What is Content Marketing?

Content marketing is key to brand loyalty, and customer advocacy – but it’s much more nuanced than merely writing blog articles or recording podcast episodes.

Content marketing provides relevant, useful content to prospects and current customers. It aims to solve pain points without directly pitching products or services; focus on providing customers with value without directly selling to them. This builds feelings of goodwill and allows customers to see a brand as authentic and helpful rather than merely as a selfish corporation.

One of the strongest tools in content marketing is something that we’ve been exposed to since childhood: stories. Our brains are hardwired for stories, increasing neural activity five-fold and releasing oxytocin when we hear an especially good one (Contently).

The marketing experts at Contently have posited that there are 4 key pillars of great storytelling:

  1. Relatability or familiarity
    This allows the audience to relate to the story, which helps them to understand the content piece on a more personal level. This also helps the audience feel comfortable with being transported into the new world that the story inhabits.
  2. Novelty
    This element ties back to our “fight or flight” instinct; when we see something new, we are predisposed to pay attention to it, just in case it’s a threat. As a result, there’s a balance to be made between “new enough to capture interest” and “too new,” as the latter can be confusing and result in disinterest or fear.
  3. Tension
    The most exciting elements of stories result from conflict, specifically when there’s a gap between “what should be” and “what is.” The story ends when this gap is closed.
  4. Fluency
    Your story must be accessible and have a low barrier to entry. It’s recommended that content pieces are written at an elementary school level so that anyone can easily become immersed in it.

    Worried about using too much industry-specific jargon? There’s a great tool called the Up-Goer Five text editor, which limits you to using only the top 1,000 most frequently used words in the English language. If that sounds too restrictive, Microsoft Word also offers a reading level check for your documents.

It is also incredibly important to connect with customers on a personal level. MarTech Today suggests the following:

  1. Put the person first, and the persona second.
    Personalization is key, and this touch can make the difference between a customer or prospect viewing you as someone that cares vs. a cold, distant corporate entity.
  2. Tell a compelling story (using the above 4 elements).
    This piques curiosity and interest in the audience, which will lead them to want to learn more about your brand.
  3. Humanize your brand.
    Communicate your brand values in a relatable way so that consumers can easily understand, such as through analogies.
  4. Empathize with the audience, and show them how to get results.
    Detail how something happens, even if it’s unglamourous; recognize the struggle, instead of merely glorifying the job.

Keeping these ten points in mind will help you to optimize your content marketing efforts and deliver the highest possible value to your customers. Doing this consistently will keep these customers coming back, and will pay significant dividends to your brand sentiment.

Want to keep this advice with you in a more digestible format? Feel free to save the following infographic:

My Spotify Week in Review

Discovering new music is one of my biggest passions: I can easily spend all of my money on concerts, and I can usually be found with a pair of headphones in, listening to my Heavy Rotation playlist.

When looking for a similar tool to Spotify’s Year in Review, I came across Spotify.me, which gives you access to data related to your last week of streaming on the Spotify platform. I’ve summarized this information in a handy infographic below:

Key Takeaways:

I listen to most of my music between 10 am and noon, and 8 pm

This doesn’t surprise me, since I tend to listen to music on my commute and, currently, my classes tend not to start until 11 am and end around 6 pm.

Most streaming is done on the weekends

Unless I’m out with friends, I tend to have my headphones in or music playing at all times when I’m running errands, studying, or just hanging out around the house. During the week, my college lectures take priority over music streaming — it’d be interesting to see if my music listening pattern is different during my online class weeks.

I listen to a lot of pop music

A few years ago, I realized that the majority of the folk-rock bands that I listened to were fronted by, and primarily composed, of men. I challenged myself to see if I could create a more equal gender split in my music listening and subsequently began to listen more heavily to indie pop and electropop. An initial assessment using just my Heavy Rotation playlist shows that 84% of the included artists are female.

My top streams are heavily linked to New Music Friday and upcoming concerts

BANKS’ new album had heavily featured in my newly created playlists since it was released in the middle of July, so I’m not surprised that she was one of my most-streamed artists this week.

Both BANKS and XYLØ are featured in my Upcoming Shows playlist, which I use to prepare for and keep track of upcoming concerts. Since XYLØ was playing a show at the Drake Underground on Friday, I spent the two days leading up to the show refamiliarizing myself with her music, leading her to be my second most-played artist this week.

