News & Views

Opinion / What marketers can learn from Spotify Discover Weekly

by Kristina Dimitrova

‘I wish Spotify Discover Weekly was a person so I could hug him for making my Monday morning commutes sound amazing.’ This is still how I feel about Spotify Discover Weekly, and I’m most definitely not the only one. By combining algorithms with human curation (users’ music taste, streaming history and other people’s listening habits), the feature serves a two-hour personalised playlist every week, unique for each of its users. Ten weeks after its soft launch in July 2015, Spotify users streamed more than 1 billion tracks from the playlists, making it one of the company’s most popular features.

Now, curated playlists are nothing new, but unlike competitors such as Apple Music, Google and Pandora, Spotify seems to have found the winning ingredients for personal DJ-like tailored mixtapes.

At Convergence Conference, Matt Ogle, senior product owner at Spotify, and Will Page, director of economics at Spotify, revealed the secret sauce of Discover Weekly’s unexpected success. I found some of the insights to hold true even outside of the realm of music streaming.

Stick to simple formats

How do you navigate 30 million tracks? As streaming goes mainstream, the challenge for music companies in recent years has been to provide a curation tool to help users discover new tracks. In the past, Spotify’s Discover screen (different from Discover Weekly) was placed several layers deep. ‘When I joined the company I realised two things about the Discover screen: First, there was some really incredible engineering behind it, which helped it serve up great new tunes. Second, no one was using it,’ said Ogle.

Finding new music through Discover required a fair amount of users’ time and attention... if they could even find the screen. How did Spotify turn it around? Playlists. ‘We thought, what if we take something that everyone on Spotify understands and knows how to do – listen to, create and share playlists – and use it to deliver new music to each user?’ explained Ogle. And that’s how the magic began.

Make it personal

Personalisation. One of those buzzwords, I know. But even something as small as your picture on the cover of a playlist can have a significant effect on how you engage with a product or service. ‘We asked ourselves how can we let users know that this playlist is specifically curated for them. And we did a simple, yet effective thing – put their faces on it’, said Ogle. It worked. Tests showed users are 17% more likely to try out the music in their Spotify Discover Weekly playlist if the cover has the image of the user on it instead of a generic one. A personal touch can create a sense of ownership and draw more people into the experience.

Balance familiar and unfamiliar

Discover Weekly is made up of two main things. A user’s music taste, defined by their music history, with more emphasis on what they have been playing recently, and the wider world of songs. When the team layers these two, the tunes you get revolve around the songs you’re into but you haven’t heard. ‘We’re mindful that discovery can also mean rediscovery,’ said Ogle. ‘There are many features on Spotify where we care about the newness of the tracks but Discover Weekly is not one of them. People want new music but if there are only tracks you haven’t heard a lot of people tune out. So we had to get the balance right. We need to have at least one or two names users are familiar with to show them that we understand them.'

Creating habits

‘After a while it became very clear that we have created a Monday habit, a ritual for our users,’ said Will Page, referring to that time when Spotify didn’t update Discover Weekly on time and people freaked out. ‘It was a good lesson for us that this is now part of people’s weekly music cycle.’ There is a moment in time on Spotify every week when something specific happens. On traditional radio, things run to schedule and people plan their time around it. It’s the opposite with the streaming service – you can play what you like, when you like. But as human beings we like a sort of structure and Spotify has managed to nail that with Discover Weekly. ‘We have created a random event (you don’t know what you’re getting); a regular event (happens every Monday); and reinforcing event (cheers you up on a Monday),’ said Page. People like the routine but there’s a certain randomness to it. And even if you don’t like your Discover Playlist one week, that doesn’t stop you from coming back to it the week after.

It also is a perishable good, and the scarcity element makes it more appealing. ‘Every Sunday, before the current Discover Weekly playlist vanishes we see a spike of users saving songs to their own music, said Ogle. In a way, this has created a sense of exclusivity, which digital music previously lacked.