The CMO Show:
Serena Leith on Spotify marketing...

In an age of customer experience, how do you nail the tone that reflects the zeitgeist and moves the conversation forward? The Spotify marketing strategy says it’s about speed, diversity and data.

We’re living in the age of customer experience, design thinking and agile development. We know we need to understand our target audience – but do we know the speed at which they move, and how to best speak to them moment to moment?

According to Spotify’s Director of Marketing for Asia-Pacific, Serena Leith, Spotify thinks about ‘moments’ and audiences as much as they think about content.

“Content sits horizontally, and audiences and moments are the vertical peaks that we build everything around. How can we be so indispensable to listeners that they wouldn’t dream of doing anything else?”

Part of the answer is data – and part is gut feel. According to Serena, a flat company hierarchy mean ideas can move quickly to market. Alternatively they can just as quickly be given the thumbs-down by the diverse members of the team, who are broadly representative of local consumers.

“We have something close to, I think, more than a billion different points of listening data that we can dredge into to see natural behaviours about how people are using content,” Serena says.

“Because we are a live time platform we get instant feedback on anything that we do. From a UX, from a product iteration, we’re constantly testing. It’s like doing live comedy, really. We either get applause, or the room goes dead.”

Local teams are responsible for understanding the hot topics or cultural conversations that are happening that Spotify needs to either be part of, lead or confront.

“We need to run at the speed of culture, and culture in Australia is fast, so if we’re not delivering really great, concise messages at the speed with which people are expected to consume them, then it’s old news,” Serena says.

Join host Mark Jones as he and Spotify’s Serena Leith talk creativity versus data, testing your audience, and being able to move at pace. In fact, even Post-it Notes get a mention – a cheeky secret in a digital world.

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The CMO Show production team

Producer – Charlotte Goodwin & Natalie Cupac

Audio Engineers – Daniel Marr & Tom Henderson

Got an idea for an upcoming episode or want to be a guest on The CMO Show? We’d love to hear from you:



Host: Mark Jones

Guest: Serena Leith

Producers: Charlotte Goodwin and Natalie Cupac

Interviewees: Charlotte Goodwin, Natalie Cupac, Tom Henderson, Nikki Majewski, Kate Elks, Daniel Marr, Megan Wright, Jonny McNee, Jeanne-Vida Douglas, Tom Van Leeuwen, Candice Witton and Nicole Manktelow

Mark Jones: You know a word I love? Authentic. A better way to talk about it is perhaps being real. And this is a bit of a story, but I saw John Meyer live, and he was talking about how he is so disappointing. He plays gigs, and he checks his DMs, and the fans are saying, “Well, why didn’t you do that song?

Mark Jones: And so he said jokingly, “Disappointment has a name. John Clayton Meyer.”

Mark Jones: I thought it was awesome because it was actually a bit like us in marketing. We actually need to think about, how can we be real? How can we build a true customer relationship?

Mark Jones: Serena Leith, Director of Marketing, Asia Pacific at Spotify is our guest this week. I am stoked. I’ve been looking forward to having Spotify on the show, and this is our hundredth episode.

Mark Jones: So what a great week to have Serena with us. And we’re gonna be talking about, actually a wide range of topics. We go from the company’s culture and where they’ve come from, how she thinks about marketing, how she plans marketing, creativity versus data, testing audience, testing the work that she does, being able to spin on a dime and get stuff done really quickly. Even Post-it Notes get a mention. In a digital world, that’s fantastic.

Mark Jones: It’s a great conversation, and particularly I’m sure many of you are Spotify subscribers. You like the service. You’ve been following what’s been going on in the industry. It’s a very rare insight into how marketing at Spotify is growing and evolving, and where it’s come from. I really do hope that you enjoy this episode. You’re going to get a lot out of it.

Mark Jones: Serena Leith, Director of Marketing Asia Pacific at Spotify. Thank you for joining us.

Serena Leith: It’s a pleasure to be here, thank you for having me.

Mark Jones: Now, let’s start with the big picture on Spotify. Been around since October 2008. Access to more than 40,000,000 tracks, global leader in paid subscribers, four million subscribers in Australia, correct me if I’m wrong. Lots of people following you all on the socials. For those playing at home, what is Spotify?

Serena Leith: Oh, that’s an excellent question. To me, it’s an indispensable source of joy, daily joy.

Mark Jones: Spoken like a true marketer.

