March 18, 2016:Music strategy and the consumer journey (guest column)

This guest post comes from Eric Sheinkop, founder of Music Dealers:

Story, according to Merriam Webster, is an account of incidents or events. According to dictionary.com, this is a narrative, either true or fictitious, in prose or verse, designed to interest, amuse or instruct the hearer or reader. According to Urban Dictionary, this is a Cork, Ireland word for wassup.

According to us, storytelling is the art of not simply conceiving the story, but also communicating that story in the most effective, most evocative ways possible through myriad mediums, from conversational dialogue to smartphone apps.

Stories used to exist only between the pages of a book or in the airspace between an oral teller and the listener; now, with the global connectivity that technology and creativity have accelerated, storytellers have an array of mediums through which they can communicate with their audiences. Now, storytelling is changing the landscape of marketing.

For example, last weekend I was at a pop-up trip-hop party in a remodelled apartment on Chicago’s west side to check out a glitch-grime DJ whose SoundCloud a friend had DM’d me on the preceding Friday.

I stood beside a precariously stacked column of speakers, watching my fellow trap lords Snap the Technicolor stage, and I thought to myself, “The times they are a-changin’.” No, literally. To the carnivorous delight of the surprisingly cultured crowd, the DJ remixed Bob Dylan’s iconic “The Times They Are A-Changing’” with an overdub of drum and synth with violent, dramatic bass drops.

That moment – The Instagramming Millennials, the revolutionised oldie, even the DIY music-space – represented something much greater than just another ordinance violation and neighbourhood nuisance. It is the new face of the media industry.

Consumers are virally sharing the stories of their real-life experiences. Content is repurposed and personalised to fit individual tastes. Places of engagement and interaction (whether that’s online like social media or offline like the migratory Trap House of last weekend) are blossoming where consumers can cultivate their own experience without the intrusion of advertisements.

Currently, the media and content world is defined by communication. Through the proliferation of social, media brands of all kinds have been forced to evolve from traditional product-marketing practices to open and creative conversation with consumers.

That conversation doesn’t rely on annoying jingles and buy-one-get-one-free advertisements anymore. It’s comprised of content that is authentic, that is story-based. Creators of all content types, whether that’s brands, video games, television or film, use story to guide consumers along the customer experience (CX) journey from awareness to advocacy.

The customer experience journey is the eight-step relationship between a brand and a consumer that takes place over multiple touchpoints. These eight steps are awareness, discovery, interest, interaction, purchase, use, cultivation, and advocacy. Awareness is generally knowing of a brand, though not fully understanding its products, services or culture.

Discovery is learning more details of the brand, which often happens through advertising or marketing initiatives. Interest is becoming intrigued with the brand, whether that’s the brand’s products and services or the culture and personality of the brand. Interaction is an engaging with or researching on the brand.

Purchase is the point of buying or subscribing to the product or service of the brand. Use is the using of the product or service. Cultivation is engaging with the brand after the product experience, such as through social media. Advocacy is being a fan of the brand, at which point consumers promote the brand by word-of-mouth referrals or even by creating user-generated content (UGC) for the brand, as often happens on brans’ social media channels or even in some video games.

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It’s important to note how expansive the definition of “brands” has become. A brand is not simply the manufacturer of a product. Video games, television shows, films, and apps all qualify as brands, in the same way that Coca-Cola or Sharpie are brands. Despite the different customer experience across these varying industries, all travel through the same eight-step customer journey. The diversity of modern marketing, from TV commercials to onsite activations, has created innumerable touchpoints along that journey – the story of the brand fuels the evolution of the consumer experience through each step.

The more consumer passions that a brand can access in each step of the consumer experience journey means it will result in a greater chance of converting passive consumers into brand advocates. Passion points are intrinsically valuable parts of the human experience – they bring value to consumers’ lives in and of themselves.

Because consumers face so much content every day of their lives, they have become choosier about which types of content they interact with; accordingly, they now have a higher expectation from brands and anticipate only the best quality of content in order to interact with it at all. In order to maintain the attention of their consumers, brands, video games, television shows, and films must create content that reflects their passion points.

In my previous book, Hit Brands: How Music Builds Value for the World’s Smartest Brands, I define this theory as Social Empowerment. The outpouring of content has empowered consumers to become choosier with the brands they interact with – if they are not receiving something of value from the brand, they will simply change the channel. Swipe left. Close the browser. Social empowerment postulates that brands must reflect consumer passion points with every piece of content they produce in order to remain relevant in the marketplace.

Advertisers and media channels today must look to their consumers, truly understand what they are passionate about, and make an effort to enhance their experiences around those passions. While people are passionate about health, beauty, fashion, and sports, music is the top passion across the globe, and its value to consumers is still rising.

In August 2015, music analytics company Next Big Sound announced that it had tracked over one trillion plays across Pandora, Rdio, Spotify, SoundCloud, Vevo, Vimeo and YouTube since January of that year. Music is a key companion to the life experiences of the modern consumer, as the innumerable “Workout,” “Dinner,” and even “Sleep” playlists on Spotify demonstrate.

No product, show or even video game has been invited into people’s lives more than music has. People score their lives with soundtracks, and brands are learning to do the same with the stories they tell. The media industry is getting more musical. Synchronization – when music is licensed for media like TV shows, films, advertisements, video games, and more – is on the rise, according to IFPI’s Digital Music Report 2015.

Synchronisation revenue, or “sync” for short, increased by 8.4% total in 2014 with huge gains in global markets: +46.6% in France, +35.5% in Japan, and +30.4% in Germany. This increase is a reflection of a recognition of its importance by brands, television shows, films, and video games who are all investing more money in better music to tell better stories.

Because music is one of several functions in a single piece of content, campaign or overall brand, determining its Return on Investment (ROI) is one of the most difficult elements to measure, making it difficult to directly attach value to music in marketing.

I recently worked on a McDonald’s Olympic ad where the commercial had no audio other than the song. It became the most Shazamed commercial during the Olympics, went to number 3 most viral songs on Spotify, and went to number 6 on iTunes charts. Beyond that, brand product sales, specifically Chicken McNuggets featured in the ad, increased 18% over a declining baseline during the airing of that commercial.

The band was ecstatic and as thankful as could be to my company Music Dealers and to McDonald’s for placing them in the ad. The band knew without question that it was the commercial that made them an overnight, viral success and the leading factor in them getting discovered and signed by a major label. However, the brand doesn’t return the credit to the music for increasing its sales.

Why? Because, it’s just not common to attribute a real ROI on music use. It’s not the brands’ fault, it’s just that there’s no standards or common case studies to point to for these types of results. It’s my hope in writing this book that the industry is able to start formalising a process, one which produces repeatable positive results and which demonstrates a true and measurable link between music integration in marketing and an increase in sales or a spike in content views.

Music Strategy is the process of applying music to branded content and storytelling platforms that span the customer journey. There are three key functions to music strategy: attraction, immersion, and extension. Mostly, music strategy helps provide consumers with an intimate experience beyond the core products and services.

Music attracts consumers, immerses them into the content, and extends the relationship between brand and consumer after or between product experiences. Broadly, in the context of the eight-step customer journey described above, attraction covers the awareness, discover and interest steps; immersion covers the interaction, purchase, and use steps; and extension covers the cultivation and advocacy steps.

Return of the Hustle: The Art of Marketing with Music is now available to purchase online from Amazon and Waterstones. Priced £28.72.

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Stuart Dredge
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