Creative and effective digital marketing isn’t just a priority within the music business: it’s a discipline that’s playing an important role across most industries now.
At Music Ally’s Sandbox Summit Global online conference yesterday, we had outside-music marketing experts talking about their campaigns and lessons, as well as some music marketers explaining how they take inspiration beyond our sector.
The former included Richard Ayers, chair of Seven League and founder of Rematch, and one of the most respected marketing executives in the sports industry.
Sports marketing has the same core priorities as music: driving awareness; participation, attendance at events; and following – of teams and sports stars in this case, rather than of artists.
“We used to talk about passion centres, and whenever people talked about passion centres they would say music is one, people will coalesce around that online, and sport is another,” said Ayers.
As with music, the sports industries are grappling with the implications of changing fan habits, from the proliferation of personal devices in the home for watching sports on, to the attention economy where sports are competing with all kinds of entertainment and digital activities.
One of the ways sports are responding is with new formats: cricket’s The Hundred, RugbyX and Golf Sixes for example. Meanwhile, sports marketers are also grappling with more than 8,000 marketing technology options. Here’s Ayers’ slide breaking those down:
Some of the techniques that are being used to help sports punch above their weight in the attention economy will be familiar to the music (and wider brands) world. Netball, for example, has enjoyed a resurgence in the UK with campaigns based around personas, audience segmentation and analysis of customer journeys.
Ayers also broke down the fan hierarchy in football with a slide breaking down the different layers of fans for one club, and the value they represented for its business:
Success (in terms of marketing) in the modern sports world is about the same challenges as in music: bringing together the right content, data, technology and social networks with the DNA – “the essence of the story you are telling” – of the sport in question.
Ayers made it clear that music is ahead in some areas, like social commerce, but that sports teams and organisations are working hard on doing more with ticketing, merchandise and other buyable experiences, marketed through social platforms.
He also said that we are in “the era of the moderator” where fan communities are ever more important, but if they are to be managed by the entity that those fans love, issues of moderation and community management are very important.
“Although there are forums around clubs and the competitions, generally they’re not official forums,” he said. “I think that’s going to be getting a lot closer, being built into their DNA and their ability to have the conversation, and hopefully moderate and self-regulate and deal with the abuse, and whatever the other issues are.”
The conversation turned back to the attention economy, and Ayers clarified one point: the trend here is not just about making things quicker and shorter, to cope with reduced attention spans.
“I don’t think it’s all going shorter, inexorably shorter. I think there’s an underlying thing here about is it passive or active in terms of the way in which you’re engaging? Am I sat back or am I actively engaged?” he said. “If you go to WWE, you are part of the action: it’s active audience participation… that ability to be part of it, that’s what people want.”
Ayers also talked about different notions of immersion. For sure, the ability to watch sports events (or, indeed, music performances) in virtual reality is one example, and he said he is a “real believer” in VR, while acknowledging that it is “not at mass adoption yet”.
However, there’s another kind of immersion that doesn’t need a headset. “What I’m interested in is what do you do with Twitch. How do you watch a game and you’re chatting and voting and interacting?”
One challenge shared by sports and music marketing is the always-on culture: the need for constant content and activity, particularly to feed the social networks. ”
“It’s a big concern, because you burn through people really quickly. I know a number of Premier League social media managers who are on 24-7… and they cannot put a foot wrong. And if they do put a foot wrong there are 100,000 fans who will tell them… and be very abusive!” said Ayers. “Just the amount of output that there is and the 24-7 nature of it. It’s a significant challenge.”
His hope – one that may well be shared by many music marketers – is that “we’re getting to a point where the business case is so proven” that companies will sanction greater investment in their marketing teams, including more staff and shift patterns to handle the round-the-clock demands.
Ayers’ session was followed by a pair of campaign presentations from other sectors, starting with a Lego campaign presented by Melanie Blood, senior campaign manager at Ocean Outdoor.
It works on “interactivity at scale” using big screens in locations like Piccadilly Circus and the iMax Theatre with livestreams, LED lighting and interactivity – in this case, with a campaign for Lego using ‘mid-air haptics’.
That’s a technology involving pressurised ultrasound waves configured to make 3D shapes in mid-air, that people can feel as if they were real. In this case, 3D Lego bricks to build models shown on a nearby big screen.
“It was really about connecting the physical experience with the digital screen,” she said. The installation was located at the Westfield Stratford shopping centre in London in October 2020, with numerous Covid-safe measures to make sure families visiting could play with it.
She was followed by Tracy Murphy, senior director at Pringles, talking about the company’s #PlayWithPringles and #FrankTheZombie campaigns.
Both were launched during the Covid-19 pandemic, as Pringles set its sights on Gen-Z and millennial crisp-eating consumers. #PlayWithPringles started in Germany and encouraged people to post on social apps dressing up and showing off their favourite flavour. It has since generated more than 2m pieces of content from people, and more than 4.4bn views.
Pringles is also targeting gamers. “We have really big ambitions around gaming: for gaming to be as big a platform for us as football,” she said. The first step was a campaign with a character called Frank the Zombie, who ‘broke out’ of a game called West of Dead into an influencer’s room during one of her Twitch livestream.
Frank went on to run the Pringles social feeds for two weeks, before disappearing back into the game. Murphy talked about how Pringles tried to make sure its campaign would resonate with gamers rather than turn them off.
