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🔥 Hot Take Alert #5: No, you shouldn't do a Spotify Wrapped campaign
Why it works for Spotify and won’t for you.
Hi there, it’s Adam. 🤗 Welcome to my weekly newsletter. I started this newsletter to provide a no-bullshit, guided approach to solving some of the hardest problems for people and companies. That includes Growth, Product, company building and parenting while working. Subscribe and never miss an issue. Questions? Ask them here.
For those of you who have been following this journey you’ll know that I took a small break from publishing to deliver on some deadlines AND because I got a puppy. You can see evidence of that here: Amplitude CohortSF talk, Adobe “Starting Growth Loops” talk, my pal Elena and I did a session on Developing your Growth Career, and I wrapped up the Fall Growth Series Cohort for Reforge.
All of this pulled me away from writing for a bit because I was writing a lot for other things. Hey, it’s a free newsletter… I gotta prioritize.
Well, I’m BACK folks. Welcome to another 🔥 Hot Take Alert 🔥 where I opine on something that I feel very strongly about and try to make it a little bit better. I plan on doing these a few times a month in between my other, less spicy, newsletter articles. I don’t expect you to agree with all of them but please keep an open mind. Or don’t. It’s your subscription.
Past 🔥 Hot Take Alerts 🔥 have included:
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No, you shouldn’t do a Spotify Wrapped campaign
It’s that time of year again when the internet explodes with the sharing of snippets from the annual Spotify Wrapped campaign. And it’s also the time of year when CEOs run to their marketing department and say, “How can we do this too?!?!?” I even saw someone post a “how to do your own Spotify Wrapped campaign” guide somewhere on the internet.
So should you do your own version of Spotify Wrapped and is it truly a campaign to be executed by a marketing team?
NO. TO BOTH. DON’T DO IT. RUN AWAY.
And if your CEO comes to you and asks you to do this on November 8th throw a glass of water in their face. If you’re on Zoom hang up faster than Twitter employees at 5pm on Elon Musk “hardcore” commitment day.
To dig into this I talked to two colleagues. First, I went straight to the source and spoke to the former Head of Global Growth Marketing for Spotify, Patrick Moran. I also talked to one of the finest CMOs I know—the former CMO of Reforge, Skyscanner, and Classpass—Joanna Lord.
So why does Spotify do it and why does it work for them?
I thought Patrick beautifully summed up why this works so well for Spotify:
“The Wrapped campaign is predicated on personalization and usage. It's a celebration of the user.”
They remind you of this right from the beginning:
It works for Spotify because it’s a fun, highly personalized reminder of how much value you got out of their product in the last year.
You’ll notice that they emphasize the diversity of your listening habits and create your own playlist from those habits alongside giving you something to brag (or laugh) about.
There are a few elements in the above that fuel Spotify’s growth – let’s look first at listening habits and playlist creation. One of the key value propositions for Spotify’s product is the strength of its ability to recommend music that you’ll enjoy. Discover Weekly, for example, is one of the most popular, retention-driving features of all time and critical to user engagement.
With Wrapped they’ve shone light on a year’s worth of recommendations by reminding you of what you’ve listened to – the subtle undertone is that much of this music might not have been discovered without Spotify.
For example, my #1 listened-to band in 2022 was Caamp. Spotify helped me discover them based on my related musical tastes. I spent more than an entire day of my year listening to them and they’re now one of my favorite bands. And I owe that to Spotify.
They also automatically create a playlist of my top 100 songs from last year and playlist creation is a second significant value proposition for Spotify. Not only that, but they’ve taken my random walk of a music selection and pulled everything I love into one place. A reminder that Spotify is the place you go for the music you love.
Another killer feature of Wrapped lies in its data mapping and ranking across the Spotify network.
And the timing of that data is really significant.
“Mapping data to user activity is very important. There is a lot of data integration involved and the messaging has to take into consideration timing (when the user was most active and why for example) or it will fall flat.”
At the heart of this data and ranking is the foundation of what powers a typical Social Viral acquisition loop but with the power of company generated, user distributed content—the value promise of social capital.
It’s exciting to tell people that you’re in the top 0.1% of all Taylor Swift fans and you feel a connection with others like you. This feeling comes from what Spotify has created which then deepens your connection to Spotify.
