Content, Context & Curation – The three Cs of personalisation

Content, Context & Curation – The three Cs of personalisation
January 14, 2016 Luke McClelland

The way in which we consume content in 2016 – whether film, TV, music and indeed almost any news story or marketing material – is vastly different from even five years ago.  Improvements to the Internet globally allow the majority of consumers to access high-quality video, audio and imagery in seconds. Hardware is smaller, lighter and more portable. And social platforms have risen to the fore, sparking an age of information sharing and making the world a much, much smaller place.

Meanwhile, competition has reached fever pitch. Film is no longer owned by the cinema and rental store. Traditional broadcasters no longer dominate television and music stores are far fewer than they were a decade ago. The notion of a few media voices has changed to infinite media choices – from news portals, to print media, YouTubers to broadcast. And finally, stories can be told through video, voice or text, and we access these stories across a range of devices.

All of the above has led to one, very undeniable fact – we have access to more data, information and content today than ever before.

For brands around the world, this poses a serious challenge in both product development and marketing – how to reach, appeal and connect their audience to great content in a world of fragmentation and excess. In my opinion, the answer is simple. Getting there however, is not.

If we look at the darling brands of the technology industry over the past five years (Netflix, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, eBay, Spotify – to name just a few), they all have one thing in common – they put the individual user’s needs and wants at the heart of their product. Personalisation is everything.

At CES last week, Richard Frankel (Creative Director at Spotify) talked to an audience about his company’s approach to personalisation.

At the heart of the Spotify product is the user. In everything they do they seek to answer the question: “What would a music fan want”.  The vision is simple – put the user first. This is a not new or unique approach by any means – all of the aforementioned tech darlings operate with a similar mantra, however something Mr. Frankel said got me thinking.

In short, he suggested that “If content is king, context is god, and data is its religion”.

Data. Moreover, using this data to personalise both product and marketing to each one of their consumers, in a way that doesn’t overwhelm them, but shows that they are understood – and in turn serving them the content that matters to them. It is curation at its best, and in a world flooded with choice, curation is crucial.

Similar to emphasising the needs of the user, using data to curate content is nothing new. Retailers such as eBay and Amazon use your purchasing behavior to predict similar products. The Netflix recommendation engine is well documented as being an industry leader in matchmaking film and TV fans with content they’ll love based on every detail of their past viewing experience. There are very few examples that come to mind however, for using this data to create context – i.e. what is the user doing when consuming content.

Through data, Spotify can make predictions to use cases and develop a product and marketing approach to match. Broadly, the brand integrates itself into every element of the user’s day – going where its audience does. The brand puts itself in the mix from the first moment of the day, partnering with the likes of Uber, Ford and BMW (for travel), PlayStation and Chrome Cast (for the sofa), Nike and Starbucks (for on the go). They take their vast library and seek to take it to the user’s lifestyle, regulating how the user feels and helping them through the day. Knowing the context in which users are listening allows Spotify to suggest specific songs, albums and playlists for these occasions, and through partnerships such as the above, they ensure ease of access and encourage use.

Delving deeper, the company recently began experimenting with adding functionality around specific activities, developing their technology based on the vast amounts of data they collect. For example, Frankel discussed a feature they are working on for runners (who Spotify identified as primary users of the service) – where the smart phone will monitor the tempo at which you are running and find songs that match that beat, once again demonstrating the power and potential sensors could have in our product experience.

However, my favourite examples of how Spotify use data is in its marketing. If you haven’t already, you should absolutely visit Spotify’s Year in Music microsite ( Leaning into “selfie culture”, as Frankel described it – the idea plays to the suggestion that everyone loves an image of themselves. Andy Warhol said: “every song has a memory”, and with Year in Music Spotify has tapped into the knowledge that new year is a time for reflection, and by leveraging its most valuable asset (you guessed it, data), they remind us the role Spotify plays in our everyday lives. Emotional, relatable, personalised. Brilliant.

Even from an above the line perspective, they have used data dynamically and in real-time to tell localised stories instead of messaging to the masses. In New York they used data to find the songs and artists most streamed in each ZIP code, tailoring billboard ads in each area and positioning the brand as a fun, relevant partner to their audience in these neighborhoods. As it turns out, Williamsburg listened to Justin Bieber’s ’Sorry’ more than any other song. A large and very clever advert that said: “Sorry, Not Sorry Williamsburg. Bieber’s hit trended highest in this zip code” made for an eye catching ad, juxtaposed with the expectations of one of the Big Apple’s trendiest areas. Moreover, it required next to no additional effort or marketing spend to deliver.

For me, Spotify is a shining example of how brands can leverage data to tackle the fragmented and choice-rich world we live in today. Content is king, however with so much available curation is key, and in understanding context through data – and in turn creating personalised experiences – Spotify may well be onto something that brands and marketers would benefit from watching.