privacy panel

The debate around digital privacy tends to focus on the biggest technology companies like Facebook, Google and Amazon.

Yet as internet users become more aware of the privacy debates around those companies’ services and devices, they’ll also be thinking more about how their personal information is being used in other ways. Including music marketing: from artist mailing lists to Spotify pre-saves and beyond.

A session at Music Ally’s Sandbox Summit conference in London yesterday explored some of these issues. The panel included Mulika Sannie, VP business affairs at Kobalt Music Group; Jessie Scoullar, managing director at Wicksteed Works; Duncan Byrne, marketing director at Anjunabeats; and Tom Packer, director at Motive Unknown.

The European GDPR legislation came up early in the discussion, with Sannie boiling its key principle down. “What GDPR has ensured is people give informed consent to how their data is used,” she said. The panel agreed that for the most part, the impact on music marketing has been positive – not just for fans, but for marketers too.

Scoullar said that it has sharpened the awareness that “while it’s possible to do a lot of things once you have someone’s email and the other data you can correlate around that… the fan should have consented to the different uses you’re putting it to”.

She cited the example of fans signing up to an artist’s mailing list, but not realising that their email address may then be used for other purposes. “What you might not be aware you’re signing up to as a fan is to receive targeted advertising across social-media platforms, based on that email address!”

Packer agreed that GDPR has reminded marketers not to push their luck. “Transparency for what people have signed up for, and not taking it further than you should have,” as he put it, while stressing that many marketers were not deliberately trying to misuse fans’ data.

“It just became a default over time, because the technology advanced so fast to do these things, but the mechanics to give permission didn’t really keep up,” he said.

The panel talked about the time around the introduction of GDPR, when there was a lot of panic within the marketing industry about what it might mean, and how much of their practices would need to change.

“If people were going about things in the right way already, you should have been compliant anyway,” said Packer. Byrne agreed, and said that for many labels, it was a good chance to clean up their mailing lists to ensure only fans who truly wanted to be contacted were on them.

“When you’re staring down the barrel of possibly losing 50,000 contacts, it’s a bit galling. But if you took it as an incentive to ask ‘who are these people and what do they want from us?’ your open rates will probably improve,” said Byrne. “For us it’s been a great exercise to sweep it all out and start from scratch, and now we’re getting better results overall.”

Scoullar agreed, and noted that many music companies were already doing the right things, as mandated by GDPR now. For example, ‘double opt-in’ for mailing lists, where fans have to click on a link in a confirmation email to consent they are happy to be added.

This was already the way many mailing lists worked, although not all. “Not everyone does a double opt-in, there are still a helluva lot of artists using a single signup. If that’s you, stop it!” she said. “It’s not the way you should be doing this.”

Sannie talked about some of the challenges of complying with GDPR, making the point that it “wasn’t constructed for the music industry” – it’s legislation covering digital privacy across many different industries and marketing channels.

“There are many times I sit with my marketing department, and they tell us about an initiative, and we’re scratching our heads going ‘How is this going to be GDPR-compliant?’ It wasn’t geared towards the kind of services that the music industry offers,” she said.

How to deal with this? Sannie said that it’s a case of being practical about how data is being used, for example when she’s discussing privacy with Kobalt’s marketing teams.

“The first question that I will ask them is ‘what’s the likelihood that a person is then going to raise a complaint that they’ve received information on another artist, even though they’ve signed up to this one?’ You have to weigh up the balance of probabilities,” she said.

Sannie stressed that this is not to say music companies should be trying to ignore or evade the GDPR regulations, but rather that they should be thinking about what fans want, and how music marketing works.

“It is a piece of legislation where even the so-called legal experts who have studied this for the past 18 months to two years, they still don’t know how these things will transpire. So you do still have to use a common-sense approach.”

Byrne said that for a label like Anjunabeats, valuing the privacy of fans is an excellent guide to making the right decisions about how to use and share data. For example, the label has been asked by live promoters to share data on fans for their own remarketing campaigns.

“I have to think very hard: ‘What are you going to do with that? Who are you going to share it with?’ You can’t just hand over 20,000 emails and say ‘There you are’. That’s not a secure way to deal with anyone’s data at all!” Sannie agreed that being mindful is the key. “Common sense should prevail,” she said.

The panel finished on an optimistic note, with Packer saying that wider awareness of privacy issues is a good thing for marketers, rather than a problem.

“It’s been a timely reset for everyone in marketing to be focusing on content, rather than data,” he said. “It should always be about the content and the story that’s being told, so [it’s] a good resetting point to prioritise creative content again.”

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