The basics of marketing through mobile music apps

Music has always been naturally social. It dates all the way back to our early ancestors, who sat around a fire while banging on a drum. Fast forward to the present day, and you're sure to have noticed people of all ages with trendy headphones plugged their ears, listening to music through their mobile devices.

But how can marketers leverage these new behaviors to interact with users and encourage transactions? By 2014, consumers will be plugged into 4 billion smartphones. We first need to understand and analyze user engagement with mobile music apps to determine an appropriate entry point for promotional messaging.

The pros and cons of marketing through mobile music apps

No longer confined to the home or car, access to music has evolved with the advancement of smartphone technology. As devices become more sophisticated, so does the user's ability to discover, create, and share with anyone in the world. Mobile provides a real-time, end-to-end music experience in which users can discover new artists and follow their lives, tours, special appearances, and conversations. And they pass this information along to others. This has resulted in an accelerated life-cycle of fan development and promotion.

One of the most visibly noticeable effects that smartphones have had on the music industry can be seen at concert events. At any given moment, you can see viewers taking pictures or video and texting or uploading to their social networks for all their friends to see. A T-Mobile survey recently found that 66 percent of concert-goers use camera phones to take pictures during a show, and 32 percent send these as updates to Facebook or Twitter. Fans now use music as input in creating their own content, which reflects an aspect of their identity and enables them to derive "credit" for their discoveries.

And how about all the great music apps out there? Most of us have heard of Spotify, the digital music streaming service. Another that uses social networks is Soundtracking, an app that allows users to follow friends via Facebook, Twitter, or Foursquare and posts music searches and music playing activity on others' mobile devices. Users can also get creative and attach a photo and comment on whatever they are sharing. Since its launch in March 2011, Soundtracking has had 2 million downloads and shared 3 billion music moments.

This direct consumer interaction from fans is opening a plethora of opportunities for marketers to connect fans with artists and their products. Mobile phones now permit increased transactional behavior, including the purchase of songs, concert tickets, and merchandise. Users can discover a new artist from a friend, buy the artist's hit song, a ticket to an upcoming show, and the tour T-shirt -- all within a matter of minutes.

Here's a good example of how marketers can insert themselves in the mobile user's behavior: A recent campaign for Jack White's live stream concert and mosaic compilation connected fans with the artist. White joined American Express' Unstaged concert series last April to provide fans with live streaming video of his concert at Webster Hall in New York City to promote his debut album, "Blunderbuss." Thirteen cameras were used, with three angles fans could choose from, all accessible from a mobile device. Additionally, fans were able to submit photos of themselves that would later be used to create a digital mosaic portrait of White's face.

In a May issue of Billboard, an article by Andrew Hampp examined how Coke and Pepsi -- two superbrands that have been harnessing the power of music for decades -- are using music to promote their products. Combined, the two spend a total of $570 million on their U.S. sponsorships of entertainment and sports, and both partner with the world's top music execs and consultants to direct their strategies. Coke has united with Spotify and its more than 10 million users to facilitate and support its music-marketing initiatives. That's just one way of reaching a consumer with his or her ears plugged.

One major obstacle inhibiting opportunities for mobile interactions and transactions is limited bandwidth. If bandwidth from cell service providers is unable to keep up with fan demand and activity, opportunities will be missed or, worse, result in frustrating slow-downs. As 4G and Wi-Fi become more ubiquitous, creative marketing tactics through mobile music can become more easily executed.

So, while mobile users might appear unreachable with their ears plugged, it is this very behavior that offers creative opportunities for marketers to plug-in. It's actually a superior environment for promotional messaging as other distractions are silenced, allowing exclusive attention and focus on a brand's message. Couple this with reaching a consumer in a positive emotional state based on his or her own musical choices, and mobile music might be the ticket directly into a consumer's mind -- and heart.

Scott Holmes is president of United Future.

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