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An artist’s keenest fans are their lifeblood in the modern music industry: the people who won’t just stream music casually, but will listen over and over again; share it with friends and the wider world via social networks; buy music, tickets and merchandise; and support the artists they love with a passion.

At Music Ally’s Sandbox Summit conference in New York today, Jose Abreu – senior director of digital strategies, Latin Iberia Region at Sony Music – was interviewed by Columbia Records’ associate director of digital and influencer marketing, Sarah Flanagan on how he thinks artists and labels can best serve their superfans.

He said that the focus on the keenest fans is a by-product of the streaming era, where labels and marketers are incentivised to encourage people to listen to music (and ideally listen to it a lot!) rather than just buy it.

“It’s no longer about the quantity of people that are consuming, it’s about the quality of people,” he said, citing past suggestions that perhaps 25% of an artist’s listeners are generating the majority of their revenue and streams.

“So how do you start to identify those people, and how do you build a relationship with those people?” he said. Whether an artist is trying to build up a merch and touring business, or trying to up their streams count to chart, these are the important people.

In Latin America, something that’s still important in this regard are fan-clubs, which still exist and have “massive potential” for many Latin artists. Labels now have new ways to communicate with these fans, too: for example, WhatsApp.

“Someone in marketing in Argentina will have access to the president of the fan club of Shakira via WhatsApp,” he pointed out. This communications channel can very quickly mobilise her fans, whether it’s to stream a new song, watch a new video, or buy tickets and merchandise.

Abreu talked about the importance of CRM [customer relationship management] but suggested that the term needs rebranding. “CRM has always been seen as email marketing, but in reality it’s fan relationships,” he said.

Abreu also thinks that content around an artist and their music has a vital role to play in turning casual listeners into superfans.

“It’s no longer enough to just put out a single, put out a music video, an album. What other content do we build around an artist so that fans get to know, understand, love and connect more?” he said. “You can’t just do it by putting out tracks.”

Many artists are creating this content themselves, constantly shooting photos and videos and publishing them to social networks. However, Sony Music has also hired videographers to travel with artists to generate material, which can then be uploaded to the various platforms.

Abreu suggested that superfans think of their relationship to their favourite artists as one of “virtual friends”, which makes this kind of constant flow of content so important. “The core fans eat it up: it’s a way to learn more about their friends!” he said.

Gathering data from a host of sources, bringing it together and analysing it is an increasingly-important discipline for labels and managers, whether they’re using tools like Appreciation Engine and Linkfire, or the APIs provided by streaming services.

“The great thing now when it comes to digital marketing is that the journey is measurable, and we can tag it: it allows us to identify people who have shown some behaviour of a superfan. Who is that person, and how do we follow up?” he said.

Sony Music has run some campaigns geared around superfans. Latin boy-band CNCO, for example, had their CNCO Go campaign: a location-based treasure hunt that sent fans hunting for content scattered (digitally) around their cities.

“Not only are you driving this kind of engagement, but you’re also finding those consumers: if you’re running around a city looking for some virtual nugget, I’m pretty sure you’re someone I’m going to want to talk to!” he said.

Abreu warned labels off the perils off inauthenticity when coming up with all these campaigns and content.

“When you start to do stuff that doesn’t feel authentic – when it feels promotional – people can tell. We put out these nice banners and promotional stuff that looks cool, but they don’t connect because they’re just impersonal,” he said.

Highly-produced, well-edited videos might look good on a marketer’s computer, but fans, he suggested, want the less-polished content – “The guy on his phone going ‘Hey, what’s up?!’ Whenever we can’t get it from the artist, we try to find the next closest thing, that doesn’t take it and make it sterile.”

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