The future of music visualisation in the streaming decade.

Back to 1939, the first album cover was invented by American graphic design artist Alex Steinweiss. Before that time, all music was released on 78 RPM shellac and sold in either paper or card covers, with a circular cutout allowing just a record label to be seen. Since most 78 RPM discs were on sale in paper sleeves without any additional materials, relatively limited information was provided by the items themselves.

In 1939, while Alex Steinweiss was designing ads for Columbia Records, he suggested to add art components to the company’s 78 releases, which afterwards were sold in heavy paper and, for multiple-record sets, packaged in book-binding format. This new approach in visualisation helped to increase sales tremendously and earned Alex a position of Columbia’s art director.

Artworks for music albums, where choosing right graphics, colours, images and headers became crucial, it made the sale of music a blooming market. Art components in music covers became a fundamental part of each release not only in terms of sales, but also in terms of the artists’ recognition.

The music digitisation with arrival of such format as MP3 and invasion of streaming music services on the market shacked the music industry not only from business point of view, but also we are currently facing a question how to provide users with digital experience equal to what we used to have with physical records. I previously wrote “What drives vinyl sales”, where I mentioned the huge increase in vinyl sales which might be related to this lack of ownership feelings in digital age.

So is it enough for music fans to have just a playlist now? Apparently, that was the question founders of Whitestone, the first platform for interactive music experiences, asked themselves. Created by a team of designers, artists and programmers, Whitestone will offer to producers and labels to create “interactive versions” of albums and EPs, not just streaming, tracklists and image properties, but a real interactive digital artwork, including hidden commands and touch controls.

After 3 years of researching, the platform is about to see the light. The project has initially arrived on Thunderclap, and on the 30th of August will start its way on Kickstarter in order to have a chance to become the first streaming portal which will go “beyond the playlist”.

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SoundCloud has officially announced its new business model.

From promotional tool to music streaming service, German music distribution platform SoundCloud has officially confirmed its plan to launch a subscription service for consumers later this year as an additional way of generating revenue, said co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Eric Wahlforss. This news followed the announcement that the company is “running dangerously low” on funds, which doesn’t come up as a big surprise after rumours around legal issues with major record labels.

Last year, SoundCoud managed to close deals with Warner and Merlin, an agency representing more than 20,000 smaller recording labels. Since then, remaining majors Universal Music Group and Sony Music Entertainment have yet to finalise their terms and conditions, and are reportedly demanding a larger upfront payments.

The music service, sometimes described as a YouTube for music, provides users not only with original tracks but also lots of remixes and DJ sets. Therefore, SoundCloud offers more than 100 million tracks compared to streaming service Spotify, with its focus on more than 30 million original songs. The broad variety has made SoundCloud one of the most popular music services with about 175 million unique visitors per month, and it’s especially famous for rich selection of electronic music.

Currently, listening to the music on SoundCloud is free of charge, where a revenue is generated from uploading artists. However, in the USA the company has also tried a model of operation with ads. Pepsi, Jaguar and Axe are just to name a few among the advertisers.

That means the subscriptions will move SoundCloud’s business model in the direction of Spotify and Apple Music. It hasn’t been officially confirmed yet, but I do believe the music service will offer subscription plans for a standard nowadays plan with about $10 per month or option with a free service where advertising will be played between tracks. And so far it feels like the platform itself might lose its unique niche for simple and free music discovery.

Apple Music: it has everything.. Maybe even too much?

It shouldn’t come up as a surprise that a new paid streaming music service by Apple has arrived recently. In the end of June the tech giant presented its highly anticipated Apple Music subscription service. Like many other already existing streaming services, Apple offers its customers an access to millions of tracks for a monthly fee. After using this service for about 3 weeks I decided to come up with my own feelings about it. Sorry in advance devoted fans of Apple corporation, it’s not going to be a praise or prediction that Apple Music will conquer the music world.

Looking back in 2003, the company launched the world’s most successful digital download service, the iTunes Store. Can it do the same for streaming and win a battle between such successful and already established streaming service as Spotify?

