Editor's pick Podcast technology

Pandora Music on innovating in an era of change

Jeff Zuckowski and Liz Bacelar
Jeff Zuckowski and Liz Bacelar

“Everybody is always trying to figure out what’s next, and sometimes you’ve got to live in the now,” says Jeff Zuckowski, vice president of industry relations at music service Pandora, on the latest episode of TheCurrent Innovators podcast.

Speaking to Liz Bacelar, he highlights the importance of balancing newness and familiarity, and how companies should be striving to innovate in the present, and not the future in order to stay ahead.

Listen here: Apple Podcasts | Android | Google Play | Stitcher | RSS

For Pandora, disruption began when consumers flocked to digital to listen to music how they wanted, when they wanted, says Zuchowski. But every disruption is preceded by a phase of resistance, he notes. For digital music, it took big industry players a while to realize the power of investing in platforms that tap into the growing consumer needs for convenience and discoverability.

Although Pandora currently sits at number two in the US market behind Spotify, many would discard the company’s recent attempts to stay in line with competition. Zuchowski disagrees with that notion, saying the platform already has a large fanbase (circa 80 million), which simply needs to be reignited. “I don’t look at Pandora as an underdog, I look at is as a sleeping giant,” he says.

Pandora constantly adds touches to make the usability more seamless and relevant, he says. A recent feature, for instance, enables users to just pick one or two songs, and Pandora will generate an entire playlist off the back of them. Users can then eliminate or add songs along the way, and an algorithm will learn from their behaviour.

“When we set out to go to the next level, and we had to do something to compete, we did it by using what’s always been Pandora’s backbone, which is the Genome,” Zuchowski further explains. The Music Genome Project is a proprietary music rating system developed by Pandora where trained musicologists rate songs on 450 different attributes – such as “aggressive drumming” or “jazz influencers” and cross-reference the results with other songs in order to make recommendations. The platform is betting on its human-meets-AI approach to provide a more curated selection of music.

Zuchowski’s competitive nature, however, means he never thinks a project is done, a trait he believes most disruptors have. At the core of that approach is the need to go beyond his own industry to learn things from people who are in other spaces, facing similar problems. Fashion, he believes, is going through a large amount of change and could learn from talking to peers in other industries such as music, who often face the same hurdles, but at different times in culture.

His advice for the industry is to “take chances.. to throw a lot of s**t against the wall and see what sticks”. No one can afford to do the same thing they did a year ago, he notes.

Catch up with all of our episodes of TheCurrent Innovators here. The series is a weekly conversation with visionaries, executives and entrepreneurs. It’s backed by TheCurrent, a consultancy transforming how consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more.

film social media

3 tips for luxury brands marketing on video-streaming platforms in China

Official film still from ‘Tiny Times’. video-streaming
Official film still from ‘Tiny Times’. Photo: VCG

Skeptics have doubted the appeal of “old-school” video-streaming platforms to luxury brands and predict that the future of luxury brands’ marketing lies in live-streaming, smartphone-based micro-film apps such as Meipai, and other innovative social media forms. But recent research suggests that online video-streaming platforms are still favoured by many luxury brands.

Meanwhile, pre-roll ads remain the mainstay of online advertising strategy in the Chinese market. Given that video-streaming has proven it has staying power, here are some best practices for luxury brands marketing on video platforms in China.

1. When it comes to pre-roll ads and dedicated channels, content is king

Chinese internet users love watching videos online. By July 2016, the overall monthly active users of Chinese video-streaming mobile applications exceeded 800 million. As we wrote in a previous article, many of these video-streaming viewers actively seek out commercials as long as they are creative.

Luxury brands such as Cartier, Chanel and Louis Vuitton began investing in this platform since its early days. The main tip for making pre-roll ads and managing dedicated channels for luxury brands is simple: content is king.

The fashion powerhouse Louis Vuitton was one of the first to experiment with Youku, launching video ads in 2009 followed by a full brand channel in 2010. Burberry, the British luxury fashion brand, has also included video-streaming platforms in its marketing strategies in China, uploading promotional videos and live-streaming its fashion shows on platforms such as Youku to reach Chinese consumers.

2. Seeking the ‘Tiny Times’ effect for luxury product placement

Product placement is one of the most frequently used marketing strategies for luxury brands, which have had a lot of success in recent years placing products in Chinese movies and television shows.

For example, Ode to Joy, a hit television drama series about five young women making it in Shanghai, one of China’s most developed cities, attracted over 50 advertisers including Givenchy, SK-II, Chow Tai Fook and many other luxury brands.

Tiny Times, a film series based on the novels of China’s wealthiest writer Guo Jingming — which make luxury items such as Hermès Birkin bags, Celine jackets and Ferragamo cocktail dresses an integral part of the movie — is an example of successful product placement, despite poor reviews from Chinese critics who called the movies “shallow” and “materialistic.”

The films broke Chinese box office records multiple times and demonstrated an incredible ability to boost the sales of luxury goods such as champagne.

