Against a backdrop of streaming being hailed – again – as the major driver behind the record industry’s slow but steady return to growth in the IFPI’s numbers for 2017, the importance of streaming services as marketing platforms was the theme of the opening panel at Music Ally’s Sandbox Summit conference in New York.

Chaired by Music Ally’s head of training and development, Wesley A’Harrah, the panel looked at how streaming is fitting holistically into artist marketing campaigns.

Mike Fordham of Primary Wave talked of the importance of Spotify but also of Pandora, in the US, here, with the latter especially allowing the artist voice itself to reinforce messaging. “Pandora has been a really helpful tool in being able to communicate directly with the fans by having the artist voice in particular reinforce a lot of the messaging,” he said. “It has been a tremendously effective tool when we utilise a lot of the messaging.”

Cindy James, VP of streaming & playlisting strategy at Island Records, added that video elements are really punching above their weight too, but that labels have to be keenly aware of the limitations of the platform from the user’s perspective.

“We have seen in-platform advertising be impactful, especially in terms of video ads as the consumer generally needs to watch the video to get their free amount of [listening] time,” she said.

“What is really important when using advertising platforms is that you actually use the service yourself to know what the restrictions are. With a mobile free tier, what we see is a lot of companies do an ad for a one-track single product but don’t realise that the consumer can’t play that one-track single product because of the mobile limitations. Pushing towards a playlist or an artist discography playlist of over 12 tracks is where we see the best return on investment as the consumer can actually consume the music.”

She added that Pandora’s Artist Marketing Platform (AMP) has “an incredibly high click-through rate because you are talking to a consumer who is already listening to the artist”, meaning there is existing fan affinity. She also warned against trying to advertise a full album on Spotify’s free mobile tier, as free listeners on Spotify can’t listen to more than three tracks from that album, so advertising the album might not make the most sense.

Talking of this week’s changes to the free tier on Spotify, JJ Italiano, Spotify’s head of US artist and label marketing, felt it could now become even more effective. “So for tracks that are featured in some of our flagship playlists like RapCaviar, if you were to drive in there you could drive directly to that single track – so that is going to be beneficial to a lot of marketers,” he suggested.

Outside of the major DSPs, Pablo Douzoglou, head of marketing at Beggars Group, described Facebook as “very crowded” and suggested that the need to think even more creatively has never been higher. He cited carousel ads as a good way to stand out but repeated the earlier point about using the artist voice where you can. “When you use the artist voice or presence that really speak to the fanbase,” he said. “Using the artists here is very important.”

James said that pre-saves are mushrooming in terms of importance as they are giving marketers much richer user insight. “They are opt-in so they allow you to scrape a lot of the user data,” she said, adding they feed into sharper retargeting as you know better where the user is in the marketing life cycle. “It does give you that insight into the consumer journey.”

Related to this, Italiano argued that the follow button on Spotify is something that he would like to see artists and labels use more as it can help them become more guided and focused in their marketing efforts. “On the whole, I feel the follow feature is a little underutilised,” he said. “I would strongly recommend that artists use that follow button […] I do think the follow button in tandem with releasing singles in advance is probably the move right now.”

Italiano talked of the different areas that Spotify is moving into with its own marketing, notably its Black History Is Now initiative. “We have a cultural curation team,” he said. “It’s a new space for us. We recognise our responsibility as a cultural platform.”

He also talked about the service’s takeover of the Broadway/Lafayette station on the New York Metro in tribute to David Bowie, suggesting this type of experimental marketing will become more common for it. “We certainly intend to do more of this,” he said. “Spotify is a pretty big platform now and there’s a lot of culture happening there now.”

Douzoglou picked up on this theme and said that the fact that all the major DSPs are in an “outdoor arms race” in terms of their advertising strategies is hugely beneficial to labels and artists at the moment – especially as they often want to have the artists involved.

“There is a lot of competition between the services and we are really seeing it,” he said, suggesting it was helping to subsidise labels’ own marketing spend via so-promotions. “It helps us on these campaigns to have these partnerships.”

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