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What Spotify’s Latest Purchase Means for the Future of Marketing

March 6, 2014

Today, Spotify announced it was purchasing The Echo Nest– a Boston based company that knows a lot about music.

The Echo Nest has built a team of music specialists, programmers and engineers who know the very soul and code that lies at the heart of music.

They also know what we love and how we consume it.

With this purchase, Spotify now has the power to enhance its user experience- to make it better and more relevant because it understands behavior and the metadata that lies in the content.

This purchase of the men and machines at The Echo Nest  is not only vital for Spotify, it’s also a signal of what’s to come for marketing when the power of metadata is fused with deep behavioural insight.

Earlier this week I was invited to speak on the topic of Data and Culture at the AMA’s Analytics with Purpose conference in San Diego. I defined “Culture” as the culture industries (music, movies and television) and explored how big data is driving the new middleman in this business that are changing the way we interact with culture and the creation of the culture that we experience.

For the companies that are helping to guide us through the maze of infinite content, their business models depend on keeping you happy, because they need to ensure that you feel you’re getting value from your monthly sub. To do this, they are harnessing the power of big data to deeply understand both their content and your behavior, by fusing these two things together they know what song to play next or what movie you should watch.

What’s interesting is that this isn’t a machine only job- if it was left to the machines, we wouldn’t be getting what we want, instead it’s the powerful combination of human insight, soul, understanding and expertise that gets you to what you want.

The other aspect of big data in culture is that it’s increasingly informing the cultural creative process. If you have access to big content and behavior data sets you have the ability to understand what content might work. If you know the trending zeitgeist in news and understand what stories are “open”, rather than saturated- you can guide your writers to write something that’s going to be widely read and shared. What’s also interesting is to see the new generation of content creators and shapers embracing data. This can be as the inspiration, driver and even the core for content, importantly, this is not the “all knowing” data telling people what to create, but guiding and informing.

These new middlemen in the culture industry and those that support them and help them understand their content are leading us to a new future- as we’ve just seen today with Spotify, but this is just the beginning. We will soon see entities like Pinterest start to create their own repository of deep data about our visual universe. Facebook is dedicated to building an AI Lab with the main goal of enabling the company to predict what its users want. Brands are also creating their own vast metadata libraries that will transform how we discover, shop and buy, shifting us from a very static and rigid e-commerce world, to one that’s fluid, conversational and better understands our needs.

We are moving to a new world, but this world demands that don’t let the machines take over. Instead, we need to bring the best of man and machine together to create these new experiences.

We need human imagination, we need the opportunity for serendipity and we need the chance to play.

All this possible, but we need to constantly ensure and check that the machine isn’t controlling us and telling us what to create, but instead there’s room for intepretation, a desire to learn why and importantly lots of room for human imagination.

Big data can now tell us the components of a great book, or an interesting recipe, but it can’t write a great book, or be a great chef and it can’t turn someone who doesn’t have the aptitude to create, into a great creator.

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