Build a Playlist That Keeps Your Customer On “Repeat”

Woden
5 min readMar 27, 2024

Are you one of the 160 million people who shared a Spotify Wrapped playlist last year?

Music is a deeply personal and emotional experience. It tells others who you are. And because it’s something we can all relate to, we love to share it with one another.

The music you listen to, the songs you like, and the playlists you share say everything about you. Spotify has built its entire brand — and the strategic narrative that supports it — on that.

Spotify was built on an understanding of its users’ listening habits and preferences. The brand emerged in 2006 as a response to the rampant issue of music piracy. Illegal downloads had fueled listeners’ appetite for new music more than ever before — no longer limited by the size of their record collection or the whims of a radio DJ, people were unencumbered to curate the exact music they wanted to hear. Spotify’s founders saw this same aim could be achieved with streaming and embarked on a mission to provide a legal, convenient, and immersive alternative to piracy.

Spotify’s rapid expansion was ignited by a deep understanding of its audience — a strategy reflected both in the product itself and the strategic narrative constructed around it. Listeners are meant to see Spotify as “the story of who you are when your headphones are in.”

By positioning the brand as an extension of how individual users express themselves, it creates a connection that propels growth. Having your music on Spotify allows you to connect with and express yourself in a way you never could before.

Paired with vast amounts of constantly growing user data, Spotify can create a highly personalized experience for each individual listener: curated playlists match users’ moods, preferences, and activities, a one-to-one experience that matches each individual buyer’s persona so well that they see themselves as completely indistinct from Spotify itself.

This tight alignment between the brand’s strategic narrative, product, and the experience each user has creates the flywheel that propels the brand’s growth. Users want to be part of the Spotify story and share it with others — because it’s their own.

Most brands don’t have anything close to Spotify’s data, but it’s not needed to become indispensable in their customers’ lives. The magic is in leveraging the same narrative approach as Spotify. First, the brand must gain an intense knowledge of the individual buyer: what are their aspirations? How do they want to be seen by the world? And what’s keeping them from realizing that?

That knowledge, even in a B2B brand, is then transformed into a strategic narrative. That story is the story of the customer. The brand must reveal a meaningful change in the world with real stakes for the buyer and show how the brand can help them overcome the challenges inherent in meeting this change. By orienting the brand’s story around customers’ journey, a company becomes essential — the trusted guide who can help their user realize their own potential.

The strategic narrative is a framework. Spotify’s product and go-to-market are obvious extensions of its story. But extending that story into its mission — to “unlock the potential of human creativity” — guides employees to deliver on the promise it makes to listeners.

This commitment to the creativity represented by music and latent within each of its listeners is evident in every aspect of Spotify’s brand. The company’s messaging consistently reinforces the idea that music is a deeply personal and emotional experience and that Spotify is the ultimate companion on this journey of self-discovery and expression.

For example, the “Discover Weekly” playlist introduces users to new artists based on their listening habits, and Spotify’s other algorithm-driven playlists, such as Discover Weekly and Daily Mixes, are tailored to each user’s unique listening habits. These playlists not only provide a seamless listening experience but also make users feel understood by the platform.

The ideal of any brand’s story is inspiring customers to tell it on their own. The annual “Spotify Wrapped” campaign has done this more effectively than almost any other company on Earth.

The campaign celebrates each user’s individual listening journey, highlighting their top artists, songs, and genres — the kind of content that people can’t help but share and compare. In 2023, Spotify Wrapped included user’s “music town” where an overwhelming majority of listeners found themselves to be Burlington, Vermont natives (according to their music taste). It soon blew up, and listeners took to social media to uncover who else was from their “sound town.” Each user was sharing Spotify’s story, but tailoring it so carefully to each listener made them feel as though they were sharing their own: strengthening the emotional connection with its users and amplifying the brand’s reach.

“Wrapped” is representative of Spotify’s seamless integration with social media platforms. By allowing users to effortlessly share their favorite songs and playlists with friends, Spotify fosters a sense of community and connection among its users. Because of music’s deeply personal nature, users feel as though they’re sharing themselves, not just the songs they are listening to — a connection that keeps the customer at the center of the brand, but the brand still top of mind in the market.

“With all of these features, really, the goal is to get out of the way and show these innovations to the world, and when we [do that], when we put them in the hands of our users, they take it and run with it — they make it their own story.” — Matthew Luhks, Senior Director of Global Marketing at Spotify, in an interview with Marketing Brew

The lesson for any brand in Spotify’s success is that your story doesn’t belong to you — it’s owned by the customer. Even the smallest company can begin to gain the understanding of what animates their buyer by listening. The narrative that comes out of that should illustrate the customer’s journey from a clear before state to something better, with the brand’s role being one of empowerment and knowledge.

When a customer believes they’ve solved a problem or realized an opportunity for themselves, as opposed to the brand doing it for them, they can’t help but share their achievement with others.

For Spotify, that’s as simple as giving listeners the tools they need to share their creative, unique selves with the world; the product is a tool that allows them to do that and the brand is the partner that makes it possible. But it’s the listener whose taste is their own, whose playlist is an extension of themselves, and around whom the brand rotates.

Payton Shand is a Senior Brand Storyteller at Woden. Read our extensive guide on how to craft your organization’s narrative, or send us an email at connect@wodenworks.com to uncover what makes you essential.

--

--

Woden

Woden creates strategic narratives for essential brands. Visit us at wodenworks.com