Apple Music has received lots of praise, and it might be deserved. The subscription service is great for music discovery, and it is even trying to make a radio cool again. I believe, Apple has already converted a number of Spotify’s subscribers into believers, and generally speaking it has received significant number of positive feedbacks.

However, this brave new music streaming doesn’t look as a game-changer for me despite all attempts Apple made to make me believe. So far, it looks like Apple has started to forget how to say “No” by making latest products overloaded.

The worst part of Apple Music for me is navigation. There’s just too much going on! Apple, in its attempt to give users everything right here right now, is just loosing what the company is famous for – simplicity and usability. There are so many different ways to get what user is looking for, and eventually it converts user experience into struggle to find it. I want music to listen to, not a maze to find it. Too much good stuff is apparently too much. Making things simple has been one of Apple’s strongest and greatest insignias for decades, but now it feels like a lot of media apps have been tried to be shoehorned into iTunes.

Another problem I see as a serious one here is interface. There are endless number of ways to get into playlists, library, and songs saved for offline listening, and that default white-and-pink interface changes colors with an attempt to match album covers… This is nothing wrong with something being black and white (you can read it properly at least), but when it’s chartreuse and orange, it might be too colourful and reading the screen is become a nightmare. There are also transparency effects which seem to me a bit out of place. Thus, while some features on a menu are clear, others are just a headache.

Another section I’m sceptical about is “Connect” which is included in the five main tabs at the bottom of the main interface. The idea behind it is to connect fans with artists, providing latest news about a band, latest releases or even selfies with fans. Hm.. is one of the purposes of Apple Music to become a new social media channel? If yes, what is it for? Even if placing Connect on a front-and-center isn’t a huge negative factor itself; it might be a bit distracting and useless. So far, I’m following around 80 artists, and I don’t see them being active on Apple Music. I do believe for interaction with artists nothing can be better than Facebook and Twitter so far. Dear Apple Music, please stay focused!

Beats 1 though might be a great attempt to bring radio back to life. Apple Music’s radio station, is probably the most hyped part of the service. Represented by DJs from Los Angeles, New York, and London, it has a respected and brave goal to put a 24/7 global music experience live across the globe. Guest shows include some hosted by musicians, and the overall music selection is good enough. Have been listening it for a while I can conclude there is definitely a chance to hear songs you would love to sing with or to find new artists you would like to hear again and again. By this moment, I’ve realised I’m enjoying the station and might come back to it from time to time.

To sum up my experience I would use a word uneven. It’s unlikely I will stay with Apple Music after free 3-months trial, but I might enjoy a radio station sometimes which is supposed to be free for non-subscribers. Apple Music is a perfect example that to have more can’t always mean being better.

Social media networks: have they become an unethical tool in marketing practices?

We currently live in a digital era, where new technology appears on the market every now and then, and its appearance transforms the traditional way of many aspects of our daily lives. We spend enormous amount of time online on various platforms such as social media networks, blogs and forums. Along with just spending time there, users leave a lot of personal data about themselves. But are they aware of who receive this data and what for? Such giant companies as Google and Facebook have business models which emphasise possibility of personal data usage. However, by clicking “agree” to share our personal data does everyone really know who exactly will have an access to this information and how it will be used? This question has caused anxiety towards misuse of consumers’ data in order to help brands to reach their business goals by implementing precisely targeted marketing campaigns. Brands, of course, can try to justify themselves by explaining their acts as a genuine desire to provide better customer service by using this data, while this personal information might actually be used in order to improve the quality of targeting in marketing campaigns. Also, there is always a possibility of a third party recording consumers’ data which might be used by marketers in commercial purposes. Due to these changes in a way we communicate with each other, marketers are able to know and understand consumers even better than consumers are aware about themselves by analysing their every single step in the Internet space.

How do we use social media? What is the purpose?

