March 09, 2012

Heidi Browning - Senior Vice President of Strategic Solutions at Pandora

Heidi Browning oversees strategic growth for automated music recommendation service Pandora Radio. Prior to Pandora, Browning was EVP and Global Digital Officer at Universal McCann. With 22 years of marketing and advertising expertise, Browning has helped Pandora remain innovative and relevant in the digital radio arena. Browning spoke with eMarketer’s Paul Verna about the opportunities for brands to advertise and connect with consumers via music-streaming venues like Pandora.

eMarketer: How can brands get involved on the Pandora platform?

Heidi Browning: Connecting bands with brands and fans is one of our main missions from an advertising perspective. Consumers have personal relationships with Pandora because they feel like Pandora knows them through their personalized listening. We work with a plethora of brands both at the national level and the local level, and they’re increasingly flocking to us because they realize we have massive scale. We’ve got this precision targeting and deep listener engagement both online and offline.

The fact that local advertisers are getting value from Pandora in terms of driving local business objectives has been tremendous. According to our data, Pandora’s listenership has grown so much that we rival some of the top FM and AM stations across the country. This is a seminal moment in our vision, and we’re continuing to march forward with audio-based efforts, video, other forms of digital engagement, branded content and offline events. For any advertiser with a variety of objectives, we can help drive awareness, create deep engagement and connect the offline world with the digital world through events.

eMarketer: What are the main ways the Pandora platform enables brands to target users?

“According to our data, Pandora’s listenership has grown so much that we rival some of the top FM and AM stations across the country.”

Browning: When users register, we ask for their age, gender and ZIP code, and then we target based on that data. We also target based on time of day. We know when people are listening and on what types of devices.

We can also target based on music genre or the artist that users seed their stations from. This is where advertisers can get clever. If people are pausing the music for a moment or if they’re skipping a song or if they’re in the middle of sharing, we have sponsorships around those kinds of interactions because we know that’s when the consumers are looking at the screen and you can get your message in front of them.

We can also target by mobile device. We work with many different platforms and operating systems, and so we are able to target based on first impressions. The first impression means web, mobile and audio is all tied together and provides brands with a takeover experience. This is great for movie studios, for instance, who want to do a big launch campaign. Also, for this political season, we’ve been able to create targeting by state, county and congressional districts, so we can give advertisers a variety of ways to reach their audience.

eMarketer: What percentage of the Pandora audience listens via mobile device vs. desktop?

Browning: About 70% of our listening hours occur on mobile devices, as well as through nontraditional devices like TVs, tablets and automobiles. It’s shifting toward having Pandora in your pocket. I think it’s partly a reflection of the explosion in smartphone adoption as well as tablet adoption.

eMarketer: How does return on mobile ads differ from ads on the PC?

Browning: The mobile market is still a bit nascent right now. We’ve been monetizing the web for a long time, and we’re shifting that over to mobile and applying our best practices, but the advertising market hasn’t quite caught up with the consumption market. We think the audio ad unit is core to mobile advertising because it’s always in your ears, always in your pocket, and we’ve seen tremendous success and tremendous results from this audio product that we have.

eMarketer: What advertising opportunities exist beyond banner ads and audio advertisements?

“When users register, we ask for their age, gender and ZIP code, and then we target based on that data. We also target based on time of day. We know when people are listening and on what types of devices.”

Browning: We’re excited about our mobile video ads. We see an incredible amount of video engagement on mobile devices and that’s because our ads only show when consumers are active and looking at their device. Being a former agency person, I appreciate that Pandora display and video advertising only plays when someone has engaged with the device—whether it’s the web or on mobile.

We’ve got this opportunity to show 15- or 30-second auto-play videos while people are pausing, changing stations or skipping songs, and we’ve seen tremendous—almost 90%—completion rates and incredible clickthrough rates.

We’ve created an entire video series of interviews with artists. Mercedes-Benz sponsored one series called “Moms Who Rock.” We interviewed a variety of mom rock stars about what it’s like to be a mom on the road, and how they juggle kids and their needs with their music and career. Those videos peek into the artists’ lives and give intimate moments, which our audience loves.

The videos are perfect for marketers looking to complement their advertising with value exchanges. It gives back rather than talking at the consumer. We hear from brand marketers that they are looking at things like custom-branded content they can share with Pandora listeners and also use on their social media pages. It becomes this connected, yet distributed experience that starts from that personal connection between fans and artists.

eMarketer: A lot of soul searching has been going on in the recording industry given that monetization has been so difficult, and that the music industry was hurt by some of the disruptive changes in the transition to digital. How do you see this progressing in the next few years?

Browning: I think the companies that embrace all the new and interesting ways to connect bands with their fans are going to be the ones that succeed in this new world. From the Pandora business model standpoint, we are here to connect our listeners with artists they love, but also to help them discover new artists.

A core part of founder Tim Westergren’s vision was to have a variety of artists play on Pandora and create a “musicians' middle class,” if you will, where if you’re a talented, hardworking musician, your music can be played next to some of these legends and icons, which, as you know, in the traditional music world is hard to do. It’s hard to get play time on the radio, and that’s where the genome comes in and connects the attributes of your music to well-known music and well-known artists.

“This data-driven economy is going to be hugely valuable to artists in the future.”

That’s key in delivering discovery and serendipity to our listeners, but also it creates this opportunity for artists, both emerging and established, to find audience at scale. We’ve got an incredible amount of data around this where we can talk to artists about how many people are listening and who are they are and where are they and who’s thumbing and what kind of music do they like more than others. This data-driven economy is going to be hugely valuable to artists in the future.

We think about this as this total marketing funnel for artists. You can get awareness by advertising or promoting your new album. You can get engagement from our listeners when they thumb up and down your songs. We have ad units where you can preorder copies of CDs or you can get free downloads, or listen to parts of the album before it releases.

It’s a valuable opportunity both from an awareness and engagement standpoint for artists to cater to their fans and learn from their fans about what they like. And then of course, we always are at the bottom of the funnel, driving consumers to make purchases on Amazon and iTunes. We feel like we’re trying to feed the funnel at every level.

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