Spotify’s CMO on Using Data to Learn About Millennials

And what the streaming service now knows

Spotify, the Swedish service that's brought music streaming into the mainstream, has spent nearly a decade winning over millennials. Now, with 30 million subscribers and 75 million users, it's begun targeting a broader demographic with spots featuring a rock album from Pope Francis, Americans moving to Canada and Falkor, the dog-like creature from the 1980s film "Neverending Story."

Here, Spotify CMO and Clio Music Awards juror Seth Farbman discusses how the streaming service uses data, what that data says about millennials and how music is shaping advertising.

Adweek: What kind of millennial insights are you seeing from the data?
Seth Farbman: What we have seen very consistently is this use of music to either share who you are or hide who you are. We've done a number of things, like the Year of Music, which allowed music fans to look at their listening habits through an entire year. We delivered it back to them with what their most listened artist was, where they listened most, how their patterns changed throughout the year, etc. And what we see is that people are either reluctant to share because they don't want people to know that their secret love is really Madonna from the '80s. They're anxious to start because they want to be seen as the tastemaker that they are.

How do those insights play into your pitch to advertisers?
The data shows high-tide engagement. People are listening to music for 2.5 hours a day. It is one of the primary applications that they open. They are the exact audience—that millennial audience—that almost every brand is trying to attract. And it is an audience that is open, because when you're listening to music, you're in a state of emotional openness. Just think about why we even play music: to feel better, to expand ourselves. So that is the right audience in the right time frame in the right mindset. And that requires advertisers to take their communications a little more seriously, but when they do and provide the right context, real magic can happen. And then it doesn't feel like selling—it feels like sharing.

What are you doing to compete with Apple Music or Pandora or Tidal?
When we look at the competitive set, when you've got an amazing brand like Apple focusing on the music industry again, we think that's good for the music industry. And we think that it's good for the growth of streaming. It's quite telling when a company like Apple so embraces streaming as the future that they're converting their iTunes customers in the early days over to the new platform and technology. What we've seen is that validates streaming, it helps grow the total potential market, and really just creates attention for Spotify.

You were a judge for the Clio Image Awards last year and are a judge for Clio Music Awads this year. What trends are you seeing related to the intersection of music and advertising?
What I'm really interested in is how music is shifting from kind of the soundtrack to an advertising music video or a spot, as something that really taps into very specific emotions and gets people to really change behavior. I think that we're inside kind of a shift from music that is obvious for, say, a TV spot, to music that is highly shareable and helps people to find who they are. So I'll be really keen to see the integration of music in social, and the integration of music in digital marketing.

What's your biggest challenge for 2016?
We've shifted from the startup that wanted to get people's attention to the giant gorilla in the room that people want to associate themselves with. So the real challenge is not to get distracted by all of the opportunities to partner and go somewhere else, and to be very, very deliberate about the experiences we associate ourselves with, brands we associate ourselves with, so that we're really staying true to the audience that brought us here. My view is one of the great things about the growth of Spotify is it's been able to do it off the love that people have for the product and the content that they get. From a marketing point of view, we have to resist the urge of telling our story, and we have to double down on telling the audience' story and really improve ways to do that. So the big challenge this year is focus.

This story first appeared in the April 11 issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.