Music brands tune in to data

Record labels are finally accepting that brands – and fans – can benefit hugely from music by numbers.

Above: One Direction’s success is partly down to careful data analysis and astute use of social media

The art of music seems a long way removed from the science of data. Mark Jones, head of the independent Wall of Sound label, typifies the industry’s attitude to data: “Music has always been organic for me. The numbers thing isn’t something I do.”

Yet data and analytics are beginning to demonstrate their worth to music brands. Digital in particular is bringing data to the fore with channels such as YouTube and Vevo providing fan statistics and information direct to artists.

The problem, suggests Sony Music vice- president of strategy Federico Bolza, is that music brands do not understand the language of data.

“A lot of the time, the issues are around semantics. Data professionals talk about consumers rather than fans or content rather 
than music. When I first ran a Customer Relationship Management strategy project at Sony we took the term CRM out and called it fan engagement. A large chunk of my team’s time is spent educating people about what this stuff is and why it’s supportive to their artists.”

Music brands, large or small, do not want for data. From Facebook fan pages to gig ticketing, there is a lot of information available that can enhance artists’ abilities to reach more fans and have a deeper relationship with existing ones. The fear that approaching the fan relationship ‘scientifically’will erode the passion is unfounded, according to AEG Europe senior vice-president marketing Kimberly Kriss.

She says: “Gaining a better understanding of consumer preferences, behaviours and needs will only enhance their passions. The key is to gain this understanding in a non-intrusive way that feels organic to the event and the process.

“People will appreciate you giving them more personalised and relevant offers and promotions. Even better, they’ll pass along your information to their friends, growing your database and community naturally with little financial output.”

Data is proving vital even to music brands that pride themselves on the underground/undiscovered nature of their product. We Are Big Chill, the venue and label that emerged from the defunct Big Chill Festival, which focused on niche and largely unsigned artists, had relied on ‘old school’ marketing through its three venues in London and Bristol to bring artists in contact with like-minded fans. However, a recent review of its fanbase brought about a sea-change.

Gaining a better understanding of consumer preferences will enhance their passions. The key is to be non-intrusive

“We reviewed how we targeted audiences a few months back. We were doing print-based traditional marketing and then found that our audience was online,” explains Skye Graham, marketing manager at We Are Big Chill. “They wanted to come through to us via our website and be on social media. We relaunched our site with enhanced tagging as our search tool was vital to artist discovery.”

Graham also notes that fans came to know the Big Chill brand through their local venue. Using insights, it discovered that fans of the Bristol venue would not attend London events when in the city. “People are becoming more affiliated with the Big Chill brand rather than by venue,” she notes, adding that the use of blog posts by DJs has been important to help them reach out to audiences.

As the latest buzzword ‘content marketing’ attracts almost as many column inches as ‘big data’, the music industry is in a plum position to exploit its many advantages. ‘Shareability’ of content is one tool both to capture data and use it to extend messages.

Universal recently released an app to revive interest in band Keane, whose song Somwhere Only We Know currently soundtracks the John Lewis Christmas ad. The label recognised that the band was mostly recognised by casual listeners of its 2004 album Hopes and Fears. Using Facebook, the label hopes to target the band’s core loyal fans as well as reach out to lapsed fans who loved the first album but never fully listened to the group’s further releases.

Earlier this month, the band released a Facebook app developed by digital agency The Unit to support the simultaneous release of its ‘Best of’ album. The app uses a 90-second clip of its classic song Everybody’s Changing and attaches it to a personalised video made up of the most engaging photos and status updates from the fan’s Facebook profile (based on likes, shares and comments). It has been downloaded by more than 8,000 people and the app has reached more than 130,000 people through friends sharing it.

The video can be edited by fans and it features a cast list of all the friends who are tagged in pictures. Through social media, fans who have not heard of the group will see their friends talking about the band and this is then expected to expand the group’s fanbase. Viewers can click- to-buy the album and Universal hopes the app will generate increased sales.

Elvis Costello playing at BST in Hyde Park, an event that came about through AEG Europe’s use of digital insight

“The main reason for creating the app is to remind people how emotive Keane’s music is and with Everybody’s Changing we had the perfect song to create a narrative for a personal video. I also wanted to showcase how you can use big data in a positive way to show how people use Facebook as a story-telling platform,” says 
Glenn Cooper, director of digital at Island 
Records Group, part of Universal.

“Like all consumer-facing brands, record labels are using data to understand the customer journey from discovery through to purchase so we can target fans with relevant engagement and sales messages and deliver cost-effective campaigns with a better return on investment,” he adds.

There is still a certain sniffiness among data professionals that social media data is not ‘true CRM’. Last year, The Guardian quoted former Sony insight executive Mark Uttley saying: “There are various social media properties for artists but these don’t represent proper CRM”.