The Playlist

The best way to experience a week in music is through the music itself, so I made a playlist with my “on repeat” songs of the week. Check it out below, or by scanning the Spotify Code in the infographic. Pro-tip: it sounds better on shuffle since I rarely listen to things in order.

Spotify Marketing Campaign: “Don’t Kill the Mood”

As part of my post-graduate certificate in Digital Media Marketing at George Brown College, I have been able to create a number of integrated digital marketing campaigns for brands that I love. The most recent campaign was for Spotify, the world’s largest audio streaming service, and was developed as a capstone project for a Strategic Marketing Project course.

Spotify’s Discover Weekly, customized Release Radar and Daily Mixes, and curated Fresh Finds playlists have been key cornerstones that have shaped my music taste and I can guarantee that I wouldn’t go to nearly as many concerts if it weren’t for them. As a result, I jumped at the opportunity to create content for one of my most frequently used applications. 

Background

What is Spotify?

Spotify is a music streaming service that transformed music listening forever when it launched in 2008. Discover, manage and share over 50 million tracks for free, or upgrade to Spotify Premium to access exclusive features including offline mode, improved sound quality, Spotify Connect, and ad-free listening.

Spotify offers a student subscription, Spotify Premium for Students, which provides post-secondary students with all of the benefits of Spotify Premium at 50% of the cost ($4.99 CAD). These benefits include improved sound quality, ad-free listening experience, the ability to skip songs in playlists, and the ability to download music for offline listening. 


Why Use Spotify?

The music streaming landscape is huge and has a number of key players, however, Apple Music is easily Spotify’s main competitor: it has a similar price point to Spotify, its music catalogue is of a similar size, and it comes pre-loaded on Apple devices which contributes to its large market share. Both companies offer a student package, the ability to download music for offline listening, and high sound quality in their tracks. 

Where Spotify excels, however, is in its customer base: it boasts 217 million monthly active listeners, which is approximately five times the users that Apple Music has. This is a result of Spotify’s extremely high Net Promoter Score (NPS), a customer loyalty metric that gauges how likely an individual is to recommend a product or service to their friends.

Word-of-mouth marketing goes a long way in increasing a company’s market share, and Spotify heavily leveraged this in their initial US launch plan: by providing users with 5 “beta” access codes to share with friends, they created an illusion of scarcity while ensuring that their brand would be shared with potential users. Spotify has continued to cultivate this brand loyalty by offering highly personalized user experiences, which has resulted in a high NPS for customers under the age of 30.



The Campaign

Objectives

There were two primary objectives that Spotify wanted to achieve with this campaign: awareness and conversion.

An integrated digital marketing campaign was developed to increase awareness of Spotify Premium for Students and converts free Spotify users to this paid subscription. The campaign parameters were such that only English-speaking post-secondary students within Canada would be targeted, on a fairly nominal budget ($10,000 CAD).


Target Audience

This campaign targeted post-secondary students between the ages of 17 and 30 that live in the Greater Toronto Area. These students have some disposable income (under $10,000/year) and are very price-conscious as a result; they are always looking for the best discounts and deals. These students are digital natives, spending 6-8 hours per day looking at their screens and 1-2 hours per day on social media. 

Within the larger student population, there are a number of “niches” that students fit into, from the “gym-rat” to the grade-focused academics. As someone who has always been part of the latter camp, I chose to narrow the campaign’s focus and primarily target these “library dwellers”. They spend a lot of time studying, to the point where the library is effectively their second home. These students place a high value on grades and strive for a GPA of 3.5 or higher. They rely upon a continuous stream of music to keep them focused while studying and hate unwanted interruptions

The key consumer insight that guided the creation of the campaign was as follows:

“If I hear one more ad while I’m focused and studying, I’m going to lose it.” 


Theme

The larger campaign centred around the theme of “Don’t Kill the Mood.” The student life is filled with distractions, and students want to be in control of what interrupts them. Ads just don’t make the cut.

This campaign theme emphasizes Spotify Premium for Students’ benefit of no ads or network interruptions with downloadable music and it is designed to resonate specifically with the Canadian student.


