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First Mover: Simon Fleming-Wood

The Pandora CMO wants to preserve the brand's intimacy, even as its base grows

Photo: Elizabeth Lippman

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Specs
Who Simon Fleming-Wood 
Age 43 
New gig CMO, Pandora
Old gig Founding vp of marketing, Pure Digital Technologies

Pandora is 10 years old, but you’re its first chief marketing officer. Why was the position created now? 
I think Pandora hired me partly because they’ve grown so significantly that it makes sense for someone to come in and be the shepherd of the brand and build in even more disciplined approaches. That’s both in terms of how we approach new customer acquisition as well as maintaining and growing what we call “listening intensity.”


Listening intensity?
It refers to the way we compete for greater share of somebody’s music listening requirements, so to speak.

How will you use branding to differentiate from new competitors like Spotify and iHeartRadio? Or will the selling point merely be, “We’re the biggest”?
No, the beauty is in the fact that it is so inherently differentiated based on its focus on personalization. You come and you tell us a little bit of information about what you like and this sort of magic thing happens. Nobody else has the magic thing that we have, which is the Music Genome Project. Ten years of work have gone into building this hand-built database of musicological DNA that allows people on the fly wherever they are to find music that they love. That is the differentiation.

So what’s your vision for the brand?
What makes Pandora so interesting to me personally—most recently I was on the founding team of Pure Digital Technologies, which was the creator of Flip Video, so I was the architect of that brand …

That was a great brand.
It still is! It was the James Dean of brands—it went out in its prime. So I get interested in technologies that reinvent categories. In that world, Flip Video sort of reinvented consumer video for people by making it simple, and then the Flip brand became what was new in video. We branded that difference. Pandora to me is the same opportunity as it relates to radio. There’s a tired old category, and Pandora has come along to reinvent that through this concept of personalized radio. In that world lies the opportunity to create a very rich brand around personalization.

For a while, Pandora had positioned itself as an underdog in its conflicts with the music labels. That “Save Pandora” rallying cry gave the brand a more mainstream awareness. Is that an image the company continues to embrace? 
I think one of the brand attributes for Pandora is that, even though it now has over 125 million registered users, people still have this personal association with it, and in some ways, it’s still like a secret. I don’t want, from a brand perspective, to ignore that. I think that’s cool. But do we see ourselves as adversarial with the other players in the music industry, and is that part of our way of hyping the brand? Absolutely not. We feel that we are an important part of a healthy music industry. We pay royalties to artists. We pay much higher royalties than traditional radio does.

What’s your favorite station on Pandora? 
I’m a Canadian boy, so my current favorite station is The Tragically Hip Radio. It brings up a lot of Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots and mellow stuff.

In the office, do you all fight over which station is played?
It’s a lot of people on headphones.