One of the most popular and huge in terms of number of users virtual environments, Facebook, currently accounts for more than 1.23 billion users worldwide, who are spending on average around 40 minutes per day on the platform. What drives all these people to present online, lead their personal profiles, share photos from vacation and other personal and very intimate information? Social media profiles have started to play a role of business cards for people. Based on Facebook example, social media profiles became an important source of information used to form impressions about other people. For example, users might examine other users’ Facebook profiles when they are trying to make a decision to start dating them or not, or companies might use social media in order to assess potential candidate who applied for a job. There is a rich and diverse mix of various social media websites, which vary in terms of their scope and functionalities such as photography, musicians, professional networks. And all these platforms contain a lot of personal information such as: location, age, job, gender, places user recently visited or plans to go, products he bought, groups he belongs to (bank, cars, clothes etc.) and many more. By adding this information and generating content on their personal profiles, users engage in a process of creating knowledge not only for each other, but for enterprising marketers as well.

There are seven social media networks functional blocks (Kietzmann J. H. et al. 2011):

  • The identity functional block represents the range of personal data which user shows on social media networks. This includes basic information such as name, gender, location, education, job.
  • The conversations block represents the way users communicate with other users (individual public conversation, conversation within a specific group)
  • Sharing outlines the way users get and exchange received content (sharing, retweets, direct post to another social media account)
  • Presence represents the extent users are aware of others accessibility (online or offline indicator, check-in).
  • The relationships represents the extent user can be related to another one. It is not only about statuses as “married to” and “in relationship with”, but it also includes that two or more users have something in common such as the same group they belong to, the same brands they like, shared friends and music preferences.
  • Reputation is the extent to which users can identify the status of others. For example the online currency – number of followers, might indicate the status of blogger, artist, to what extent they might be a trustful source of information.
  • The groups functional represents the extent to which users can organise communities and sub communities.

A constant scanning of information provided in each of functional blog about users’ social media activity might take enormous amount of time. Despite the amount of time it takes, brands scan their virtual environment for better understanding of their current and potential consumers, along with interacting with consumers online by answering their queries on various social networks. The reason for brands to pay attention to social media is not only in order to get data about customers, but also to communicate with them online when needed, as speed of conversations (online support) might have an influence on brands’ position on the market . However, in recent years there are special tools for better and quick scanning of information have appeared on the market in order to help marketers to gain all information about their customers. The big advantage of these tools is an ability to get accumulated information from various social media networks in one report, without a need to look at each social media profile separately. Among the most popular research tools on the market is HootSuite, formed in 2008. The company positions itself as a leading social media management system and the world’s most widely used social relationship platform. This company provides marketers with monitoring of multiple social media networks, including giants Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. After monitoring, the company creates custom reports based on over than 30 individual report modules in order to share insights with clients about their consumers. It tracks brand sentiment, followers growth, mentions on social media, discussions about the brand. On the one hand it might be useful when consumer has a urgent query to the company, and the company due to constant tracking of social media activity can respond quickly via Twitter or other social media channel. However, on the other hand it might be perceived creepy when you buy a new car and on the next day have a call from insurance company (based on a personal experience). Social media monitoring system helps to obtain an exclusive and highly personal data about consumers that goes far beyond their simple interests, preferences or visited places. It monitors our feelings, thoughts and analysis our further expectations and desires. For instance, if user updates personal status to “engaged”, Facebook might demonstrate precisely targeted ads related to a wedding preparation process. Another example might be ads based on users’ recent research in search engines. For example, I was looking for a new sneakers, and after my research I logged in to Facebook profile and saw an ad from another sport brand which offered me their sneakers with 5% discount, which I found very useful though weird. So, where is this border line between usefulness and creepiness?

As technological progress and usage of social media networks have potential to grow in the future and change many aspects of our lives, we probably have faced a time when we need to direct an ethical questions which appeared due to these new technology and its adoption by marketers. It is crucial to protect consumers and their privacy, along with being honest and clear about marketers’ acts. At the same time, new technology used by marketers in social media networks might be helpful for consumers as they will get precisely targeted and relevant to them information about services and goods. There are many social media users who appreciate and like “targeted advertising geared to their particular interests or needs”. However, law is currently limited regards this privacy issues, but is developing in order to defend consumers from unconscionable information collection, especially with emphasising kids. Fortunately, there are still lots of opportunities to collect consumers data legally and ethically, for example with a help of questionnaires or focus groups. Eventually, regulation should be developed in a nearest future, and marketers might be able to take an advantages of this by extending marketing specialisation with self-regulation and policing career opportunities.