Serena Leith: But actually, it is true in the sense that we are designed both from a product perspective, and a content perspective to be in every moment of your life in every day. We are basically the world’s biggest jukebox in your pocket, if you were to think about it that way. Imagine if you could at a moment’s notice, with a click of a thumb or a finger, find almost any song anywhere around the world at any time and play it completely friction free, anywhere in the world, that’s pretty much what Spotify is. Well, almost everywhere in the world. We’re at 79 countries, I think with a lot more to come.

Mark Jones: Founded in Sweden, is there anything in your Swedish DNA that’s worth highlighting?

Serena Leith: There’s actually a tonne. While we are a Swedish born company, we very much think of ourselves very globally, as do the Swedes. I think some of the traits culturally of Sweden really resonate in our brand work. We’re honest, we’re humble, we’re transparent, we think about community, we never brag, we’re not bullish, we don’t judge. There’s a real sense of democracy around the work that we do, and the product that we built is by design not exclusive, it’s for everyone. I think that is a very Swedish, a very Nordic kind of trait that’s definitely presents itself in everything that we do.

Mark Jones: Well a jump from that to sort of, the present. Do those cultural values inform the way you go about thinking of marketing and brand strategy?

Serena Leith: Yeah, they do. I think a lot of it comes down to thinking around community. Community can be a community of users, it can be a community of creators, our community of advertisers, but then also our community of staff. There’s really four lenses with which we make all business decisions, and it’s like that. That community sense, it’s a very Swedish thing, definitely permeates our thinking.

Serena Leith: The cultural lens is one of transparency and honesty. We have a lot of meetings here that are very non-hierarchical. We’re a very flat organisation. An idea can come from the two day a week intern, or from the CFO, and they are treated pretty much equally. Obviously there’s some exceptions, the CFO has a chequebook, but it’s a really flat organisation.

Mark Jones: Over the last ten years, what would you say is the biggest thing that’s changed?

Serena Leith: That’s a great question. I think it’s been our impact on the music industry. I’ve been at Spotify since we launched in Australia. I was one of the… I was the OG Launch Team, which is a really lovely position to be in. When we started, it was about us trying to sell a pipe dream, a vision of disrupting music. Streaming is now, for many markets, the lion’s share of recording industry revenues. The narrative has changed from us being potentially a less active part of the music industry to being really at the forefront of democratising access to music.

Serena Leith: That’s been a really interesting shift, and that’s really accelerated in the last few years when we’ve started to make big footprints into markets like the US, or Asia, or now La Tam, where piracy was a huge issue, where pricing was an issue. Our impact on the music industry has been nothing short of profound.

Mark Jones: I think that’s great. I do think a lot, as most consumers do, about the impact of subscription as a business model. Obviously, if you look at your other competitors, that’s by far and away the dominant, if you like, way of consuming music. How do you think about in the context of events? The reason I ask that is I’ve been going to quite a few events, and it’s no great secret that any artist who wants to make real bucks has to tour. We’ve actually seen an increase in touring as a result of this business model. How do you connect the two?

Serena Leith: That’s a really great question. I think one of the powers, one of the most powerful assets that Spotify has is our ability to unlock discovery. We see, for example, this broader range of music. Where you might be buying a CD, you fall in love with the band, you might buy a tshirt, you might buy a concert ticket. It was a fairly gated ecosystem of your favourites, maybe even within a genre, or a community. But now, you might go and see a live band that you’ve never heard of, you might have only played one or two songs of because you’ve discovered them on a playlist on Spotify.

Serena Leith: And it increases the swell around a different kind of community, perhaps less about genre and more about style, more about location. We had an event last year called Front Left Live, which was our first foray in taking a playlist property and turning it into a live event. There were no less than seven different genres represented in that one event, which is fairly unique. It wasn’t a festival style event, it was a gig. To have all of those different kinds of communities in an event that was really just a playlist was pretty unique. We get feedback a lot from our creative community about how listening on Spotify has broadened their normal user base because they’re being exposed to these discovery tools, and playlists, and artists on a daily basis. It’s been really healthy to their bottom line, because also within Spotify is the unlocking of listening. You can buy merchandise, you can buy tickets directly, you can have a much closer relationship from a fan perspective with the artist.

Mark Jones: You see yourselves as a connector between previously distinct segments of the music industry. Is that what you’re saying?

Serena Leith: I think we see ourselves as we’re a platform to be exploited by both sides.

Mark Jones: Right, okay.

