Exploring Above & Beyond’s Fans First strategy

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“Dear Anjunafamily,  We’re here today to discuss hats. Hats protect your head from dangerous ultraviolet rays. This summer, wear a hat. And the hat we recommend? An Above & Beyond hat, exclusive to our top fans on Spotify. Yours sensibly, Above & Beyond”                         

One of the biggest dance acts of modern times, Above & Beyond don’t particularly need to further their fanbase more than they already have. The British trance trio have sold out huge venues like London’s O2 Arena, or New York’s Madison Square Garden in recent times, embarking on huge tours worldwide, with their most recent effort, ‘Common Ground’ spreading across North America and all of Europe. So why did the Anjuna bosses feel the need to market themselves in this way, targeting fans via a special email which hit fan email accounts last week? The move was part of a new marketing strategy available to artists known as ‘FansFirst’; a feature which could really help grow the brand of any major, or even smaller, artist.

Fans First emails are Spotify’s way of thanking artists’ biggest Spotify fans with unique or exclusive offers. Previous treats have included:

  • Access to presale tickets for upcoming concerts.
  • Access to exclusive merch items not available anywhere else.
  • Invites to special artist events.

Emails are sent to listeners who data shows are the artist’s top fans, based on the amount of listens per fan/artist.

“Streaming has grown a lot in the last six years,” explains Jordan Gremli, Spotify’s Head of Artist & Fan Development, whose team started the Fans First initiative last year. “More music is being listened to than ever, but there are so many great artists out there, so much choice. How do [artists] engage this audience?” Terrestrial radio pioneered the approach. Listeners could enter contests to get instant access to a music experience—Be caller No. 105 to win tickets! There are now other ways to engage with fans, so Gremli and his team at Spotify created something even better, a program in which they collaborate directly with artists to create unique opportunities for fans: Spotify Fans First. The Fans First team uses Spotify data to identify and reward the artist’s most passionate fans with an exclusive offer, such as advance access to concert tickets, exclusive merchandise, or an invite-only event not open to the public, such as an intimate concert in NYC, or a non-performance event like bake cookies with KSHMR or have afternoon tea with Nicky Romero.

“An artist comes to us with a creative vision, and we help execute it,” explains Gremli.“We know a lot about fans,” Gremli continues, “what they like, what they don’t like, what we think they’ll react to.” His team simply identifies the biggest fans in any given geographic area and sends them an email.“It’s kind of a no-brainer,” says Gremli. “The fan gets this surprise email that says, ‘You’re one of the biggest fans of this artist; click here to claim something cool.’ For the artist, it’s a way to give back to those fans.”

The most ambitious and audacious way to let artists reach fans would be a special artist-to-fan messaging channel. Spotify got rid of its in-app inbox and messaging feature for sending friends songs a few years ago, instead pushing users to share music via their chat app of choice. But similar to the Fans First email campaigns, Spotify could create a special artist-to-fan messaging section in its app that could alert users to new releases and playlists as brand advertising, or even push tours and merchandise as more direct performance advertising. Spotify could give all artists a certain volume of messages they could send for free or let them reach out just to the top 1% of fans a certain number of times per month or year. Then artists could pay to send more messages beyond the limits. Alternatively, it could just charge for any use of messaging.

Done wrong, the above options could feel like Spotify gouging artists to reach their own fans. But done right, users might actually enjoy it. These connections wouldn’t be too far off from following an artist on other social media, but where people are already listening. Finding out about one of your favorite DJs new albums, tours, or t-shirts might feel less like an ad and more like an inside tip from the fan club.

Spotify might be able to get away with showing some of these different experiences to users who’ve subscribed if they don’t get in the way of music listening. Swinging to the other end of the opportunity spectrum, the company could just give away all these experiences to artists, boosting their loyalty to Spotify and getting them to promote their presence there instead of on competing streaming services like Apple Music.

By advertising their merchandise range via the FansFirst platform, Above & Beyond gave the intimate feeling to fans that they were speaking to them on a personal level, thus strengthening the relationship between themselves as artists, and their ever-growing fanbase. And by cleverly using hats as their chosen item of sale, they found themselves perfectly targeting the demographic, given the current global heatwave which sweeps the world. A marketing masterclass, by all accounts.