To conclude, while we expect social media networks to continue growing worldwide, its privacy issues in terms of data collection by marketers are supposed to become a next big challenge for businesses, marketers and consumers. In terms of ethical issues towards marketing actions, marketers should become more transparent and clear for consumers by explaining them what data, how and what for might be collected in order to prove these actions are not harmful for them. Current marketing practices might be seen as a threat in terms of privacy as they are able to collect a very private and intimate information. Therefore, even when marketers will start to introduce transparent information to social media users about personal data collection, there is still a space for polemics around misuse of data by marketing practitioners. In order to find a solution and solve the problem around unethical marketing practices, researchers need to find a solution which will be suitable for both sides of this controversial question – consumers and marketers. However, it is not only researchers’ responsibility to find a solution in order to protect consumers, consumers themselves should look after what kind of data they provide for global access.

Augmented reality as a marketing tool.

Augmented reality has long sounded as a wild futuristic concept, but the technology has actually been around for years. The idea of overlaying information on a view of the real world is pretty much familiar to everyone. With a help of sci-fi movies such as the Terminator series, we all have a good understanding of how useful AR could be. The convergence of cameras, location awareness, and mobile apps in our modern smartphones made AR widely accessible. There are plenty of augmented reality mobile applications in Google Play and the App Store; however, the usage of these applications is still far from being an “every day” routine.

Existing augmented reality applications.  

Nowadays, there are at least a dozen apps that offer varying degrees of augmented reality through the camera lens. These tools generally work well as a way to discover information about locations around you or to quickly learn more about a place or object in front of you.

Austrian Wikitude, Dutch Layar, British Blippar mobile applications are among the most recognised AR apps worldwide.

  • Wikitude World Browser

Widely regarded as the King of all augmented reality browsers. While using your smartphone’s camera in a given area, the virtual browser — along with more than 3,500 associated content providers — offers you just about any geographically-relevant information you may find valuable while travelling. Useful information is often presented in the form of Wikipedia articles detailing the hallmarks of a specific landmark, or directions to the nearest ATM location or best Russian restaurants nearby. Moreover, the app allows users to find hotels and accommodations through Yelp and TripAdvisor. The built-in AR games, such as Alien Attack and bug-beating Swat the Fly, and the app’s ability to mark and share your favorite spots via Facebook can be perceived as just an additional bonus.

Wikitude-cam-view

  • Layar browser

The Layar app is designed to bring print content into the digital realm, allowing users to scan and pull data from a variety of commonplace content using their smartphones or tablets. Once a print source has been scanned, the app can retrieve direct shopping links to particular products in a matter of seconds, or bring up videos encapsulating the latest cover shoot for a particular magazine. Furthermore, the app includes tools for sharing content via various social media.

layar-interactive-print

  • Blippar application

Blippar aims to make the entire physical world visually searchable via mobile devices and wearables. In the future, it aims to make everything “blippable”, from an apple or chocolate bar, to a dog on the street. In June 2014 Blippar acquired Dutch AR player Layar, which I mentioned above, forming the world’s largest AR alliance.

Tesco-Blipp2

All these applications have a genuine potential and some of them have already achieved a fairly high number of downloads, but widespread adoption is still a distant goal.

Also, as many new technology, AR has been considered by marketers as a new tool to attract with customers and I will give some particular example of AR marketing campaign below.

AR and marketing strategy.

Augmented reality marketing has developed quickly in the last few years, moving from web to mobile — and next, to wearable.

AR has emerged as an innovative tool that allows brands to interact with consumers, creating a new digital experience that enriches the relationship between consumer and brand. As a result, AR can increase ROI through brand awareness and increased engagement with a brand. Therefore, brands who get on board with latest technology have a good chance of benefiting the most from getting ahead of the curve.

