Mayur Gupta
VP, Growth and Marketing

Spotify’s Mayur Gupta on Defining the Brand’s Always-On Demand Creation and Demand Capture

Mayur's innovation superpower? Leveraging the “always on” intersection of data, technology and great content to predict what a customer wants before they do. Fun fact? You probably didn’t know that Mayur started his career as an engineer and approaches marketing as “art in science and science in art”.

Tell us about your current role and responsibilities. Why did you choose to join your current company?

I joined Spotify in mid-2016 with a mission to evolve marketing into a data-driven growth engine for the company – we called it “marketing sciences”. Piggybacking on a brilliant product that has established the foundation for one of the best global brands, the role required building a growth engine on top of that foundation.

The modern consumer does not exercise choice within the start and end date of a campaign. She is at the center of the ecosystem, in a constant search for value as and when she has a need. And brands need the ability to predict what she needs before she knows she needs it. I call that the “always-on” mindset; enabled at the intersection of data, technology and content.

At a stage in the company where we had already proven a strong product-market fit, we defined marketing’s role across two “always-on” pillars - “Demand Creation” and “Demand Capture”.

  • Demand Creation - If you think about your entire addressable audience in a series of concentric circles, the inner circles representing the users you’re more likely to have, or you deserve to have; I think about Demand Creation as an ability to identify new audiences in those outer circles who would NOT have come otherwise. Of course it influences and inspires the ones who re are already aware of your brand and just need a nudge but more importantly it’s creating demand for the ones further away who are truly incremental. This is where we leverage the power of our brand, it’s impact on culture to connect with those people in more meaningful ways. Once you do that, people connect with culture, they discover music and discover themselves in the process.
  • Demand Capture – it’s the more scientific part of marketing that is intertwined with data, content and technology to capture that demand, in an always-on way, – it’s a constantly running engine that “bring them home”. You apply the science to inspire these users to enter the Spotify ecosystem and use the power of your content to keep bringing them back one more time and one more time. Of course, underneath that engine lies a lot of data, lot of experiments to see what works, with what type of user, who is coming back and staying active vs who is slowing down, how do we engage them in a way that is unique to them and so on.

Why Spotify: These are fascinating times for marketing. A lot of change, complexity and expectations. Even though it’s a cliché, marketing truly is art in science and science in art.

I started my career as an engineer, building technology products. Over the years I gravitated towards technology for the world of advertising and marketing – AdTech & MarTech. That opened the doors of marketing for me where I was a clear misfit. Being an engineer, I approached marketing as a system that had too many disconnected dots and I have a passion to connect the dots.

Spotify gave me a blank canvas to try and connect those dots for the first time, to experiment and fail without fear. And even more exciting about joining Spotify was the opportunity to learn the part I never grew up with – understanding the value of culture and hence the value of a brand that can influence that culture. It’s quite magical. It’s a lab where you’re learning and concocting something new every day. There was no better place for me to become a marketer.

I joined Spotify five years ago, with the awesome remit to build the brand. To do this, and to work alongside our talented teams at Spotify, and our visionary leader, Daniel Ek, has been the opportunity of a lifetime.

What current developments in marketing are most inspiring to you? How will they affect the future of marketing?

Marketing has dramatically evolved from the days of the Mad Men to being core to an organization’s Growth Engine and Culture. The Mad Men Marketing was more about the best creative ad, the wittiest commercial with the highest paid brand ambassadors. It did work for the gullible consumer of that era, easily influenced to try and buy those products.

Today’s consumer has the choice, access and flexibility to execute that choice as and when she wants. She is the protagonist, the real disruptor. Hence, Marketing not only needs to inspire behavior but inspire people to discover something new about themselves. It needs to be culturally relevant and contextual. It needs to operate at the convergence of data, technology and brilliant content and storytelling. It cannot be one-dimensional. It is complex and it is being held accountable for a lot more. To deliver on that promise, Marketing needs to focus on the “outcome” and not the “output”.

“Marketing not only needs to inspire behavior but inspire people to discover something new about themselves. It needs to be culturally relevant and contextual."

For brands, this transformation in marketing is not a choice but a quintessential response to surviving in a consumer-led era. Money and the multi-million dollar campaigns can no longer buy love or loyalty. For starters, Marketing needs to overcome its biggest challenge, Marketing. It needs to stop marketing and start listening, understanding and engaging. It needs to stop asking and offering and start predicting, learning and fulfilling unmet needs. When brands start doing that, they drive growth simultaneously across the 3 pillars (they ladder up to Demand Creation and Demand Capture):

  • Grow the Brand - How much is your brand loved and trusted? Do the users feel connected with the brand? Do they feel the brand is connected with their culture?
  • Grow the User Base – Size of users trying, registering, subscribing or buying your product. Depending on the nature of your business, this could also include revenue growth, # units sold etc.
  • Grow the User Value – A measure of the value being added to a user’s life, her experience. I measure it as a percentage of users coming back to use, renew subscription or buy more product; a sign of delivered and evolving user value and ultimately a product-market fit. These are inter-twined, you cannot isolate the growth of your brand from the growth of your use base; a brand brings trust, it connects your audience with culture, it lays the foundation for you to build off of; something that often gets neglected. But at Spotify we strongly believe in the value of the brand and have proven the quantitative impact of the brand on our business KPIs.

What are you working on now that's innovative?

There is innovation in almost every aspect of marketing at Spotify. We are constantly challenging the status quo, challenging our own beliefs. We are trying to innovate our thinking that eventually reflects in the experiences we deliver.

