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Listening is everything, for a fee

Spotify’s first global campaign for 2020 is a lesson in knowing your customers’ universe

Are you a Spotify or Apple Music person? I’ve been avoiding this question on the home front.

You see, we’re a family of two adults and four kids, and we’re all in with Apple. I’m the domestic CIO responsible for five iPhones, four iPads, four MacBooks, an iMac, and a couple of Apple TVs.

Holding it all together is an Apple iCloud account with a gazillion terabytes of shared family storage, and of course a family subscription to Apple Music. Meanwhile, we also have monthly subscriptions to Netflix and Disney+.

It’s not a trivial monthly cost, but to be clear, I’m not complaining. They’re all great services and I’ve even enjoyed my free Spotify account on and off for years.

But recently the kids started badgering me for Spotify Premium. Another subscription? My response was very mature: “la la la la la, I can’t hear you!”

Yet, here we are. I’ve relented and I plead partial insanity. We’ve signed up to Spotify Premium Family, the kids are over the moon and I’m busy figuring out how to make the most of it.

Oddly enough, it’s good timing for this column. Spotify recently launched its first major brand campaign for 2020, titled Listening is Everything.

I love a good brand platform, and I’ve gotta say straight off the bat, I love this one. Listening really is everything. I’m an audiophile, a musician and music lover in all its wonderful diversity. As an agency leader and former journalist I can also tell you with confidence that listening is one of the best skills you could hope to master.

But there’s more to Spotify’s new campaign than simply listening. Let’s take a look at what it teaches us about brand storytelling.

Firstly, the campaign’s hero video, produced by creative studio ManvsMachine. It delivers a short, funky and upbeat vibe. The super-cool aesthetic cleverly mixes the campaign slogan with animation, artist imagery, CG and 2D hand drawn elements.

The sound design matches the positive, social feel that characterises the Spotify brand. Serena Leith, Marketing Director, Australia and New Zealand told me on The CMO Show podcast last year that to her, Spotify was “an indispensable source of daily joy”.

I reckon there are thousands of brands that would love to authentically claim this positioning.

Secondly, let’s talk strategy. Spotify isn’t just music. It’s rapidly becoming the go-to destination for podcasts. The company’s home page - itself an object lesson in simplicity - contains this simple statement: “Millions of songs and podcasts. No credit card needed. Get Spotify free.”

Obviously this is a customer acquisition campaign, but it’s also a strategic positioning exercise. Edison Research talks about “share of ear” as a way of measuring all the various forms of audio we enjoy, from broadcast radio to audio books, podcasts and music.

The good news for humanity is we’re spending more time listening to spoken word audio such as podcasts, talk radio and audio books, up by 30 percent in the last six years according to Edison Research and NPR.

But if you’re a music-only platform, the bad news is music’s share of ear has decreased by 8 percent over the same period. Spotify will only continue to grow if it’s for anyone who wants to listen to anything.

Lastly, Spotify is clearly making a bid to occupy the emotional high ground - an idea I wrote about in my post about T2 Tea. This is an idea in brand strategy where the focus shifts away from the company to the community it serves. That is, what happens when people gather around your product or service? What do they talk about and how would they like to change the world?

T2 sees itself as facilitating meaningful conversations that promote diversity and understanding between people. Listening is Everything is a nod to the fact that Spotify is a social platform that brings people, musicians and podcasters together.

Music and podcasts tap deep into our psyches, affect our moods and get us talking. They follow us everywhere.

Apple Music is of course similar in many ways, letting you follow musicians and friends, but it lacks the real-time insights of Spotify - this is what your friends are listening to right now.

Apple also seems to lack the powerful AI engine that drives Spotify’s ability to serve up long-forgotten but much loved songs from your distant past. Like the proud middle aged man I am, I’m hooked on the Time Capsule playlist Spotify magically created for me to rediscover bands like Soundgarden, Jane’s Addiction, You Am I and Temple of the Dog.

It’s a visceral illustration of the idea I explore in Beliefonomics. Belief Moments are stories that engage our hearts and minds, emotionally shifting us along a belief journey. Music and podcasts are equally powerful, helping us transcend ordinary moments and inviting us to share those experiences with other people.

Recalling my own childhood, our analogue version was sharing mix tapes, boasting about a new record we’d bought and admiring each others’ band t-shirts. Audio is, and always was, social. For music and podcast fans, it is everything. A universe of ideas, identity and inspiration.

On this score, Spotify’s brand story hits the mark. The question for Spotify is will more families like ours believe listening is everything and worth the sub-$20 monthly fee?

According to Forbes, its premium subscriber growth rate is falling as competition intensifies between a growing number of streaming services vying for our hearts and wallets. If you want to win this battle, listening truly is everything.


MARK JONES is a brand strategist, speaker and author of 'Beliefonomics: realise the true value of your story', available here.

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