Feeding the curiosity of average audiences, fashion bloggers wrote volumes explaining each brand spotted in the films, which further boosted the exposure of luxury brands.

Meanwhile, Chinese mainstream video-streaming sites have invested a lot in producing original online shows in recent years, many of which target Chinese youth and are able to reach a larger audience than traditional television shows and movies. It’s an opportunity luxury brands should keep an eye out for.

3. Matching a show with the value of a brand

This is not to suggest product placement is an easy choice or a guaranteed success. For luxury brands in particular, setting is something that needs to be handled with care.

“The worst thing that can happen is that the audience feels like it is watching a commercial,” said Leeza-Maria el Khazen, the founder of Lynx Productions, a branding and business development firm. “It can have a very negative effect on the film and the brand because it draws the audience out of the movie. Sometimes it’s kind of shocking.”

The most recent marketing success with respect to online shows for luxury brands perhaps goes to Supreme, a New York-based skateboarding and clothing brand that has won the hearts of many celebrities. In The Rap of China, a Chinese rap reality show produced by online video platform iQiyi that has attracted over 2.5 billion views, celebrity judge Kris Wu has been wearing Supreme outfits since the first episode in June 2017.

Even though the brand did not ask to be in the show or pay for this inadvertent product promotion, its frequent appearance in the show has shot the brand to stardom in China. Other luxury brands that have appeared on the show, including Yeezy, Gucci and Off-White, have also experienced a huge spike in interest on the Chinese-speaking internet, not just in how much these items cost but also in the culture and story behind the brands.

According to the entertainment research company EntGroup, if product placement fits with the setting in a show, more than 66% of the viewers won’t mind watching the ads. Understanding what shows best match with the value of a brand can help build loyalty and appreciation among consumers.

By Lotus Ruan.

This article was originally published on Jing Daily, a Fashion & Mash content partner.


Editor's pick mobile social media

ICYMI: JW Anderson’s menswear show will live-stream on Grindr this weekend

Yes, you read that right. JW Anderson is turning to gay dating app, Grindr, to stream its autumn/winter 2016/17 menswear show during London Collections: Men this Sunday.

The London-based designer will take to the platform – otherwise known as a location-based hook-up tool for men in cities around the world – in a bid to demonstrate fashion’s “sexy” side, he said.

“I think fashion is a sexy platform as well, ultimately,” he told The New York Times. “We’re all humans, so we all have to be somewhat sexually attractive to someone. That’s the name of the game, with clothing.” He referred to the collaboration as a “no brainer”, and Grindr, which claims one million active users every minute, as an “incredibly modern platform”.

Grindr will be the only place that consumers can access the live video. Users will be sent a secret code, which will then direct them to the stream within phone and tablet browsers (it won’t play within the app itself).

The move comes following Grindr hiring PR Consulting as its new publicity agency – a company usually associated with, well, fashion. And one that does, of course, also represent Anderson.

Blocks Comment film social media

Live streaming fashion week – a classic case of quality over quantity

J. JS Lee spring/summer 2015

Last September I wrote a piece for Mashable about the role of live streaming during fashion week today – the engagement it does and doesn’t afford, and ultimately whether the cost involved is worth it for designers.

There were varying viewpoints. Live viewership isn’t especially high, but numerous brands suggested reaching the ‘super fan’ makes it worthwhile. Furthermore, understanding the ROI is a bit of a grey area anyway – many designers record videos of their shows regardless of whether they’re streaming it, so the greater part of the financial investment live streaming requires is already there. Likewise, many have that cost soaked up as part of their show package at say the Lincoln Center with IMG in New York or Somerset House with the BFC in London.

Regardless of that fact, live streams have become so prevalent, they’re also somewhat mundane. Overall there was also a consensus therefore that a point of difference and a specific content strategy beyond just the 10-minutes or so of the show, would help too.

In New York this season, however, quite a few of the big shows, including DKNY and Diane von Furstenberg, who have live streamed for a good number of seasons in the past, opted not to. Similarly, Made Fashion Week didn’t include live streaming as standard with any of its shows from Milk Studios either.

There was quite a response on Twitter; fans complaining about the fact they weren’t getting to see their favourite shows, using choice words like ‘disappointed’ and ‘annoyed’.

The numbers may not be enormous, but seemingly the engagement of those fans that do tune in has the potential to make it worthwhile. The idea of that super fan again, is loud and it’s strong. Even if they’re not yet customers, at the very least they aspire to be.

Which is why it should be credited that the British Fashion Council is fully backing live streaming for its designers this season, with a record 90% of the schedule set to be available to watch online. Even Tom Ford is – for the first time ever – set to live stream on Monday, September 15, which is a significant shift in strategy comparative to his first show for spring/summer 2011 when he only invited one photographer (his own), turned away all the bloggers, and set a strict embargo on information about the collection so as to relate it more closely to the date the garments hit store.

The British Fashion Council estimates the LFW live streams are watched from 190 countries worldwide. Click here for the full schedule:

Pic: J. JS Lee spring/summer 2015