 Spotify’s year-end holiday campaign (2017) Spotify’s year-end holiday campaign (2017)

Our year ending holiday effort is a perfect example of that. Just the way in which we leverage data to tell fascinating stories about our fans and artists; inducing positivity and optimism with creative storytelling in the midst of global confusion.

But the three areas I am most excited about right now are:

  1. Proving the incrementality of marketing– The ultimate user growth that would not have happened in the absence of marketing. This is even more important for brands that have a strong organic funnel and word of mouth.
  2. Quantitatively proving that a strong cultural brand is a more effective foundation for growth– Proving the cross amplification of a cultural brand and it’s impact on growth; or the measurable impact of Demand Creation and Demand Capture running in parallel, feeding into each other.
  3. Experimenting our way to maximize marketing’s effectiveness, not just efficiency– Experimentation at scale is still new to marketing (relative to product and engineering). We are investing in the art of experimentation within marketing to not only improve efficiency (cost to acquire) but maximizing effectiveness (retention and LTV KPIs). Which means a bigger focus on the quality of users we acquire, their engagement with the platform and our content (user states, user behavior etc) and the ultimate lifetime value (both financial and non-financial) to the business.

What big learning moments have you had in your journey? Did you have any notable mentors?

I started my career as an engineer, glaring at black and blue screens scanning log files, analyzing and tuning JVM crashes, recovering databases. Many of these resulted from memory leaks in my own code (lessons learned for life). Gradually steered towards technology that would completely redefine the world advertising and marketing; product managing Adtech and Martech platforms (from ad servers and search bid management systems to multi-channel campaign management and CRM platforms, analytics and BI solutions and more).

From core engineering and product management in AdTech to driving digital transformation, eCommerce and innovation at a Fortune 100 CPG company, to leading marketing for an online Healthcare Marketplace and now driving growth at the center of marketing for one of the best and fastest growing global brands and platforms in the world, it’s been quite a road.     I have to admit, it’s been unexpected and unplanned. Perhaps a combination of courageous instinct fueled by a belief that every new turn had to be an even bigger challenge, pushing me at my weakest skills. Hence the journey across industries, different roles, different challenges every time. There have been a number of learning moments especially when I entered corporate America. The biggest being that I had to be true to my own self at all times no matter where I was, true to my own values and belief system. Your work is a reflection of your values and beliefs. You cannot fake that.

I have been extremely fortunate to have worked with some incredible leaders. Some have actively mentored me through my career and some more unconsciously through their own actions and beliefs. The list is long and it goes all the way back to people who inspired me during my early days at SapientNitro. They imbibed the core values within me that still make me who I am today.

How do you pick and develop the talent on your team? How do you ensure there is collaboration?

My organization is a combination of horizontal capabilities that feed into various parts of the always-on engine. The horizontals functions provide services that are journey and channel agnostic. These cover Technology, Science (Consumer Insights – understanding the audience, the why behind the what and Marketing Analytics, measuring and maximizing the impact of marketing), Media and Content for the business.

Leveraging and applying these horizontals are the levers of the always-on engine that are accountable for business outcome – Creating new demand with always-on awareness efforts, Acquiring that demand in the most effective and efficient way through Performance Marketing and using data to deliver the most Contextual Content to maximize Retention and Lifetime Value. The journey of course is how these functions collaborate and amplify each other. That’s when your traditional funnel becomes cyclic.

Working at Spotify gives you access to the top talent in the industry. As a basic principle, I always look to hire people who are smarter and stronger than I am in their area of focus. When you do that, they tell you what needs to be done starting day one. Rest of it is an ongoing process of test and learn, a back and forth between pull and push, making mistakes and learning from them.

I remember this quote from Phil Jackson: "The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team." I am still working on that.

What one thing do you need from your CMO to help you be successful?

When you work with one of industry’s top marketing leaders like Seth Farbman, you don’t have to ask for much. It’s tough to pen this down to one thing but if I had to pick it would be the “freedom to fail” that Seth provides to all of us. That is the single most inspiring and motivating aspect of my role and what I get from my leadership.

What advice would you give to marketers who are just starting their careers?

I grew up looking at a lot of doctors in my family who would constantly have to study despite years of practice. It’s because of the constant evolution of viruses in the world, medical science has to come up with new vaccines to manage them.

I feel that’s the world we live in today. It’s constantly being disrupted. And for the first time, it’s not technology, but the consumer that is the protagonist of this disruption. To be a marketer, you have to constantly evolve, keep learning, keep taking risks, keep failing. We need to be multi-dimensional, we need to understand data, technology, human behavior, empathy, storytelling, finance and much more. The traditional silos of functional verticals do not exist anymore. The ultimate consumer experience happens at the intersection of these skillsets and that’s the bar we have to set for ourselves as marketers.

“The world we live in today is constantly being disrupted. And for the first time, it’s not technology, but the consumer that is the protagonist of this disruption.”

 Bonus Questions

  • If you were a superhero, what would your special skill be? Singing. Make people happy with my singing, I make them cry today.
  • Name something that most people don't know about you. I practice Nichiren Buddhism, the most beautiful life philosophy of cause and effect that never lets me be defeated. Daisaku Ikeda is my mentor in life – he is the Michael Jordan of Buddhism.
  • If you weren’t a marketer, what would you be? Playing Cricket for India or just living with that dream
  • What's the best thing you've read/listened to/watched recently? Not recent but my all-time favorite scene is from Will Smith’s “The Pursuit of Happiness” talking to his son: “Don’t ever let somebody tell you that you can’t do something. Not even me.”