The Creative

I designed all of the included creative elements using Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop. These mockups were created by using historical Spotify campaigns as reference: these campaigns relied upon a humourous brand voice, punchy headlines, and time-relevant references to resonate with the broader public. The majority of the graphics are two-toned with pastel accent colours, which is in line with how Spotify has traditionally designed their advertisements.

An example of past Spotify advertising: two-tone colours and relatable humour are at the centre of its ads.



Marketing Channels

Social Media Advertising

Research has shown that 90% of Canadian students use some form of social media daily, with the majority of students between the ages of 18 and 29 actively using Facebook and Instagram.

As a result, mobile-optimized social media advertisements were designed for the Facebook newsfeed and Instagram Stories. These ads are intended to be viewed while scrolling – a time point when users’ attention spans are very short. They emphasize the product benefit (in this case, of the ability to skip songs in a playlist) using short, to-the-point sentences which can be easily skimmed. 

An example of a non-intrusive, still image ad that could be seen in Instagram Stories.

These ads would be targeted specifically to post-secondary students between the ages of 18 and 29 and would feature a direct call-to-action: Facebook would leverage the “learn more” button and Instagram Stories would leverage the “swipe up” functionality to bring interested prospects to a landing page where they could directly sign up for Spotify Premium for Students. 

This distribution channel would meet the objectives listed for both awareness and conversion. Success would be measured by the number of video views, click-through rates, and conversion rates from each platform.


Out-Of-Home Advertisements

To further emphasize the idea of frictionless study music, a number of Out Of Home advertisements were designed to be placed in campus libraries, study halls, and residences.

A Spotify Codes poster for the curated “Chill Lofi Study Beats” playlist on display at George Brown College’s library.

These posters contained Spotify Codes, a unique QR-like code which could be scanned within the Spotify Mobile App. When users scan these codes, they are taken directly to the pictured playlist which can be downloaded for offline listening by Spotify Premium users. 

As a student, myself, I often struggle with picking a playlist for when I’m studying or completing assignments. I can easily waste hours trying to find the perfect music selection; being informed of a seamless way to listen to curated study playlists would have saved me so much time during the highly-stressful exam season. 

Success would be measured by the number of Spotify Codes scans received. By leveraging existing Spotify technology, the $10,000 budget that was allocated for this campaign could be stretched further than if a separate technology was used. 


Email Marketing

A mockup of an awareness email listing the benefits of Spotify Premium for Students.

Targeted emails would be sent out to existing free Spotify users between the ages of 17 and 25, as these users are likely to be enrolled in a post-secondary institution. Many students aren’t aware of the plethora of student-focused discounts that exist, so this email marketing campaign would serve as primarily to generate awareness. These emails would contain short hooks that directly link Spotify’s benefits to the student lifestyle, such as “Premium study beats.” 

Both the body of the email and the header image would contain a call-to-action for the student to upgrade to Premium, and upon clicking on those links, the user would be taken to a landing page where they can directly sign up for Spotify Premium for Students. Success would be measured using open rates, click-through rates, and conversion rates for these emails. 


Display Advertising

The last marketing channel that would be used is display advertising. These ads would be placed on websites that the library dweller would frequent during their studies, such as Quora, Spark Notes, bibliography websites, and news sites. These ads use humour as a primary appeal technique while also showing how Spotify Premium for Students fits into a student’s lifestyle. All students are aware of how expensive school can be, and these ads playfully make reference to that “starving student” struggle.

These ads are optimized for conversions, making specific reference to the $4.99 CAD price and including a “Get Premium” call to action. When clicked, the user would be taken to a landing page where they could directly sign up for the Spotify Premium for Students service. Success would be measured using click-through rates and conversion rates.



Conclusion

The campaign theme of “Don’t Kill the Mood” and its associated marketing channels and tactics were specifically chosen to raise awareness of Spotify Premium for Students and appeal to current free users to become paid customers.

Students want to be in control of what they listen to, without being bombarded by ads or unwanted music. This campaign shows how Spotify Premium for Students solves this problem at a price that a student can afford, while also remaining true to Spotify’s historic branding and brand voice.

on star wars

In this day and age, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone that hasn’t seen a single Star Wars movie. I have vivid memories of watching the movies for the first time: I was enthralled by the adorable Ewoks; loved the “golden droid”; and, in one of my more embarrassing childhood moments, dressed up like Jar Jar Binks for Halloween. (My younger brother went as the much cooler Darth Maul; thankfully my favourite character selections have evolved since then.)