Spotify also fosters competition and recognition—who is the BIGGEST Taylor Swift fan? Who listened to EDM the most? Spoiler: Elena Verna, at nearly 1,000 hours. These are titles that people brag about, compete for and laugh about. Most importantly, this quest for social capital drives people to share.
The third reason this works for Spotify is because the experience is baked into the product.
“Where the experience lives is also key. It’s not easy to integrate this into the actual app or web experience especially if it’s a one off.”
This is a key difference with Spotify – it’s not a one off.
As Joanna says,
“In reality the "Wrapped campaign" is really seen as a "product" at Spotify and gets way more resources, support, budget, etc. than a one-off campaign would.”
Because this is a product it’s integrated directly into the core experience. I have to open the app on my phone to even engage with it and it’s entirely designed for spreading via social channels (which are primarily mobile-first themselves). My new, 2022 Wrapped playlist appears right in the app with all the rest of my playlists for easy access.
This takes work. Lots of work.
“To do well, this takes months to plan out because it is just as much work for product and engineering as it is for marketing.”
In addition, Spotify does this for creators – take a look at what my pal Lenny learned about his podcast – and advertisers as well! This leverages foundational and scalable infrastructure that requires planning and ongoing maintenance. They plan on repeating this every year which means they invest in it.
So we’ve concluded that this works for Spotify because of the unique elements of their business, scale, and content.
But Adam, this sounds amazing. Why can’t I do this?
Let’s start with the most obvious reason: you’re not Spotify. They’re in the top 1% of technology companies in terms of scale, resourcing, data, design, etc. Real talk: you’re very likely not.
If you dissect the reasons it works for Spotify you can uncover why it won’t work for you.
At its core, it creates an event that reminds you of the core value proposition(s) of the product and plays on our desire to generate social capital which fosters sharing. And Spotify has the data and personalization capabilities to do this.
As Joanna says,
“Most companies don't have the data to do it well, so it actually comes out poorly done. And in the extreme it can showcase how little their customers use their product and have an adverse effect.”
Remember that time Peloton sent you a year in review and it had 3 workouts in it? Yeah, not great Peloton. I know I’m not the only one this happened to. RIGHT?!?
And speaking of half-baked, most companies won’t invest nearly the amount of time, energy and resources (money, people, etc.) into this that Spotify does.
“Most companies don't invest the creative or copy resources to do it well, so it ends up being less effective—not consumed, not shared, and doesn't create any brand awareness or social momentum.”
“For the level of engineering and product effort to bake the experience into the core for a temporary period of time often doesn’t make sense. So it ends up either living on a separate web experience or in an email which decreases the impact to engagement.”
And why would you? You’re not Spotify. It’s very likely that if you were to weigh the effort required to do this well and make it sustainable it would fall a decent way down on your priority list because the impact on acquisition, retention, monetization or brand awareness wouldn’t be the same for you.
“Most companies have much higher priority EOY initiatives—like 2023 planning [authors note: my favorite] or seasonal marketing campaigns they are already goaled on—so it gets "jammed" in and Marketing, Data and Product get overworked right before EOY or into the New Year for very little bottomline gain.”
So what would I do instead?
Instead of building your own ad-hoc Wrapped campaign, think about whether it makes sense at all for your business.
Joanna suggests a few alternatives (if you’re a marketing team):
“Most companies should probably spend that time investing in EOY improvements to martech stacks, analytics, and tracking (instead of building a one-off, ad hoc, completely non-systemized campaign) which would actually set them up for the long run.”
And it’s very likely that continuing to execute on your planned roadmap is the right thing to do regardless of what team you’re a part of. A half-baked attempt to replicate Spotify could actually do more harm than good as we’ve shown above.
So when your CEO comes to you and asks where your Wrapped campaign is you can share this post with them and ask a few questions:
Will our users care about this?
Do we have the data necessary to make them feel special?
Will they get social validation from broadcasting this?
What product initiative should we stop doing in order to support this?
Will this move our acquisition, retention or monetization goals more than what we currently have planned?
I can assure you that in 99.9% of the cases the answers to the above are:
No. No. No. None. Nope.
That’s a Wrap.