How do you growth hack a music startup?
I was asked this question a few days ago by an entrepreneur and as it was an interesting problem I thought about it for a bit before answering.
What is Growth Hacking
Growth hacking differs from traditional marketing in that the growth hacker is totally focused on growth. A marketer has lots of things to worry about brand equity, the marketing mix, marcoms, competitors etc. In contrast a growth hacker only has one aim. How do I increase my key metric by X or more % each and every month, week or day?
If you consider this in terms of RPG character builds a normal marketer will have stats at 13 or so – with class core skills as may be 16. In contrast a growth hacker will have everything that isn’t critical at 3 and all the key stats, say intelligence and wisdom at 23.
It’s a strong but fragile approach. It’s incredibly powerful as it allows the startup to grow very rapidly and to accumulate a large user base that will give enough ARR to allow it to survive and mature.
A few years ago I spent some time thinking about small world networks and how to use them in marketing. Duncan Watts‘s 6 Degree’s was great on this as was Christakis’s Connected (he was the guy who demonstrated that how fat your friend’s friends are has a significant impact on your own weight)
Now much of the power of modern social networks, and thus the power of growth marketing, comes from the weak links that you have between you and friends of friends.
So whilst I have a relatively small network of people that I know and my friends also have similar sized networks, suddenly when you combine them you get very large networks. And this can make transmission of information through the network very efficient.
Efficient, that is, if the information is worth repeating across all the nodes and done so at little cost.
Using Social Networks for Marketing
If we look at the network map above – its a longitudinal study of people in Massachusetts over 60 years – we can see that not everyone knows everyone, and that there are lots of choke points where if a transmission fails there is no alternative route.
So there is an interesting mathematical problem to be considered. At how many points in the network will I have to introduce my message given stickiness and transactions costs to have some confidence of getting the level of coverage that I require.
In real life it’s far harder. Social network sites such as Facebook and Twitter have dynamic graphs that are not amenable to the sort of mathematical exercise described above. Facebook and LinkedIn making mapping it quite difficult – though you can get some wonderful data from Twitter
Musical Social Graphs are Fragmented
In music since the 50’s (and probably before) there has been a slow fragmenting of popular musical tastes in the western world. The below graph maps the LastFM graph with different colours mapping different musical genres and the points mapping the popularity of individual artists.
So this shows a problem that we have in music. People’s tastes are clustered into genres. Hip hop in blue is a fair way from red rock music.
One of the questions that we have to ask before we do growth hacking in music then is the ease of message transmission between two music fanatics in different genres? Will they see the coolness of the startup’s value proposition behind the wall of disliked music? Or will it just be casually dismissed?
The Problem of Isolated Populations
So in many respects we are in the same position as an epidemiologist with multiple isolated populations. We can growth hack in any particular population and achieve success. How though do we move between different music loving populations effectively? Another problem is that, and this is a guess, that the more likley that someone is to be very engaged in their music and to enjoy the value created by a music startup, the more isolated they will be from the general population in their musical tastes. People are rarely fanatical about chart music but Radiohead, the Grateful Dead and The Cure had cult followings. Even Hawkwind does apparently.
Focus on the Charts
How to solve this problem? There are two immediate approaches that you can take. The first is to go back up to the lowest common denominator – chart music. Whilst there are many detractors in genre music populations there are enough mavens, as Norman Gladwell, described them to provide effective transmission of the value proposition from the Popular layer down into the genre nooks and crannies.
Taking that approach would probably involve a mass market growth hack that was then morphable or re-skinnable into genre specific propositions.
Focus on Consumers of Music not Musicians
An alternative approach would be to dismiss the whole concept of the genre music graph and instead to consider how people relate to music. A simple categorisation model would call people
- Composers – who make their own music
- Players – who use instruments to play music others have composed
- Consumers – who listen to music produced by players
In comparison to genre music consumers composers and players probably have denser social networks and thus transmission within them is relatively easy. There are a number of startups focusing on this space.
These first two groups have people who have musical imagination and are able to play with and change music. They may have talent or training – whichever they have, they have the mental tools to enable them to engage with value propositions in the music creation space.
But they are small groups. The far larger one is that of consumers of music. Now they are a far harder target for growth hackers. The potential upside however is large….
Now a product that can growth hack this audience is going to have to be complex and clever. A musician will play with with a tool and start making music out of it. A consumer will tap a few keys on a keyboard for a while before losing interest. To engage the consumer they have to have the illusion or reality that they create something valuable.
Create a Sense of Wonder and Achievement
Smule did this amazingly with it’s magic piano. An iPad app this gave non musicians the feeling of successfully playing Fur Elise and many other famous pieces to a level of quality that they could not have achieved on a piano. So how to do this.
I think that there would be four components to growth hacking the music consumer market.
First wonder – they see it and think ‘that’s cool’. Then they think ‘could I do X instead of the Y that I just saw?’. The ability to actually achieve X is then critical to the consumer having the Pride in his creation that he wants to share it.
That is mind bogglingly hard
Using Music as Social Messaging
Maybe though the goal should not be about the product but about how we as people use music in our daily lives. We do many things with it, but despite sound being so critical to our every day functioning visuality dominates our social sharing. We don’t share or message songs to friends and yet a shared musical experience is often a really important part of our time with the people that we love
So my answer to Tim, who asked me the question, is that:
You tweak your product so that Tina, 45 year old mother of four, who has only ever bought NOW CD’s to play in the car, can in 5 minutes sitting on the Loo at work, send something amazing to her friend Paula. And Paula will cry laugh, and do the same back and more.
If your growth hacking focuses on people with ability or on musical taste then the structure of the musical graph with severely limit the possibilities of growth hacking and your long term performance.