Spotify losses reflect 'difficult' marketing job against Apple

Spotify: a tough marketing job against new rivals
Spotify: a tough marketing job against new rivals

The company boosted revenue in 2015, but saw its losses widen after spending more on marketing and tech investments.

Sales and marketing spend was up 42% in 2015 to €246.5m (£188.9). The company launched its first UK above-the-line campaign in October 2014, supported by a dedicated campaign hub. In the US, Spotify also launched ‘Let’s Make Music Change’, an initiative to use music for social good. It released several spots with Night Agency promoting the initiative.

The Swedish music streaming company almost doubled its revenue to €1.95bn (£1.5bn) in 2015, up 80% on 2014, but also saw its losses widen due to more expenditure on marketing and tech investments.

Net losses came to €173.1m (£132.5m), up from €162.4m (£124m) the prior year.

Spotify's marketing challenge

Where Spotify could rely on word-of-mouth and the enthusiasm of music aficionados in its early days, it’s now the incumbent in a fast-changing market. It’s also the player with less budget.

"Spotify is in a difficult position," notes Mark Mulligan, managing director of MIDiA Research. "Apple is a challenger here and not playing the role of incumbent as in other areas like smartphones or tablets.

"As the incumbent, Spotify has to be all things to all people, almost like a music utility."

Spotify has seen off competition from Mog, acquired by Beats and then shut down, and Rdio, which filed for bankruptcy last year. Its strategy has been to present itself as a kind of universal music database, with advanced technology to help listeners discover new songs.

By contrast, Apple Music and Tidal have taken an artist-led approach to their marketing. Tidal, backed by the likes of Jay-Z, Alicia Keys and Coldplay, has focused on pushing big exclusive releases, such as Beyonce’s Lemonade.

Apple, similarly, has focused on urban artists and begun dabbling with social media for the first time, pushing content through dedicated accounts on Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter. It also made much of its exclusive deal with Taylor Swift to offer her ‘1989’ concert video.

This might not pay off, as music services try and reach a mainstream audience.

"It’s very much artist-led, and that’s a gamble," says Mulligan. "Music is still very tribal."

Spending on technology, not marketing

For others, Spotify's investment in technology rather than traditional marketing will help it differentiate.

Arnon Woolfson, head of entertainment at Synergy, points to Spotify's acquisition of data firm Echo Nest in 2014, which fuels its Spotify Discover playlist feature.

"What they've realised is that the biggest issue is discovery - Echo Nest is a demonstration of how they're thinking," he says.

Woolfson points to reviews panning Apple Music's software.

"They think about the user experience, and how to make it beautiful from beginning to end, which is something you would expect Apple to do," he adds.

That Apple Music itself is a disappointment might not be an issue in terms of the company's wider marketing strategy.

Mulligan points to Apple Music spots, which barely mention subscriptions or even streaming.

"It’s more re-establishing Apple as a music brand than about the new service," he says. "They will flip the switch on that – and that’s when Spotify should get worried."

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