To me, though, Star Wars is more than just an entertaining film series; it’s a way of staying connected to my family.

When I was quite young, I inherited a set of action figures that my dad’s youngest brother had played with when he was a kid. We spent hours playing with them, and, as a first-time uncle, I’m sure he was quite glad that they provided some common ground.

After I went away to university, Star Wars became my immediate family’s de facto annual Christmas film – no matter how busy we were during the holidays, my mom, my dad, and I always set aside time to go to our local cinema together. Even when I had already gone to see the new film on opening night with friends (which so far has been every time… sorry, mom), I would still look forward to going again with my parents: hearing my dad’s not-so-quiet running commentary while my mom and I rolled our eyes and shared popcorn is, at this point, one of my favourite holiday traditions.

This family tie means I’ll likely never get sick of the series; even instalments that were objectively not the greatest (looking at you, Solo) are associated with enough nice, warm memories that I can’t help but look upon them favourably. I have fully accepted that Star Wars is my bias, and I can’t wait for this year’s family bonding session in the cinema.

looking forward: 2019 goals

I have a confession to make: I’m terrible when it comes to New Years Resolutions. As with everything in life, I’m overly ambitious when it comes to goal setting, and I assume that I will be able to tackle tens of heavy resolutions all at once. I always start off so well, but by the end of the first week, I’ll slip up once… and then it’s all over from there.

This year, I decided to take a few days to reflect upon what I learned in 2018 and to use that growth as a catalyst for the changes that I want to make in 2019. I truly believe that there’s something magical about writing down your ambitions and wishes, so hopefully putting my aspirations out into the universe will give them even more power to come true.

Cut back on unnecessary spending

I’ve always been pretty good with money, and have tended to save more than I spent. Going back to school after spending a few years with a full-time job, however, means that it’s time for me to start living within my new means. Meal prep at the beginning of each week, bringing my own tea from home instead of grabbing Starbucks, taking public transit instead of Uber (even if the TTC is always late), and engaging in less retail therapy are a few ways that I plan to adjust my spending.

De-clutter my apartment

After living in the same space for any amount of time, you’ll find that you just start to accumulate stuff — and after living in Kitchener-Waterloo for 7 years, I’m amazed by just how many belongings I have. In 2019, I’m looking to get rid of anything that I don’t need or use; I’ve already created an Outfit Spreadsheet to keep track of the clothing that I wear this year and anything that is unworn at the end of a season will be dropped off at a thrift store.

Be more proactive about my health

In university, I was the poster child for healthy living: I went to fitness classes every day, drank lots of water, ate (almost) enough vegetables, and always got 8 hours of sleep per night. After my daily commute started, though, I was lucky to get 5 hours of sleep per night and this healthy lifestyle quickly went out the window.

In 2019, I plan to follow the Blogilates monthly calendar and work out at least 5 days per week. Since Blogilates is (mostly) equipment-free, I will have no excuses during the upcoming cold winter months or on nights that I’m staying in the city. I’m going to drink more water, continue to live as an “honorary vegetarian”, and get at least 7 hours of sleep each night. I also plan to reduce the amount of added sugar that I eat – as someone who loves to bake and eat any kind of sweet treat, this is easily going to be my most difficult resolution.

Schedule in social time

The end of 2018 was all about learning to love my own company. In embracing my newfound “me time”, however, I found that I wasn’t nurturing my close relationships as much as I should; in 2019, I hope to find a sustainable balance.

Maintain an 80%+ average

Even though I’ve always done well in school, the prospect of going back to college and completely changing my career trajectory fills me with a bit of anxiety. I feel like I have a lot to prove, both to myself and to everyone else, and getting good grades is just one way to affirm that these huge life changes are a step in the right direction.

Create more content

Last year, I made the commitment to take photography more seriously, and I sealed the deal with a brand-new Fujifilm X-T20 camera. This year, I’m going to set aside more time to practice photography – whether that involves taking more photos, editing photos in a more timely manner (I still have photos to edit from a trip I took in early June), or learning new Photoshop skills.

I also want to spend at least 5 hours per week creating content for my freelance Marketing Consultant job. It’s a great opportunity to apply what I will be learning in school to real-life scenarios, and will hopefully help me to be more competitive when I go to apply for fall internships. Plus, extra income is never a bad thing!

