The Next Eminem/Activision Deal: How Big Data Can Reinforce Gut Instincts (Guest Post)

Glenn Minerley is the VP, Group Director, Music & Entertainment at Momentum Worldwide. Caroline Hoffman is the AD, Business Leadership at Momentum Worldwide.

When it’s time for a brand to partner with an artist, suddenly everyone is an A&R guru. Historically, intuition and experience steered choices. However, personal affinity for an artist doesn’t always translate to campaign appropriateness, and a client playing the role of cultural barometer can be—said politely—a challenge.

“We polled the office, and there’s low artist recognition.” “My niece loves that band!” “They’re on Dancing with Stars so they’d be perfect.” We’ve all experienced the frustration of a (wrong) pick based not on landscape knowledge and industry experience, but on personal preference.

We’re hitting an interesting point in the industry’s music/brand life cycle: the data days. As other industries are revolutionized by data—with increased insights, accountability and innovation—we too need partnerships to embrace data’s power without abandoning the intuition that’s gotten us this far.

Effective music marketing platforms rely on artist participation to deliver stronger brand association that consumers embrace. The artist needs to reflect brand’s values and deliver audience relevance. Choose poorly and risk low campaign engagement or consumer backlash. Choose wisely and deliver short- and long-term brand love.

There’s a science to these business decisions that’s too seldom acknowledged. The call here is not for science to take over, but to inspire our creative intuition in innovative ways. Strategy and solid methodology can balance strong personal opinions. The key is instilling process and consistency in our approach. Before artist selection occurs, lay new groundwork.

  • Clearly define brand and business objectives. What specific audience is the brand trying to reach? Are you looking to expand into new territory? To drive sales or broaden awareness? When everyone agrees on business goals, we can better focus the science of decision-making and learn to set expectations on what the artist and brand can achieve from the relationship.

  • Establish brand/music DNA. This is your Jerry McGuire moment. Write a manifesto defining what music fits the brand. Accounting for brand legacy, current perception and future goals, personify the brand’s musical identity. “The music of Brand X is about ‘coming together,’ ‘strong technology association’ and ‘global resonance.’” An authenticity filter—such as a simple word cloud—can serve as a litmus test for artist selection.
  • Know and redefine your data resources. Once you’ve carefully calibrated your criteria for success, use the best new tools to measure and qualify artist impact. The days of airplay and album sales serving as leading indicators of how an artist is connecting with audiences are long gone. These days you need to know more about an artist at every level of the experience.

The breadth of information that can be quickly and easily accessed today includes recorded music sales, social media share of voice, proprietary social profile followers, and social sentiment of the conversation around the artist. Being talked about is great—as long as it’s positive and not all about who the artist is dating, or their latest sartorial mishap.

In addition to the traditional sales and radio story via Nielsen’s SoundScan, use tools like Musicmetric and Next Big Sound that offer analysis combining traditional measurements with social network activity to offer insights based on trackable activity. This provides a deeper, real-time visualization of the artist and can serve as a predictive tool for rising artists. Social listening services like Sysomos should also be leveraged to aggregate activity across blogs, forums, news and social to better understand how an artist or brand is perceived—not just how often they are active. If you’re not using these tools, you’re missing the chance to widen your net beyond names readily offered by labels and managers.

There’s already public proof that the balance works: data and instincts working together led to the marriage between Eminem and Call of Duty. Activision’s data showed Eminem over indexing with COD fans. Eminem realized he could achieve scale and contextual awareness through inclusion in the game. Both parties determined, at its core, it was a solid artist/brand match, and this approach led to $1 billion in sales for COD on its release date and a #1 album for Eminem.

One can only speculate what data drove the Ralph Lauren and Avicii partnership, but there’s art and science that prove the alignment. Here you had a brand that was not resonating with hard core ravers, but a genre over-indexing with the brand’s target market. Ralph Lauren locks up a 360 deal integrating brand into Avicii’s music videos and tour while leveraging artist likeness and synchs. The result: full integration ahead of the curve, with an artist that quickly launched out of the nightclub into mass pop culture status.

Once info is collected, analyzed and vetted, art comes back into play. Rely on your experience and relationships to weigh the factors that can’t be measured by hard data. Is the artist interested in the product? What are the natural brand/artist connections just waiting to be tapped? For example: Consider Blackberry’s one-year partnership with Alicia Keys, and how – beyond her much publicized, actual use (or alleged non-use) of the product – both parties had very strong passions for supporting women in technology careers that they were able to capitalize on later in the relationship. Also consider:  Where is each in their own product cycle; do their label and management work well together; what previous brand partners said about the artist experience; etc.

The beauty is that increasingly smart talent decisions are not based on either data or intuition—they leverage both. They’re found in an ongoing pursuit, starting with human truths, verified by data which substantiates artistic activations to yield more data, and then more human insights, and so on. Find people and partners adept at playing in both worlds, and you’ll quickly see that—though music’s strength is in emotion—numbers are your new best friend.

Billboard welcomes all responsible commentary. Please submit your guest posts to Biz editor andy.gensler@billboard.com.