Digital Conference

How Spotify Harnesses Data to Connect With Its 75 Million Users

Ahead of Ad Age's Digital Conference, Spotify's CMO Seth Farbman Talks About Using Personalized Data to Drive Discovery and Sharing

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Seth Farbman
Seth Farbman

When Seth Farbman joined Spotify as the company's first chief marketing officer a year ago, the streaming service was gearing up to face more competition from Apple's impending music streaming service. Not long after Spotify announced Mr. Farbman was joining the company, Jay Z relaunched Tidal with the help of a host of pop stars.

The music-streaming space has become incredibly competitive, and part of Mr. Farbman's task is to make sure Spotify maintains its hold and grows its user base of 75 million users and 30 million paid subscribers.

The company has been known for using its treasure trove of data to inform marketing and creative, and that's as true as ever with the launch this week of one of its biggest marketing efforts, which includes TV spots created by Wieden & Kennedy -- a partner Mr. Farbman knows from his days at Gap.

One of the spots in the new campaign features the title song and characters from the 1984 fantasy film "The Neverending Story." Spotify enlisted the original actor who played Atreyu and the voiceover actor for the dog-like dragon Falkor. It may seem random, but that, along with other elements of the campaign, was informed by the company's data -- it turns out that people search for that song every day.

In a preview of his appearance in April at the 10th annual Ad Age Digital Conference in New York, Mr. Farbman talks about the new campaign, storytelling starting with users and ways Spotify is using personalized data to drive discovery and sharing. (This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

Ad Age: You're coming up on your one-year anniversary at Spotify. How would you categorize your time there so far?

Seth Farbman: Without a doubt, data is a big part of it. My job is to take data that in and of itself may not appear to be interesting, and then to create narrative from that. A lot of marketing is about repositioning and finding what is unique and special about a brand and then bringing that to life.

At Spotify, I don't have to reposition or find what people love. People just love Spotify. My job is asking "How do I create a sustainable platform for that impression to be scaled?" It's much better than having to convince someone that what they thought about a brand may not be correct.

Ad Age: You just launched a big campaign with the help of Wieden & Kennedy. What's the strategy behind the campaign?

Mr. Farbman: When we launched eight years ago -- first in Europe -- the hard work of the marketing was to explain what music streaming was. People had reasonably successfully made the shift to digital downloads, but there was a lot of piracy. People were getting music for free.

And then Spotify came along and it had all the world's music that you can stream, but people were unsure what that meant. We spent a lot of time having to educate people on what it was and why streaming was better.

We are now by far the biggest streaming service and continue to be the main choice, especially among this critical millennial audience. But streaming is clearly the future of music. It's where growth comes from.

So now we need to focus on Spotify and what makes it special. Our audience is highly engaged, but we're also now targeting an audience that is not the leading edge of early adopters. These are people who might be slightly older, or were waiting to see what happens and are now ready to engage in streaming. The work we're doing now is based on those who have been Spotify music fans, but it welcomes those who have not been in this club and that means different media, like TV.

Ad Age: How is Spotify using data now?

Mr. Farbman: We're constantly monitoring daily trends on Facebook, Google and other social channels. But we're also looking inside Spotify for data.

Data has been, and will be, a big part of our storytelling. Rather than make up a story, we find it interesting to see data about actual people, and then tell it in a narrative that's interesting. It's a big part of our differentiation. It's what makes Spotify, Spotify.

It's not just people who are listening to music in silos. It's a big community. And by triangulating this data, you start to see trends and narratives. For us, it comes out in a slightly different approach to personalization than maybe others have taken. When we talk about personalized data, the idea is not to distill your habits and behavior to the most expected recommendations.

Instead we use the breadth of data we have to see people who also like songs you like and see what else they're interested in, and deliver to you those recommendations. That allows you to feel like you're discovering and it'll resonate with you -- but you may have never found it on your own. That leads you to sharing more.

So for the TV spots, we're telling people that many more of these kinds of things exist. That fuels an entire non-paid set of media impressions that you just can't buy. It has to come from the love of the product and that passion people have for what they've found.

Editor's note: Hear more from Seth Farbman in person during the Ad Age Digital Conference, April 5-6 in New York City. Details here.