 

What do you think? What are your 2019 resolutions?

thank u, next: a 2018 retrospective

2018 was easily the most difficult year of my life thus far: I left the startup that had occupied 99% of my time, thoughts, and (literal) tears without a backup plan; I had a quarter-life crisis that led me to doubt if my current field was the one that I actually wanted to be in; and my serious, long-term relationship ended suddenly, leaving me with under a month to find a new place to live.

It’s easy to focus on these negatives and to paint 2018 as a terrible year, but 2018 was also filled with so much light and growth:

  • I learned how to code and built two websites, completely from scratch, along with a handful of unfinished apps
  • I learned to be comfortable with both silence and being alone
  • I learned to love my own company
  • I learned how to put my own needs first
  • I experienced the rush of falling in love, even if it didn’t last
  • I made the difficult decision to switch fields and to go back to school (one more week until classes start!)
  • I was fortunate enough to visit Paris, my favourite city in the world, twice
  • I experienced the magic of Walt Disney World for the first time as an adult
  • I learned how to ask for help in a way that is productive and that is respectful of others’ time, energy, and boundaries
  • I learned that even the most stressful situations can be managed with the help of good friends, chocolate chip cookies, and lots of lists
  • I treated myself to all the concerts, including two nights in a row with Mumford and Sons

I start every year with the same wish: “[year], please be good to me.” While 2018 may not have been as noticeably good to me as I would have wanted, it was a year filled with growth and self-discovery, and I wouldn’t trade the learnings for anything.

finding my Happy Place

If you’ve ever experienced a Canadian winter, you likely know these three things to be true: it starts far too early, lasts much too long, and is ridiculously cold. While my February birthday technically makes me a winter baby, I’m definitely not cut out for temperatures below 10C and find myself constantly drained of energy as soon as the cold weather hits.

I’ve mentioned before how Instagram-friendly locations are one of my (many) weaknesses, so after seeing places like the Museum of Ice Cream and Color Factory all over my feed, I made it my mission to find something like that near Toronto. Enter Happy Place, a pop-up installation filled with bright colours, lots of confetti, and rainbow grilled cheese sandwiches – the perfect Instagram-worthy cure for winter melancholy.

After a full week of suffering through rain, wind, and the first snowfall of the season, my Happy Place appointment had finally arrived. Armed with my brightest sweater (who knew I owned clothing that wasn’t monochrome?), a fully-charged phone (a truly rare sighting), and my best friend/reluctant photographer, I set off for the Harbourfront Center.

And, of course, I had to dress up for the occasion – a phrase here which means “wear clothes that weren’t monochrome.” ModCloth made my dream of looking like a fun schoolteacher come true with this bright, rainbow sweater which perfectly coordinated with the buttons on my matching skirt. The Happy Place employees all gave me compliments, which I guess means that wearing colour once in a while can pay off.

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For the first ~5 minutes of the visit, there were only a few of us inside. This lulled me into a false sense of security, leading to me spending far too much time eating tiny M&M candies in the entranceway and being startled by the 5 o’clock rush. Even with an influx of people, I rarely had to wait more than a few minutes for a photo spot – something that was probably helped by the time limit imposed on a few of the installations. (That said, if you think I’m tempted to go back for a second visit, just to get more cute photos with candy machines, you would be correct.)

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An hour later, once I had made it through all the installations, I found myself fully recharged and ready to take on the world. Sorry Instagram haters, it turns out that good selfie lighting really can be the best medicine.

on new beginnings

I’ve been drafting this post for what feels like years now. Starting a more personal blog has been on my New Years Resolutions list since I finished high school – and I’m about to start a post-graduate degree, so you can tell how long I’ve been putting this off! For the last few years, January 2nd would roll around and I’d tell myself that I missed my window and that I would start something in February… and so began a seemingly never-ending cycle of trying to find the “perfect start date.”

If I’ve learned anything over the years, it’s that a) the perfect date is April 25th, which I’ve already missed by a lot and that b) assigning arbitrary start dates without anything to hold me accountable to them is really just me setting myself up for failure. So far, 2018 has been all about embracing change and jumping into more things head-first; about committing to starting something instead of putting it off, even if it’s messy and imperfect and kind of terrifying. So here I am, on November 25th, getting a heads start on next year’s New Years Resolution. 😉