Maybe you heard, a little bit ago, about a little Irish band partnering with Apple to launch their latest album. Though brands have been distributing free music for decades, this took the tactic to new levels.
U2 made a lot of noise, and regardless of your position on the distribution tactic (ranging from “ground-breaking” to “the death of the music biz as we know it”) there’s no debating the reach. Published reports show U2 moved 2 million downloads on Day One and 26 million downloads to date, plus significant traditional lift on catalog sales. To put this in context, prior to this release, only 14 million customers had purchased music from U2 since the opening of the iTunes Store in 2003. This is incredible in a time where 150k units usually delivers a Billboard #1.
This isn’t the culmination of a trend; it’s the very beginning. And everything we knew about distribution and “free” music is getting turned on its head. However, the timeliness of the deal should shine a light on other effective ways to leverage free music to impact consumer engagement.
Smart brands will always keep a keen eye on new opportunities and artist partnerships. The smartest brands will invent them, and get carried away in them. Big ideas won’t go perfectly, because the art and science of our business is imperfect; but they will move the innovators forward in powerful ways.
There are elements of tradition here. For years, brands have approached free music giveaways with the same proposition: “Here’s free music. Love our brand.” But it’s hard to really measure the impact on brand love from tactics like this. Sentiment definitely spikes, but does it really build a long-term fan relationship with meaningful dialogue? Is it a good tactic for point-of-sale conversion? Possibly.
It seems that after the original distribution of music, the engagement ends. I would hope brands aim to use this contact as a foot in the door for bigger conversations, but that’s not usually the case. Still, brands revisit this tactic because of its incredible scale and affordability—and it’s hard to blame them.
The good news is that fan behavior is quickly shifting and the potential for a brand’s free music tactic to make a real impact is more promising than ever.
The rise of streaming means brands now have a much stronger platform to add cadence to their conversations. Think about the fan’s journey for a second. With downloads, fans visit the site once, transact and don’t return until they desire another transaction. With streaming, there is a continual interaction between the fan and the app. Case in point: Spotify boasts an average per day user engagement of 146 minutes.
This difference means an incredible white space for brands. Brands now have opportunity to more naturally integrate themselves into consumer routines and finally build their own meaningful dialogue with users. They might not always be serving up “free” music but they’re packaging it in relevant ways.
But how do you do it right?
The answer—whether you’re exploring new approaches or creating them—goes back to the basics on how brands should leverage music effectively.
- Identify consumer problems.
- Identify music industry pain points.
- Create solutions that fix these problems while establishing dialogue.
Some cool examples…
- Adidas #BoostYourRun: Adidas identified a major hassle for runners: They’re desperate for inspiring music to listen to while running. They also realized that not every runner is the same, and that today’s consumer wants customization as a prerequisite for sharing. Solution: Working with Spotify, they created a playlist generator allowing people to ID a favorite running song, and specify workout length and the level of intensity they plan on. The result is a dynamic, savable playlist along with proposed routes in your neighborhood. Pretty cool—and it delivers the opportunity for repeat visits and emerging artist exposure.
- Gatorade: Like Adidas, Gatorade recognized a consumer need around curated workout jams. Gatorade aimed to play off their three-stage product, offering to create a music experience for warming up, working out and cooling down. Solution: Working with Pandora, Gatorade created three distinct branded stations to exemplify each product line of the new G Series. This gave Gatorade the opportunity to engage with prospects authentically while providing personal, curated stations that users continually revisit.
The lesson with both: Create something that regularly delivers and you’ll create a long-term conversation with people grateful for how you’re impacting their daily life. The now-scalable, mass audience of streaming platforms allows brands to deliver value that, if done right, can foster dialogue for many months.
In the end, U2 delivered a brave, smart gift to the world, but it wasn’t without its critics; all leading to a Bono apology for being too overzealous. Personally, I believe no apology was necessary. It was a brilliant tactic that effectively got their music into millions of ears and allowed U2 the marketing muscle to build the band’s brand, setting up the tour and future offerings. The reality is, though, that you don’t need a $100M marketing budget for a brand to make a splash delivering free music to consumers. Streaming integration done right could be all they need, and although it won’t reach 26M people, it can deliver strong ROI while building actual, ongoing dialogue.
Though we all still haven’t found what we’re looking for, we know the way forward will be blazed with strategic risks—no apologies needed.
Glenn Minerley is VP, Group Director, Music & Entertainment at Momentum Worldwide