Image via Red Essential
The marketing industry has been changing in parallel with the rapid evolution of technology. With the rise of tech giants like Google and Facebook, more and more companies are relying on big data, and less on real consumer insights.
These tech companies are collecting data sets about your online activity—everything from demographics to purchasing behavior—and analyzing them to predict your future behavior.
Now another tech company has begun mining your data: Spotify. At Cannes Lions Festival in June, 2017, Spotify announced Spotify for Brands, an analysis of your listening habits and preferences that can be used by advertisers for more direct and targeted ads.
You can access your “assessment” by going to spotify.me and logging in with your Spotify account. I encourage you to do so and follow along, not only to follow along through this article, but also to understand what information Spotify is collecting from your streaming behavior.
The site is broken into four parts:
- Your Favorites
- Steaming Habits
- Listening Insights
- Contact Us (for marketers looking to utilize Spotify’s data)
With a heavy interest in both music and marketing, I was excited to find out what Spotify “knew” about me. And to be honest with you, I was vastly disappointed.
At the surface, big data is a simple way to analyze online behaviors, recognize trends, and exploit those trends for advanced marketing. But big data always seems to disregard the voice of the customer.
Yes, big data understands what I do, but it doesn’t understand why I do it. And by ignoring real consumer insights, marketers and advertisers are missing out on a huge opportunity to capture their audience. For example, take this quote from a recent Mashable article about Spotify for Brands: “This is how consumer technology companies understand us. They force conclusions from big data because it’s what they’ve got—there are so many of us using their products that it’s the easiest, savviest way to figure out who we are.”
Let’s put big data to the test and take a look at my Spotify for Brands Analysis.
A Case Study (On Myself) of Spotify’s Consumer Data
Image and following images via Spotify
This is where Spotify can’t go wrong. It is simply an overview of who and what I have streamed most on Spotify—something I cannot argue with. Over the course of my time with Spotify, my top artist is Drake and my top track is The Devil Is A Lie by Rick Ross. I understand each of my “Tops” and recognize that I have listened to them A LOT.
My recent Top Artist—note that Spotify doesn’t define recent—is Bon Iver, and my recent Top Track is Nights by Frank Ocean. Again, this makes sense to me, as both of their new albums, 22, A Million and blond, are my favorite albums of the past year. (I swear I’m not a promoter for any of these artists.)
The first glimpse of Streaming Habits is a look at how much you stream, and at what time of the day you stream. Advertisers, for example, can use this data to put out their ads at specific hours of the day, when the most people are listening to music. For me, my most active hour is 6:00 a.m. In this case, big data wins. I can’t deny that this is my most active hour, as Spotify has my streaming logs.
Next, Spotify looks at how I listen to my music. 53% of my tracks are danceable—defined by the tempo, rhythm stability, beat strength, and overall regularity of a track.
45% of my tracks are energetic—defined by the dynamic range, perceived loudness, timbre, onset rate, and general entropy of a track.
My average beats per minute is 118—defined by the speed or pace of track and derived from the average beat duration.
Up to this point, I still can’t deny much of what Spotify has presented me. Most of it is fact, based on my streaming habits. But this is where it gets interesting.
In Top Genres, I discovered that 76% of my top tracks fall under the Rap genre, and all my top genres are either Rap/Hip-Hop or R&B. Given this information, it would be logical to conclude that my favorite genre of music is Rap/Hip-Hop—but you would be wrong. My favorite genres of music are Indie Rock, Rock, and Modern Folk. My favorite artists are The White Stripes, The Black Keys, and Bon Iver. My favorite album is Modern Vampires of the City by Vampire Weekend.
If you looked solely at the big data analysis, you probably wouldn’t know any of that (other than possibly guessing that Bon Iver is my favorite artist because they are my most listened to artist recently). But if you talked to me, the consumer, about it, I would tell you everything you need to know about my streaming habits.
You might be wondering why I listen to so much Rap/Hip-Hop if it isn’t my favorite genre, nor are my favorite artists or album in the Rap/Hip-Hop genre. It’s because at 6:20 a.m. I wake up and work out to my Hip-Hop playlist. This happens 5 times a week, for about an hour each. In other words, most of my streaming time is dedicated to working out. That would also explain the Danceability and Energy of my streaming habits. In fact, Spotify was able to predict that based on the Energy of my tracks.
But when I’m listening to music casually, Hip-Hop is usually not playing from my speakers. Instead, I enjoy the harmony of voice, guitars, and piano all playing together—indie rock and folk. This usually happens when I’m at work or at home wasting time—both of which are less often than the 5 times a week I spend listening to music while working out. That leaves Hip-Hop disproportionately as my most streamed genre of music.
By investigating my Spotify for Brands, we’ve already uncovered some real insights about my consumption of music:
- Yes, I listen to a lot of Hip-Hop, because it’s my choice of music while working out—something I do frequently.
- My favorite genres of music are Indie Rock, Rock, and Modern Folk, and my favorite artists and albums fit under these genres—not Hip-Hop.
- I casually listen to music at work and home.
- When I casually listen to music, I listen to my favorite genres.
These insights were not difficult for me to articulate. But if you're looking exclusively at the data, the same insights would have gone unnoticed.
How to Get Real Insights from Real Consumers
When it comes to obtaining real consumer insights, all it takes is a conversation with the consumers. Once you’ve found your consumers, talk to them. Hold an open discussion about their use of products and services in your industry, and record what they say. There are no limits to what can be discussed with consumers face-to-face, whereas Spotify for Brands only covers 3 main topics—favorites (based on stream time, not actual preferences), streaming habits, and listening “insights”— with their data analysis. It's easy to see that the learning is limited by the static, unchanging nature of how the information is collected.
But with a group of consumers, the topics are limitless. Here are just a few possible topics:
- Who do you listen to music with?
- On what occasions do you listen to music?
- Where are you when you listen to music?
- Do you listen to music when you are in a specific mood?
- Are certain genres for specific moods?
- How does an advertisement in between songs affect the listening experience?
- What makes a song memorable?
The list could go on and on, and each answer provided by the consumer has the potential to open a new avenue of conversation.
At Ideas To Go, we specially recruit and train Creative Consumers® associates, who then co-create with client teams, generating new product and positioning ideas. Each Creative Consumers® associate is trained in the creative thinking process and in Forness® thinking, a technique that fosters a positive, safe environment for sharing ideas. That way participants share more, and better, ideas, without fear of judgment. The results are worth it, as a group of 8 Creative Consumers® associates can generate hundreds of ideas in just 6 hours. The authentic insights from each consumer are differentiated, articulate, and real, and general themes tend to come to fruition across consumers.
When it comes down to it, it is impossible to truly understand your customers without actually talking to them. Big data is great for discovering topical trends in online behavior, but none of that is emotional. You will never know the why by studying trends—just the what. So when it comes to really understanding your consumers, don't just rely on big data. Instead, go directly to your consumers—because their voices are something really worth listening to.
Tyler Thompson is a Research and Marketing Analyst at Ideas To Go, an innovation agency that works with Fortune 500 companies in ideation and concept development to incorporate the voice of the consumer.
©2017 Ideas To Go, Inc. All rights reserved.
Tyler Thompson is a Creative Process Designer and Facilitator at Ideas To Go, an innovation agency that works with Fortune 500 companies in ideation and concept development to incorporate the voice of the consumer.