However, Sony Music’s Bolza vehemently disagrees. “Proper CRM for Sony Music looks like meaningful and engaging conversations with 
fans wherever they might be and that creates enough of a relationship that they’re open to 
being sold to,” he explains.

AEG’s Kriss also disagrees that social media is not rigorous enough for true CRM. “Social media and CRM work hand-in-hand. CRM provides the insights and then we take that information and those analyses and determine where and when to push certain content. Content is critical but without an understanding of context and channel, content can fail.”

The pinnacle of using data to extend reach and involve fans in co-creation of band has to be the micro-management of megabrand One Direction. A joint project between Sony Music and Simon Cowell’s Syco Entertainment, the boy band that rose from the ashes of third place in The X Factor 2010 transcends the word ‘phenomenon’. With multi-date fully global stadium tours, frequent single and album releases, documentaries, films, merchandise and personal appearances, there can be very little in the realm of brand extension that One Direction has not touched in some form.

Singer- songwriter Paloma Faith, who is represented by Sony Music

While Bolza notes that “you can’t focus-group a band into existence”, One Direction is the result of some very careful data analysis. While all finalists from The X Factor 2010 had social media profiles, it was noted that the core audience of teenage girls was focused around the One Direction boys. Social media interaction has continued to play a significant role in keeping fans close and excited by the band as each has a significant Twitter following – band member Niall Horan has 15.5 million followers and Zayn Malik has 11 million.

Far from the creative, passionate ‘gut-based’ business Bolza relates, the strategy behind One Direction is built on firm quarterly targets and three-year plans. Bolza admits that, while there are lessons that can be adopted by music brands large and small, the One Direction phenomenon is a unique example.

“It’s the best and worst example because every single piece of data is involved,” he notes. “The way they’ve used that data is as a brand rather than a music example. The One Direction story is fascinating to marketers but it’s not the way the music business [usually] operates,” he admits.

However, using data to bring music brands closer to fans is gaining traction. There is even an MBA dedicated to the music industry being marketed by Henley Business School, which launched last year.

The college is also in its second year of offering 
a one-day seminar on using data and analytics 
to improve fan relationships, with companies including Universal and Ticketmaster attending 
the sessions to discover how they can improve their CRM.

Notably, the seminar’s chair is Sir Richard Heygate, a heavyweight consultant in the data sphere but self-admittedly with no link to the music industry. He believes that knowing how to work with data is critical regardless of industry and that, however creative you are, data is 
too important “to be left to the nerds.”

Case study

Data time for British Summer Time

AEG Europe senior vice-president of marketing Kimberly Kriss believes that the opportunities for digital to deliver important customer insights gave her brand the advantage when launching a summer festival-type event at a time when numerous other festivals had folded.

As well as operating London’s O2 arena, AEG Europe set itself the task of creating a British version of California’s Coachella festival. A summer festival named British Summer Time launched in 2013 and and its first year went well, with 345,000 people attending the event. However, Kriss knows that the hard work begins now to recognise precisely what drove that success (beyond the good weather) and how she can build on that base.

“Last year was our inaugural year so we started with a blank canvas in terms of a database,” she says.

“Now we have that database, we have conducted research both onsite and online and have a greater, more robust understanding of what our fans are looking for, what they need and what they want. “This information is being used across the business – from the entertainment we want to offer to the food and beverages to the partners we choose to the social media channels we use and the content we create.”

Three big challenges

1. Speaking music’s language

“You can’t focus group a band into existence. This is a gut-based business and the artist doesn’t want to speak to someone who sounds like a bank manager. We still encounter pockets of resistance. But the thought that ‘hey, we’re creative, we don’t get the data’ is changing because the internet has opened up a return path into the business. Even the A&R guy is looking at YouTube visits and Twitter followers.”

Federico Bolza, VP Strategy, Sony Music

2. Who owns data

“We are lucky that we had a neutral split away from the [Big Chill] festival but when we relaunched the website six months ago we still have festival forum so fans can make the connection. If the festival is up and running again we wouldn’t shy away from a relationship but you will be able to see difference between The Big Chill Festival and We Are Big Chill.”

Skye Graham, marketing manager, We Are Big Chill

“The interesting thing with data is that the person with the billing relationship has the data. We have sales data from retailers and some direct to consumer and fan base data where they sign up with us but no one person has the whole view.”

Federico Bolza, VP Strategy, Sony Music

3. Resourcing data

“Anyone, big or small, can take on CRM.  You just need to be smart about the data you are collecting.  I don’t really like the term big data as it refers to quantity versus quality and need so I prefer to use the term clever data.  And you don’t need a large budget to be clever.  The first step is to understand what data you need to collect that will be beneficial to your business.”

Kimberly Kriss, senior vice president, marketing, AEG Europe



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