Not to mention that AR is also a lot of fun for marketers and consumers, which means increased ability to offer authentic experiences through gamification mechanics.

According to Blippar’s VP Lisa Hu, AR has been predicted to be one of the fastest-growing markets globally over the next five years. So far Blipper itself has received over 50 million global users. Compare that to growing social tools and services like Vine (40 million) and Pinterest (70 million), it’s clear that augmented is set to become a permanent fixture in the digital marketing landscape.

Just to give one great examples of successful AR marketing campaign I want to share Unbelievable Bus Shelter by Pepsi Max campaign which was launched in London. Commuters were waiting for a bus and to their left what looked like a clear window was actually an AR billboard wall depicting things like a tiger running loose towards the people sitting there, or an alien creature popping out of a man hole and grabbing a pedestrian from the street. The reaction of the people involved in this interactive experience is priceless 🙂

Mobile Marketing lessons from SXSW 2015.

South by Southwest (SXSW) is an annual mix of film, interactive, and music festivals and conferences, which takes place in March in Austin, Texas, United States.

SXSW 2015 has just come to an end and one of the pleasant trends in this year’s interactive extravaganza for marketers was the huge interest in mobile. Not a surprise, as it seems like this year’s focus on mobile is bigger than ever before.

Within the mobile arena, mobile marketing and advertising took the main stage. That’s why I decided to pick some key mobile marketing outcomes, here they are:

1. Mobile as a gate to customers.

Our mobile devices are no longer just places where we are able to consume media or do shopping: they have become our primary interface with everything around us.

From booking a hotel to operating our smart homes, from paying electricity bills to monitoring our health activity. A number of companies at SXSW have shown that our phone is our personal hub. And probably, we may soon live in a world of personal device ecosystems such as fitbits or virtual reality headsets.

2. Prosumerism. 

Well, it’s not a new terminology as this term was coined by futurologist Alvin Toffler in 1980. However, what we see nowadays, is the extremely bright time for professional consumers! New technology just invaded our daily lives, just to mention a few such as 3D printing or blogging where consumers can apply all their knowledge in order to build and promote their own brands.

Some new mobile apps are coming to light where users will have new opportunity to put into practice knowledge and talents they have:

  • Fradio –  user-powered radio app from Australian music streaming service Guvera. It allows users to broadcast their own radio show to friends and the community, including support for live voice-overs, so broadcasters can, in effect, become a radio DJ. Users can take calls from listeners while their station is live, while listeners can browse stations currently broadcasting near them. While the base app is free, users can purchase a premium subscription to have more control over the songs their station plays, searching and selecting the exact tracks they wish to broadcast.
  • Djed (Coming soon to iOS, Android) – is a brand new product designed for families, with a mobile and desktop application used for cataloging and sharing all of a family’s vital information, from health and financial information to school projects, sporting events, holiday trips and many more. It will support multiple features, including a calendar, contact list, documents, notes, lists, photos, assets and more. The app is built around the idea of a “Tribe,” or a private network of family and close friends, who can share this information in their own private network. The platform announced its preview launch as a web app during SXSW, and will come to iOS first, before launching on Android later this year.

3. Reaching customers is not a big deal anymore, but influence them is a real challenge.

Nowadays, mobile enables marketers to reach customers as easy as never before. Smart strategy in media buying will get you right to your target audience and what of it? It’s crystal clear that we have reached that time when we need to shift focus and start looking at users as at human beings, not just as bits of data. Mobile marketing should be considered as the crucial tool to form long-term relationships with users by getting a solid grasp of what they need in a real world.

One great example was a hotel chain that wanted to offer customers a better experience by using mobile technology. They conducted a short survey among guests, and figured out that customers were annoyed by the long check-in and checkout process. For solving this problem the hotel allowed customers to complete this process by using a mobile device and even turned their wearables into room keys. By providing a smart innovative solution to a real problem, and adding a piece of magic with wearable technologies, the hotel managed to establish a strong influence and users’ loyalty. With Apple Pay, wearables and beacons taking over the industry, mobile is the biggest playground for marketers to start working on their very own mobile success story.