Serena Leith: Fans use us to find each other, to discover new music. They use us as sort of the connective tissue in a lot of respects, to different artists. Artists use us equally to speak more directly to their fans. It’s a really… It’s an ecosystem that’s quite healthy, and we’re seeing that those bridges are being broken down between fan and artist much more so with Spotify. Like I said, this democratisation of music is really being powered by a free format. There’s no reason why anyone can’t jump on and listen to Spotify at any time and discover new music. There’s no cost, there’s no barrier, I guess, to entry.

Serena Leith: Some kinds of genres and some music experiences can be pretty exclusive, can be expensive, there’s lots of limitations. Spotify helps to break down some of those barriers.

Mark Jones: We should talk about marketing and what you’re doing, because that’s kind of your job.

Serena Leith: My job.

Mark Jones: Let me just ask you a captain obvious question, how do you market Spotify?

Mark Jones: It’s a Dorothy Dixer, but also it’s actually quite serious in the sense of market dominance, very fragmented in terms of listener base and how you feel like the zeitgeist of how to interpret and think about music, and how that whole interconnection of things that you were speaking to, and differentiating a local audience from a global one. There’s a lot of moving parts in, I imagine, how you think about and conceive creative campaign ideas.

Serena Leith: Yeah, that’s it in a nutshell.

Mark Jones: Okay, great.

Serena Leith: Bye.

Mark Jones: It was awesome.

Serena Leith: We’re really lucky in that we have a lot of the work from a pure brand marketing and storytelling perspective comes out of regenesis of the global approach, sorry, brand. There is a foundation that’s being laid that’s based on the product itself, the mission of our founder, Daniel Ek, and then also what the brand and creative directors see as the best way to bridge the gap between fans and content. I guess that brand message is pretty heroic, and that’s fairly evergreen, which is all the music for all the people anywhere, anytime, very roughly speaking. We never talk about that as a strapline publicly, but that’s kind of our mission.

Mark Jones: No, that’s just the underpinning of how you think.

Serena Leith: Yeah. And then that work will come to us, whether it’s a product innovation that needs to have a marketing campaign to promote in market, or a new piece of content, or a new feature, or a new product around premium, the pricing side of the business. And then what happens is we’ll take that and think about what are the moments that make sense in this part of the world? What are the cultural layers that make sense? Is there a conversation we are a part of, or that we’re leading that makes sense? What are the key cohorts, the constituents that really make sense for each different kind of feature, product, or content that we’re talking about?

Serena Leith: We add those lenses and those layers to that work. It’s probably about a 70/30 split led by local versus global in this part of the world. That comes down to the fact that it’s very easily translatable, the global work, in an English speaking market. That’s really helpful. And then we will then plug and play those specific pieces of brand work based on those local nuances. And we have a lot of freedom, here. We’ve been given, as my boss says often, enough rope to hang ourselves-

Mark Jones: I know the phrase.

Serena Leith: Have some big swings. We certainly take that at face value and run with it. My old CMO had a famous quote, which I loved, which was, “Do work to get me fired.” It was always about pushing the boundaries. A brand like Spotify, because it’s young, it’s cool, it’s got a bit of cache to take risks. I think before we were public, but even not that we’re a public company, I think there’s a real expectation from a marketing point of view that we push things.

Mark Jones: What are you finding is working well for you in terms of channel split? I think it’s interesting because you have such a massive organic channel, so to speak. What do you find is most effective?

Serena Leith: Really, it’s a great question. I think the power and the freedom that I have with the work that we do is the biggest audience, the biggest channel that we have is our own, which is on platform. We utilise things like in-app messaging really well, our ad units that sit on the platform, that could be display, that could be audio ads, actually are proven to be one of the most effective ways to reach our audience, both existing and new on Spotify. We can service, for example, an audio ad that sounds like a radio ad, but much sexier on Spotify to a free user to get them to upgrade to Premium, but equally just talk to them in a very intimate, one to one way about a feature that they might not have discovered on Spotify, or a new album that’s just launched.

Serena Leith: Those owned channels are very important in the mix, and equally social and email fall into that, the CRM mix. I’m a huge, passionate advocate of Out of Home in Australia and New Zealand. I believe that we’re unique in that we’re one of the only parts of the world that’s in the sunshine nine, ten months of the year. And in that footprint environment of people consuming Spotify, which is commuting, which is exercising, which is out and about on a Friday night, it’s a great match for us. We try to where possible, where budgets permit, include in particular digital out of home in our mix. But the owned channels are super important.

