of it. This weekend more than 15,000 products left the Joymode warehouse and it will all come back and go to different families next week. There are massive amounts of people fed up with the cycle of debt, clutter and waste.

Joe Fernandez, Cofounder and CEO of Joymode 

Fernandez, the former founder of Klout, is adamant about what he believes to be the future of ownership. He may have a tougher task ahead, when compared to companies like Rent the Runway. The barrier to entry in seeing value in paid access to clothing may be slightly lower than that of common household goods. But our analysis indicates that we will see more brands entering the rental service space. It’s no longer just about cost basis reduction.

There are numerous macroeconomic indicators that bolster Fernandez’s views: accelerating urbanization, increases in the housing rental community, millennial debt loads, the growth of streaming entertainment, and even how we travel. As a consumer, you will own fewer things. But those accessed items will be personalized to your specific needs.  People are beginning to redefine the need to buy because access is, in effect, ownership. It’s the community of like-minded consumers that they’re buying into. They’re paying for more than access to products. They’re paying for access to a collective who believes in an ideal. And that ideal could change retail, for better or worse.

By Web Smith | Edited by Meghan Terwilliger | About 2PM


Issue No. 273: Modern Luxe Doesn’t Bend

Pictured: Outdoor Voices, from our Open Letter to DNVB CEOs

In November of 2016, Lean Luxe’s Paul Munford penned somewhat of a scripture to upstart modern luxury brands: promotion-heavy retailers will not last. There are few takeaways from “The Downward Spiral” that are worth mentioning as recent economic reports suggest that the retail apocalypse is coming to an end, a great sign for aspirational DNVBs that are looking to expand into physical retail.

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We are in a time of unprecedented retail brand launches, collaborations, acquisitions, and re-imaginations – much of which is online-first. This begs the question, what will separate the winners from the commodities? There are early and permanent decisions that determine a brand’s trajectory. For every Mizzen + Main or Ministry of Supply, there is a State and Liberty. For every Outdoor Voices, there is a Bandier. And for every Away, there is a Raden. Each decision matters. And no decision matters more than pricing and a brand’s promotional tendencies.

Here are the top ten takeaways from some of Munford’s best work:

  • No maneuver in retail appears to be as easy to roll out, yet no strategy is as detrimental to a retailer’s long term prospects as the heavy discount. It is a palliative pill: wonderful for the consumer in the short run, but ultimately bad for both business and shoppers over time. It commoditizes the brand, forcing companies to differentiate on price. 
  • The second problem, also related to scale, is systemic to the industry itself: The need to constantly add more and more products at regular intervals, flooding the marketplace with goods that are newer, but rarely better.
  • The lure of the discount, then, becomes too hard to resist. It provides a short term boost to the bottom line and the illusion of growth, but at the expense of brand reputation and sustainable profit — two vital arteries for a business’s overall health.
  • Modern luxury companies have figured out the formula, and it’s remarkably simple: create less merchandise than will sell (and predict, if possible, the sell-through rate, with pre-orders), keep demand high. Embrace the waiting list, as Everlane, Glossier, Caraa, and Alala, among others, often do. 
  • Never discount; preserve the standing of the brand. These tactics certainly do not work, however, or at least for very long, if product standards are below par.
  • Hermes, for instance, is notorious for never slashing prices. Its products carry a prestige because of that, and there is always a demand, no matter how frivolous the item. And they certainly are not above testing the limits of consumer devotion: It has even gone so far as to repackage its cutting floor leather scraps to sell them as high-priced gift boxes.
  • That opposition to discounting would come from founders within the emerging modern luxury industry is no coincidence. For one, it displays the trademark sense of calm confidence in the product that this group is quickly becoming known for. 
  • As for Mr. Preysman, the full price mantra feeds into his mission to constantly refine the product, to make it better, and push it ever closer to perfection according to the standards of the brand.
  • Surprisingly, rejecting the discount is also quite consumer-centric. The eternally-wise Ben Franklin said it best, of course, when he offered this observation: “The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten.”
  • It takes superb maturity and a great deal of resilience to fight the urge for the temporary discount boost at the expense of preserving a long term reputation. 

Maturity, patience, grit, and perhaps temporary poverty are keys to developing the types of brands that grow to compete with age old legends and fierce (but hopefully friendly) rivals. In 2013, Brooks Brothers commented on Mizzen + Main’s influence on the shirting industry for the New York Times:

While Brooks Brothers experimented with “performance” shirts akin to Mizzen & Main’s, [Brooks Brothers’ spokesman] Mr. Blee said that customers preferred the general wearability of conventional all-cotton. The stretch fibers felt synthetic to them. Although a range of Brooks Brothers oxford shirts have moisture-wicking properties, he said, “We are known as a natural-fiber house: 100 percent cotton, 100 percent cashmere.

Just five years later, Brooks Brothers is launching a competitor to compete in a menswear world that is being re-defined by technical fabrics and other innovations.

Mizzen+Main on Twitter

we’re old enough to remember when Brooks Brothers laughed at performance menswear:

I remember the joy of that article hitting the newsstands on December 18, 2013. Not because of the notoriety that it would provide but because it had been over a year and half and we really needed the sales. We stood firm on our price while we built allegiances and Kevin worked feverishly to improve the product. And the company lasted. What Lavelle and team has done today is nothing short of spectacular. And it has allowed the brand to stand, eye to eye, in the same clubs and on the same courses as the company that invented the polo shirt (sorry, Ralph).

To achieve growth and longevity, branding cannot be viewed as a soft skill. Price cannot be viewed as an arbitrary number to manipulate. The five forces must always be considered. And patience must be paramount because great brands start slowly. In the age of modern luxury DNVB’s this is as important as the products themselves.

Read more: An Open Letter to DNVB CEOs (Issue No. 254)

Read the rest of Issue No. 273 here.

By Web Smith and Meghan Terwilliger | About 2PM