Recent months have seen more than one questionable launch of a high profile music app. Most notable were the biting criticisms surrounding the Samsung-Jay Z app and Twitter #music app. Herein we provide a brief analysis of key lessons that music industry professionals and music app developers should glean from these costly blunders.
“Privacy” in the digital space concerns the ability to make meaningful decisions about what personal information enters the online ecosystem and who has the ability to capture and monetize this information. Respect for privacy has quickly become an important metric by which app users and fans — sometimes referred to in legal geek speak as “data subjects” — measure the desirability of a product or service. In a very short period of time we have seen the average app user become increasingly more attuned to invasive — and evasive — privacy practices and general data collection overreach.
This heightened sensitivity to online privacy was on sharp display shortly after the July 4th launch of the Samsung-Jay Z Android app. The app promised users of Samsung’s Galaxy smartphone a free download of Jay Z’s yet-to-be-released album, “Magna Carta Holly Grail” (MCHG). In addition to complaints over technical difficulties, the app suffered significant blowback from many who found the extensive trolling for personal data not worth the free music. Beyond asking for geo-location access and information regarding phone calls, the app required users to login to their Facebook or Twitter account and allow branded messages to post to the users’ social profile before receiving promised features.
The bottom line here is that app users and fans are not as quick to barter away personal information in exchange for a freebie as they once were. Quite the opposite, potential users are beginning to experience aggressive data requests as a reason to not participate in a campaign and possibly to disengage from a brand altogether. In addition to keeping up on fast developing privacy law, it is imperative that app developers and music industry professionals take note of this culture shift since apps are widely viewed as the future of the digital distribution of popular music.
The App Distributor Has More to Lose than the Celebrity Endorser.
Initial criticism of the MCHG app was equally distributed between Jay Z and Samsung. In fact, some high profile backlash laid the blame almost entirely at Jay Z’s feet . Now that the dust has settled, however, a couple key facts stand out.
First, despite the snafu surrounding the MCHG app, Jay Z managed to sell one million copies of his album before its public release ! In fact, anticipation of the app’s launch set the RIAA scrambling to make sense of this new model of digital distribution. They finally settled on a compromise. Ushering in the Post-MCHG Billboard Era, the RIAA granted the album instant platinum certification but declared that the downloads would not count towards the Billboard charts .
Second, we know that Samsung paid 5 million dollars for album distribution rights, and no doubt paid many millions more in advertising, including a hefty price tag for a commercial spot during the NBA finals. And while Jay Z can point to concrete profits and an unprecedented platinum certification, Samsung’s success seemed to be limited to an uptick in social media engagement. Analysis of Samsung’s books has shown that “ [t]he cost of Samsung’s heavy marketing — it is a bigger worldwide advertiser than Coca-Cola — has eaten into profit margins .” So, after factoring in public criticism and cost, did Samsung experience a tangible ROI from this campaign? Not likely.
Market Differentiation Is Critical.
Three months after its high profile launch, Twitter’s #music, a music discovery platform that “ uses Twitter activity, including Tweets and engagement, to detect and surface the most popular tracks and emerging artists ,” ranks a dismal 133 among iOS music apps. This lackluster performance demonstrates that even the most anticipated and well-financed music app can flop. Where big players like Spotify, Rdio, and Pandora already provide popular solutions to music discovery and sharing, a new entries’ chance for success requires clear differentiation from established competitors.
If you are not a heavily engaged Twitter user, #music does not provide a compelling reason to engage its platform. In fact, #music continues to guide users to competitors such as Rdio and Spotify. This is the case because Twitterdid not secure licenses to stream entire tracks on demand. The #music user can listen to 30 second teasers but must migrate to Rdio or Spotify if they want to hear the full track.
Twitter markets #music as a new model of music discovery but its concrete offerings are not unique. The key feature of #music is to introduce the Twitter user to musicians and genres based on artists they already follow. This feature, however, does not necessarily ensure that the user will be exposed to new music. Further, the app assumes that users follow an artist because they like their music. Just because you are one of Kanye West’s 9,724,977 followers, does that necessarily mean you love his music or rap music in general? Maybe you follow Kanye for the sheer entertainment value.
Communicate Effectively To Your Target Market(s).
When it comes to marketing #music, Twitter — one of the globe’s most successful social communication platforms — has ironically failed to communicate effectively. Arguably the first mistake that Twitter made was to announce the launch of #music on Good Morning America. While likely a strategic effort to entice an older demographic to engage with Twitter, the launch failed to explain exactly why this older demographic should bother. Heavily engaged Twitter users may appreciate the simple platform , but most find that #music merely duplicates the efforts of established music services such as Pandora, Spotify and Last.fm.
Twitter committed another communication blunder by severely limiting the types of musicians that could benefit from wide-scale adoption of the app. Instead of designing an app that encourages independent artists and emerging musicians to engage, #music’s theory of discovery is based on the model of a high school-esque popularity contest. As such, #music does not harness the potential for ‘word-of-mouth’ marketing by the masses of independent DIY artists that have Twitter accounts and are eager to test out new methods of fan engagement.
To sum up, there’s a lot to consider when developing and marketing a music app. Music apps especially require thorough and strategic planning given the overcrowded and heavily scrutinized space in which they operate. The escapades of Samsung and Jay Z’s MCHG app and Twitter’s #music certainly do not teach us everything there is to know about creating a successful app or marketing campaign. They do, however, provide poignant examples of why thoughtful consideration of privacy, ROI, differentiation, and communication are crucial to avoiding a conspicuous fail.