“It’s really important to have strong consumer insight, and to understand your audience. That’s where I think working with strong strategic partners can really help you,” she said, citing Xbox, Twitch and the West of Dead developer, all of whom were on board for the campaign at an early stage.
“They brought a richness of insight to the gaming world that we didn’t have in terms of understanding what would really resonate,” she said. “We had a strong network of people who knew what would resonate with gamers… but it was a leap of faith. If you want creative ideas and you want stuff that’s going to drive engagement, you are going to have to take some risks!”
The presentations were followed by a panel of music marketers talking about the lessons they have learned from other sectors. The panel included Christine Osazuwa (Warner Music Group); Samira Leitmannstetter (Sony Music Germany); Saki Markovic (Playground Music Scandinavia); and Naomi McMahon (UMG). Music Ally’s Patrick Ross chaired.
The panel turned back to Richard Ayers’ point about moderators.
“The part of the moderator, there is a moderator needed. Having an active conversation with those superfans,” said Leitmannstetter. “That is one part of keeping fans engaged… and also going into this deeper fanbase. It’s about having constant content, having a constant need for communication. If you don’t put out anything, if there is nothing to talk about, where should that conversation come from?”
Markovic approved of the importance of breaking down fanbases. “All of us look at our fans or our community in numbers: how many likes do we have… but if we actually take a little time to do the manual work behind it, to get to know our audience manually. Who is actually following us? Have the conversation with them, ask the questions… that’s very cost effective and a great way to build a community.”
McMahon agreed, adding that the changes in fans’ habits during the Covid-19 pandemic are another reason to double down on this research.
“Based on the year that we’ve had, behaviours and beliefs have changed so radically, so we feel we have to have that constant ongoing dialogue with them,” she said. “Culture moves so fast and behaviours are shifting so rapidly that we need to be always-on with those fans.”
Osazuwa said that this kind of audience insight is playing a crucial role during the Covid-19 era. “The brands that fell apart during the pandemic were the ones that were’t willing to go where their audience was,” she said. “If you didn’t actually know your audience and just had a caricature in mind – ‘Yeah, they go to the clubs’, but where do they go when they’re not in the clubs? – those were the people that really struggled… They didn’t really have the audience. They just had a captive audience, because it was convenient.”
The conversation moved on to how, in McMahon’s words, “fans have become collaborators” with artists in a creative sense, particularly on platforms like TikTok with its challenges and fan-led viral spikes.
“We’ve had to bring fans into the experience in a much more interactive way,” she said, with Osazuwa noting a shift in the power dynamics. “People will hold you accountable.. .we’re at a point in creation culture where people really know their value. They know they are driving culture, that they are really important in the entire machine,” she said. “Thats how creation culture is shifting the narrative.”
The idea of not just knowing your audiences, but being part of them – through the diversity and youth of your marketing team – also came up for discussion.
“Context is so important in any cultural movement,” said Leitmannstetter. “You have to understand the context of where does it come from. Does it come from a gaming community, and has there been any event that triggered the trend originally? If you’re not connected, if you’re not part of the audience or you’re not good at having a conversation with the audience, you will not understand for this movement where the context comes from.”
“You have to have people who are part of the communities, who are having the conversation with the communities authentically… To be authentic you have to be diverse in the whole setup,” she continued.
As sports are playing with their formats, so artists are being encouraged to try new platforms and kinds of content. “Try and see. That’s also the way you can get to know your audience, your community… find out what kind of content they like by trying things and being a bit playful,” said Markovic.
The more you know about your audience, the more you can take what look from outside to be big risks, but which are actually informed by that knowledge.
Osazuwa cited the Nascar racing organisation’s support for the Black Lives Matter movement last year as a prime example. It seemed like a big risk to anyone who perceived the Nascar fanbase as unlikely to share that support. “But 82% of Nascar fans under 40 years old actually completely align with Black Lives Matter,” she said.
“They knew their audience, and trusted that their audience would come with them on that journey.. if you know your audience to that extent, they will follow you anywhere. But you have to authentically know your audience.”
The panel also talked about what kind of things can help artists cut through the noise. McMahon said that “purpose-driven content and engaging fans around things that really matter to an artist” can be the best things: for example when Logic released a track whose title was also the phone number of the US National Suicide Prevention Hotline.
“It had incredible results. The hotline had record numbers of calls within the first 48 hours, and it really created an impact. Allowing an artist to create a piece of work that lives far beyond the charts, and really has an impact on people’s lives is obviously really rewarding, for them, for us, for the communities around the artists and for the fans,” she said.
Meanwhile, Markovic talked about the challenge for the music industry of creating enough content to feed the demand from fans (and social algorithms), when it has traditionally focused on highly-produced content (i.e. music videos) with longer intervals between it.
“Now we are kind of stuck in that. I try to encourage my artists to just have some fun with it… Fans just want to see what you do, what you eat, where you go, what you think,” she said. And those fans can also help to fill the social content pipeline. One artist asked fans to submit photos of their tattoos of the band’s name.
“And they did, and we had content for days! You can always ask fans to contribute to your content…”
Sandbox Summit Global was held in association with Linkfire, Vevo and Songfluencer and supported by Colabox.