How Sony deals with fandoms
I’ve been to
an international in-house PR summit hosted by one of my clients this week and
nearly fell off my chair when one of the guest speakers was a VERY important
person from Sony Music Entertainment. Let’s call him John. I won’t disclose his
function and real name because I don’t want to reveal where I was, but based on
his title he definitely knows what he‘s saying and has a lot of industry experience.
His speech was mainly about how to engage with a variety of different target audiences. Of bloody course one of the first slides he showed was a picture of 1D engaging with fans which was supposed to drive the point home that there are some audiences who are more passionate about a brand than others.He mentioned then that he’s worked with 1D on their albums which drove me into a bit of a freeze.
Because I’m embarrassing, I recorded parts of his speech on my phone and wrote the most important things down to share some interesting insights he gave about how Sony manages their artists’ target audiences, crafts their artists’ social media actions and deals with the fact that at the end of the day they always need to get people to buy music.
HOW DOES SONY UNDERSTAND AND MONITOR AUDIENCES (like fandoms for instance)?
According to John, they have
their very own data-driven digital tool that helps them identify and manage
different target groups for an artist (it’s not perfected yet but has been
rolled out a lot of countries, I think he said 50?) and see where there might
be connections to other artists, who the influencers are, what the specific
target groups are or will be interested in and to identify collaboration
Target groups are being split into four categories: Fanatics, enthusiasts, casuals, indifferents. These segments are being broken down into even smaller groups defined by age, genre preference, gender and country. They found that the older you get, the less likely you’ll be a fanatic or enthusiast.
How does Sony find this stuff out? Well, they survey polled music audiences of every age in a way that covers either nationally representatives or represent one of the major top tier cities. People shared their music preferences, consumption habits, lifestyle, media habits etc. Sony gathered all that information, analysed the insights and created their own audience understanding tool.
According to John, that way everyone at Sony has access to an interactive map of the world of Sony that looks into segmentations and audiences for every artist while being searchable in a number of different ways. The tool is pulling from real data, but they are also adding to that „with things like analytics of platforms like Spotify where we are able to gather lots of informations about user behaviours and reference that against things that we do“.
STRATEGICALLY SHAPES PR STORIES
John gave the
example of Snoop Doggy Dog who had launched a new album (song? Idk) around that
time: „There was a week-long debate in parliament around the legalization of
Marihuana, so we just jumped on this conversation and did lots of social
marketing around Snoop with his rolling papers and his spliffs… so maybe that’s
bad taste, I’ll allow you to judge that for yourselves. The point is though that
you are also marketing into a wider
cultural context. [You need] an understanding how that works and where you can
have a conversation that is seamless and not fake, genuineness is quite
“The way you can get people to connect is: You’ve got a lot of stuff that you want to say. Start under the assumption that people actually don’t give a shit about 95 percent of it. And then see which are the bits that might overlap. This is where the understanding of the audience really comes into its own. It forces us to think before we jump to execution. The quest for relevance is vitally important.”
Why are people to connect with a brand/band though? John thinks this is one of the most underused questions when planning an approach. Why is it that they do specific things? He gave an example: „We would normally take a record to radio because we always believe that radio is the thing that breaks the record. But if my core audience, my phase one audience – the people that are gonna give that band its first lift – are on Spotify, what am I doing on radio??“
ENGAGEMENT AROUND ARTIST IS KEY
„The thing is that you don’t start with a conversation around a product. The consumption of the product is the end point of a journey where you built an engagement and a fan. So again, for us that means that when we sit down and do our plan around our next Robbie Williams album, we start with „How are we gonna maximize the engagement around Robbie Williams“? because that will then sell us albums. Not „Okay, we’ll be releasing in a week in November, eight weeks out we need to be here, here and here“. So we’re not doing product launches anymore unless [it is suitable for the target demographic]. We have to built a tension and an engagement around an artist.“
ABOUT THEIR ARTISTS‘ SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS
„We run most
of our artists social media channels or at least their official pages, so we are involved in all of those conversations.“
Shocking, I know.
Based on the situation we face in this fandom,with this band, feel free to draw your own conclusions about what this information means.
HERE ARE MY KEY TAKEAWAYS:
1. It’s not news at all, but the existence of their own audience understandig tool confirms it: the 1D fandom is being monitored, segmented and analyzed. Sony’s strategies are tightly tied to that fact. Collaborations or artist interactions such as Louis/James Arthur or One Direction/ Little Mix are most likely the result of a data-driven analysis of whose fan groups are similar and whose are likely to be open towards that particular other artist too.
2. Again no news, but the example of Snoop Doggy Dog shows that there are strategies behind even the most random photos. Often placements of specific pictures or stories serve a wider purpose. Hello pap walks, hello b**ygate, hello Louis Twitter, hello Liam visibly being linked to L.A.‘s cool singer/songwriter crowd before his first album drop.
3. The decision to not promote Louis‘ song could very well have been a logical outcome of the team asking themselves the question „Why?“: Why should we promote his song with huge effort when we KNOW his own fans are going to do it passionately, especially if they think we don’t give a shit? Why not playing that game in order to make them promo it the hardest way they can?“ Why indeed??
4. One Direction is a huge deal for Sony. John was talking about a lot of bands during his speech but whenever he was talking about major acts, he always listed One Direction amongst them (along with gems like Beyonce, David Bowie, Adele). He name-dropped them at least 5 -6 times in a 60 minute speech. He really didn’t have to because the audience was in no way whatsoever a target audience. So yes, they clearly have been and are a very huge deal for them.
5. The part about social media? Well :))))))