Q&A With Simon Fleming-Wood, CMO, Pandora

Marketers have more channels to choose from than ever before. But in the age of the customer, people distrust push-style marketing methods that interrupt and intercept them. In fact, 49% of consumers don't trust digital ads; 38% don't trust emails; and 36% don't trust information in branded apps. What consumers want is genuine value from their interactions with brands, but most marketers fail to deliver it.

Simon Fleming-Wood, Chief Marketing Officer at Pandora, is working to crack the code. As he notes, “There is a phrase that I have repeated many times to members of my teams at all of [my previous] companies. Simply put, ‘the product is the marketing.’ First and foremost, products (and companies) succeed if they inspire usage because they effortlessly address a consumer need, even if the consumer did not know they had that need.”

In the run-up to Forrester’s Forum For Marketing Leadership Professionals in San Francisco on April 10-11, Simon was kind enough to answer some questions that we posed to him. I hope you enjoy his responses as much as I do, and I look forward to seeing many of you in San Francisco.

Q. You’ve led marketing efforts at a wide variety of companies from big and established like Clorox and Cisco to disruptors like Pure Digital and now Pandora. Are there key things that all brands—regardless of size and industry—should be doing today to stay relevant and top of mind in our hyper-connected world?

There is a phrase that I have repeated many times to members of my teams at all of these companies. Simply put, "the product is the marketing." First and foremost, products (and companies) succeed if they inspire usage because they effortlessly address a consumer need, even if the consumer did not know they had that need. If you get the product right, the marketing is built in because people will talk about it, and there is no more effective means of marketing than that. In the case of Flip Video, we spent years figuring out how to make high-quality video incredibly simple and sharable. That brand was built by people falling in love with the product experience and literally selling it for us — at their kids' soccer games and school plays, or by influential people like Oprah and Ellen telling their fans that literally had to get one. Pandora is the same way, only at a much larger scale. Almost every Pandora user I have ever spoken to can recount who told them about it and when. Without any advertising, more than 250 million Americans over 13 have signed up.  

Q. In your view, what is the role that music can play in a consumers’ context and, by extension, in a marketer’s attempt to engage that consumer?

Music is important to people, both in terms of the time they spend with it and the relationship they build over time. On average, Americans spend almost 4 hours a day listening to music – more than any other media other than TV. And musical preferences are incredibly personal. Each of us has a unique relationship to music, defined by circumstance such as where and when we grew up, our parents, where we went to school, and temporal things like the mood we’re in and what we’re doing. So music offers a very meaningful opportunity to engage with consumers in the context of what they are doing or feeling. Pandora has a unique perspective about this relationship because of the immense amount of engagement we enjoy and the data that we have collected from each listener. Every piece of real–time listener feedback we get at Pandora, be it a thumb up, thumb down, song skip or station add, gives us vital information that we can combine with context – which device is that person listening on, what time of day is it, what did they listen to next – to constantly drive user engagement. Music is extremely powerful and every marketer should be thinking about the soundtrack of their brand and how they can use it to connect with their consumers at an emotional level.

Q. How do you think data (big or otherwise) will affect marketing in the future?

Data is obviously becoming increasingly important for marketers, but we must resist the temptation to let the pendulum swing so far that we forget the role of humanity and creativity. Data should be used to amplify and deliver great ideas, not replace great ideas. Data is at the heart of what enables Pandora to deliver such an amazingly personal music experience for each of our listeners. The Music Genome Project is the largest taxonomy of musical data ever assembled by human beings, and the listener data we have collected – more than 35 billion thumbs across over 5 billion personalized stations – gives us the ability to consistently determine the exact “right song” to play next. Each brand has to figure out how to leverage data in the most meaningful way for its business.  

Q. In your session, you’re going to talk about how highly personalized user experiences lead to more-meaningful engagement. Can you give us a taste of your point of view on this here?

Companies like Pandora are using data to create the most compelling experiences for each of their consumers, so companies that want to compete have figure out how to do it as well. In other words, if you are not leveraging data for meaningful personalization and your competitor is, that is a problem. The very act of personalization and feedback also creates rich data, which further fuels a better experience and higher engagement. A recent Forrester report detailed that more than 70% of executives believed personalization was of strategic importance to their business, while also highlighting that a much smaller percentage were actually implementing it. 

Hear more from Simon at Forrester's Forum for Marketing Leaders, April 10-11 in San Francisco.