Innovator Insights: Five Key Ways Brands Can Connect to Consumers Through Music

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October 1, 2020

The music industry has been through its share of disruptions during the past decade, but none as unnerving as the pandemic when live shows and touring –a key source of revenue for artists and musicians, crews and venues– came to a complete halt with no end in sight.

The music industry has been through its share of disruptions during the past decade, but none as unnerving as the pandemic when live shows and touring –a key source of revenue for artists and musicians, crews and venues– came to a complete halt with no end in sight.

To adapt to the new normal, artists have been looking for new ways to connect with audiences through livestreaming events, digital radio, brand partnerships and other forms of connection that are safe in the era of the pandemic. 

“In the music industry, the pivot happened in the blink of an eye,” said Kerri Mackar, EVP, Brand Partnerships, Republic Records, during a Brand Innovators livecast called “Music, Audio & Podcasts” on September 29 (click the link below to watch the full Livecast.) “We didn’t go digital, we have always been digital. So many of these things have already been in our DNA and we have been able to invest more in what we were already doing from a digital perspective.

“That is really exciting,” Mackar added, “because I think that, of course, live music is going to come back, which we all cannot wait for, but I don’t see these opportunities going away. There is just more to be had and that is really exciting especially on the emerging artist front.” 

Artists have been getting creative in how they connect with fans online and there is a wide variety in what it looks like. Some artists are moving to paid live-stream models. Others are doing different types of experiences: music and wine on Zoom. And others are taking historically IRL meet and greet experiences and pivoting them to a Zoom setting. 

“One thing is for certain,” said Matt Ringel, EVP, Red Light Management. “Many more brands are starting to incorporate music and talent into their marketing initiatives. We’re only in September, and we’ve already had more engagement with brands over the course of this entire year, than we do in a normal year.” 

Some artists are spending their time at home or in the studio working on new material, connecting with fans on their own Instagram Live channels or through livestreamed events such as iHeartRadio’s virtual Pride Festival. Others are seeing the lockdown as an opportunity to reinvent themselves. 

“To have this opportunity to have a life that is not so career-based has been so good for me,” said singer/songwriter Elle King, who joined Ringel’s joint Q&A with Barkley Dean, Senior Director - Salesforce Studio as a surprise guest moments after wrapping her performance for the Salesforce Live event series. “Going through the pandemic, I thought, ‘Who do I want to be when I come out of this?’ You have to think about what makes you happy in your life and you really can be anywhere with the virtual world. There are many lessons in this time to look internally and think about what is really important in your life and your health and safety.”

Consumers have been relying on music to help cope with the social isolation of lockdown and many are trying out new digital streaming services to listen to their favorite artists. Amazon Music is among those services that has seen its audience grow this year. As the category grows for the tech giant, they have  been focusing on the quality by launching a new HD service. The brand has been promoting the new service through a campaign called “Life in HD” featuring artists such as icon Neil Young.

“Streaming has been amazing and an incredible convenience but the tradeoff the music industry has had to make is audio quality,” said Tami Hurwitz, VP, Global Marketing & Growth, Amazon Music. “What was really important to us in the last year was to launch an HD service that essentially not only gives you CD quality but even in some cases better than CD quality music with ultra HD.We really start to hear the music the way artists intended it to be heard.”

As consumers tune in to digital radio channels, brands have a massive opportunity to reach just about any audience they want. iHeartMedia works with retailers and QSR brands to help drive listeners to locations and has seen a large connection between digital radio and search.

“There is a ton of power in radio,” said Eric Hadley, EVP, Marketing, iHeartMedia. “It has really great reach, you are reaching everyone. Nine out of ten consumers listen to it every single day.”

Here are 5 takeaways from those in the music business to help your brand connect with consumers:

Use an artist's authenticity. Consumers connect with music on an emotional level. Brands have an opportunity to tap into this connection by integrating naturally with the artist’s voice and authenticity. AB InBev has been sponsoring a series of virtual live music events such as the  "Budweiser Rewind" featuring The Black Eyed Peas as a way to bring consumers what they want.

“Anheuser Busch is here to bring people together, that is the spirit of our company,” said Shana Barry, Head of Music & Entertainment, AB InBev. “What better way to bring people together than with live music and beer, so we find it very powerful to have people tune in, even virtually, at such a time. Because while we can’t have that physical  connectedness, we are still able to watch together and text and chat and all of that, so there is a sense of familiarity but of course, nothing beats a live show and sharing a beer.”

The show must go on. When everyone began cancelling and postponing their concerts and events this summer, iHeartRadio decided that the show must go on for their annual Pride Festival. Katy Perry, Ricky Martin and Melissa Etheridge, were among those artists that signed on to make it a memorable event and P&G came on as a sponsor. 

“For so many of these events with COVID, the answer is: let’s cancel it or let’s postpone it,” said Eric Hadley, EVP, Marketing, iHeartMedia. “The idea from our CMO, Gayle [Troberman], was that ‘you cannot cancel my pride.’ It is not necessarily about being together. Being together is a way to celebrate but the festival has so much meaning to so many people. This is the kind of thing that could not be cancelled or postponed. It had to be brought to life in a new way.”

Redefine experiences. American Express sponsors lots of live events, so when the pandemic hit and events went digital, they had to redefine what this new world of entertainment might be for the brand. 

“It’s not about recreating the magic of the live moment because there is no way to create that energy and once in a lifetime moment,” said Brandy Sanders, VP, Global Entertainment Partnerships and Experience, American Express. “So instead, we focused on the things that people love at live events and how they could enhance an at home experience.” 

Increase the production value - or don’t - when the event calls for it. When the pandemic first hit, music fans got to see their favorite artists playing music in their living rooms on an iPhone. Since then, the bar has been raised and brands have been helping put on more full-scale productions that represent real life concerts.

“From the very onset, artists were just looking to connect with their audiences, provide some joy and relief, and support some important causes,” said Matt Ringel, EVP, Red Light Management. “Over the course of the summer, live-streaming has really evolved. We are starting to see brands approaching live-streams with more production value, which we saw first with Budweiser, producing high-value, built-out shows.”

For Barkley Dean, Senior Director at Salesforce Studio, the bells and whistles of a fully produced show don’t always resonate for his the Salesforce Live series that has hosted performances from Brandi Carlile, Jennifer Hudson and the aforementioned Elle King. “From a scale standpoint in these unpredictable times, it’s so important to test, be nimble, react, and test again. You don’t need all of the fancy glitz and glamour for these virtual events,” he said. “Zoom is what we use primarily for our platform. The budget is not really that big, and the truth is, it doesn’t need to be. We don’t request or ask our artists to do full production in these unique environments. Because we’re acting so quickly, the mentality with these virtual events is really simple: you’re at home, so is everyone else - let’s act on that, and have a genuine conversation about it.”

Partner with artists with shared values. Pernod Ricard’s Smithworks brand of vodka is all about being from the Heartland. And so is country star and Oklahoma native Blake Shelton, who partnered with Smithworks from its very beginning stages to help launch the brand. Currently, the company launched the Bloody Mary Challenge where consumers can share their favorite Bloody Mary recipes and Blake will pick the winner on his social channels this weekend.

“He’s our vehicle to really build this brand and bring brand awareness, because he’s able to connect the brand to the authentic Heartland values,” said Troy Gorczyca, Brand Director, Malibu, Kahlúa, and Smithworks, Pernod Ricard. “Our goal is really to have Blake at the center of our culture.” 

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