Shreyas Kulkarni

We launched Rs 7 and Rs 25 mini subscription packs to solve issue with listeners' willingness to pay, says Spotify's Neha Ahuja

The music streaming app's marketing head speaks about changing attitudes towards paying for music and more.

At Spotify’s recent virtual event, it was revealed that the music streaming platform’s in-home streaming dipped by 10 per cent in May 2020. It then rose by 37 per cent in August. This in comparison to streaming in cars where the percentage fell by – 50 per cent during April and May and then rose by 19 per cent in August - a reflection of how people started adjusting to COVID-induced lockdowns.

A December 2020 Mint report quoted Blaise Fernandes, president and CEO of Indian Music Industry, the apex body of music companies and record labels, as saying, “Both the number of subscribers of audio streaming services and the time they spend listening have grown nearly 40 per cent in 2020 across platforms.”

Along with Spotify, Gaana, JioSaavn, Wynk Music, Google Play Music, Amazon Prime Music and Apple Music make up the Indian audio streaming market. Most of these platforms offer free music as well as paid subscription plans.

Also Read: Spotify looks to expand its subscriber base with shorter affordable plans

Recently, Spotify released two ads to push its two ‘premium mini’ subscription plans: a daily plan for Rs 7, or a week-long plan for Rs 25. We (afaqs!) feel that it is a neat move to change the minds and even attitudes of listeners about paying for music streaming services.

Neha Ahuja, head of marketing, Spotify, remarks, “We launched the ‘mini’ keeping in mind that there’s an issue in willingness to pay.” She went on to state that the plans are meant to lure potential subscribers to “try out the experience and see how it feels, whether it’s the sound quality, the ad-free music, the capability to download.” It’s great to generate trials so that once you experience it, you’re more likely to hop on to a long-term plan.

Spotify is still investing its resources in making people aware of the benefits of paid subscription (ad-free music, high-quality audio). Ahuja says that it’s important to play it to the category codes. “You need to remind them (the people) how lovely an ad-free experience is. The intent is to play up the moments, where you will need ad-free music, and drive urgency via the price point.”

She tells us that 2020, when the typical consumer behaviour (commuting, working out, etc.) had changed, was a good year for the brand. Music consumption was spread throughout the day or week, unlike before when music streaming would “peak on Friday, party music on Saturday and Sunday, and commute music over the weekdays.” She agrees that there was a disruption in the way people consumed music… “But I feel life has pretty much come back to normal now.”

As we discussed paid subscriptions, our mind went to what MX Player’s CEO Karan Bedi had said at a vdonxt asia session on March 2, 2021. It was on the lines of how an Indian consumer’s mind is still used to free stuff, and not paid services.

When we asked Ahuja about where Spotify’s paid subscribers come from, she says that the brand’s free users are spread evenly, both in terms of age and geographies. Although Spotify started off by concentrating in metros because of the awareness levels, there’s now a healthy mix of concentration trickling to Tier-I towns. “When we do a huge campaign with a multimedia mix, the intent is to go out 200-300 million people.”

India’s diversity is a blessing, but sometimes a challenge too. So, how does Spotify communicate to different kinds of listeners? “India is a work-in-progress country. Your (a metro citizen’s) struggle is different from that of a Tier-I person. But it doesn’t mean you don’t need music,” says Ahuja, adding that the important human insight Spotify plays up in its communication is that music is a ‘grease’.

“The moments when you need music is different, but as long as we believe music is the grease of life, it helps us play up or work on a communication which is relevant to people beyond smaller cohorts,” she explains.

But on what devices do these people stream Spotify? Turns out that while smartphones lead the way, desktop streaming grew by 37 per cent, while tablet consumption grew by around 55 per cent (April-June 2020).

A week ago, we came across an ad from Chupa Chups, a lollipop brand, that claimed to award a six-month Gaana subscription to a contest winner. Telecom giant Airtel is offering a month’s subscription to Amazon Prime Video. These are effective subscription drivers… “It helps to partner with a brand or an organisation with a larger base to drive accessibility. It’s a strategy a lot of apps and OTTs adopt, and it’s effective,” says Ahuja.

Brand silence during campaigns

If you’ve seen Spotify ads, you must have noticed that the brand never speaks. It’s always an endorser…. Ahuja calls him/her an evangelist; one who will convert people into users… “For the brand, it’s critical that we place an evangelist.” She says that it’s a standard followed in all Spotify communication across the world.

“The starting point is the question, ‘What is the moment I want to play up, what is the human insight’… We write a script basis that ensuring there is relevance and entertainment as well. Then we try and see who or which character fits in the best,” adds Ahuja.

Talking about Spotify’s debut outdoor campaign, Ahuja says that the brand has done a lot of ‘social listening’.

“We understood the conversations happening in Bandra (Mumbai), the conversations happening around colleges or South Bombay or Dadar station. Based on these conversations, we throw up a relevant playlist… The idea is to create a buzz and be very contextual.”

We launched Rs 7 and Rs 25 mini subscription packs to solve issue with listeners' willingness to pay, says Spotify's Neha Ahuja
Courtesy: The Drum

She mentions that Spotify made 1,500 creatives for the campaign, but it saw millions of creatives on digital and social media. 'There's a playlist for everything' became an Internet lingo organically and helped Spotify take the campaign nationally. “We had planned the outdoor in a few metro cities, this helped the campaign go national.”

Spotify’s two biggest strengths are its playlists and podcasts. The latter is becoming big in India. According to a PwC Media and Entertainment Outlook 2020 report, India is the third-largest podcast listening market in the world, after China and the US, with 57.6 million monthly listeners.

On Spotify’s plan for podcast originals, Ahuja says, “Our strength is podcast originals, not just (coming) from India, but also the international basket that’s available in India… We will continue to build the category… We will give users more moments to listen to a podcast. We say this internally that podcasts are meant for an occasion when your hands are busy, but your minds are free.”

Talking about the playlists, the core of the brand, Ahuja mentions, “India is a readymade market… We want everything readymade… Spotify has four billion ready playlists.”

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