Serena Leith: We’ve toyed with radio, with cinema, not quite with TV yet in this market, digital and display and native is super important to us. It’s important that we are in environments that creates less friction for new users to try Spotify. Obviously, digital is super important, it’s one click to the app to straight into deep content. It’s a nice garden to keep people in.

Mark Jones: Right. What are your goals?

Serena Leith: Global domination.

Mark Jones: Obviously.

Serena Leith: We are the premier music service in Australia, which I’m really proud about. We’re not going to rest on that laurel, not for one second. It’s one of the most competitive music streaming landscapes in the world, certainly lots of people hot on our heels. Our goal is to get Spotify in the hands of every single Australian, and get them using it every single day. I’ve even started thinking about different audiences that might not even be human. We’re creating playlists for dogs to play at home when you’re at work. If not you, who?

Mark Jones: We should chat about the work we’ve done with pet tech. There’s a whole space there, I’m quite familiar with what you’re talking about. There’s a lot of lonely animals out there. Right, because how do you go from being number one to number one? How do you stay?

Serena Leith: A real number one.

Mark Jones: And then that kind of taps into your out of home, which is expanding and capturing new audiences. Actually, wanted to go back to the Native stuff, and we’ve seen that actually, the statistics show on podcasting in particular, 50% of the audience will consider a product they’ve heard advertised in a podcast. I presume that sort of carries over with other forms of audience, right? Is that sort of a statistic you’ve ever heard of?

Serena Leith: I haven’t, and that’s a fantastic statistic that I’m immediately writing own into our next campaign.

Mark Jones: There you go. Go and look up Edison Research, they’ve done some great stuff globally. I raise that partly out of self interest, but also interest because of the medium we’re in, which is Spotify, are uniquely intimately connected with people. I talk about this in podcasting, but you’re in somebody’s ear. This is a very privileged place to be, but also cognitively where there’s a real difference in this channel compared to other channels, right?

Serena Leith: I think it’s really interesting, we’re fairly early in our deep podcast work in this part of the world. We are one of the biggest podcast markets, Australia is, relative to the globe as you would know, bigger than most. We’re just starting to kind of delve into what that looks like from a channel, and marketing, and messaging, and brand perspective. Working on what are the kinds of titles that makes sense, where we stitch in messaging within that is still something to be, I think solved. And if anyone’s got the golden book on the best way to do that I would love to read it page to page.

Serena Leith: I think you’re right in that intimate relationship that we’ve always had with our users, because for the most part listening is one to one. There are of course, parties, and group listening, but for the most part the lion’s share, it is you with your headphones, or you at home, or you at your desk with this service. And podcasts even more deeply so. I don’t know too many families that listen to podcasts.

Serena Leith: Even more deeply so, I don’t know too many families that listen to podcasts en masse, you might have different data to me. But I think that relationship is built on trust, and there’s got to be really authentic messaging on that. So, we’ll be testing some things on our own channels and our Originals podcast as we develop that throughout the next couple of years as well.

Charlotte Goodwin: Hi guys, it’s Charlotte Goodwin, executive producer of The CMO Show podcast here and today I’m joined by…

Natalie Cupac: Nat Cupac, producer of The CMO Show podcast.

Tom Henderson: And Tom Henderson, audio engineer.

Charlotte Goodwin: So great to have you hear guys to celebrate our 100th anniversary of The CMO Show, what a milestone!

Natalie Cupac: And also really exciting this week, we also are going to be going to the Australian Podcast Awards where we’re nominated in the Business and Marketing category. So we’re going to get to strut down the red carpet and get to kind of network and meet all the other podcasting gurus.

Tom Henderson: Yeah, looking forward to it.

Charlotte Goodwin: This year we’ve just had a lot happen, haven’t we? There’s been quite a few exciting bits and pieces. Tom, what’s been your favourite moment of The CMO Show to date?

Tom Henderson: It’s been great to be a fly on the wall of so many great conversations. One of the ones that sticks out very recently was last episode I think with Jonathan Crossfield, Andrew Davis, Louise Eyres and obviously Mark Jones. That was a great conversation and there was a great conversation after the record as well it was great to be there for that. What about you Nat?

Natalie Cupac: I think one of my favourite episodes was the one with Chris Taylor, CMO of Heart Foundation. His take was all about leveraging the true crime genre to market something really important and highlight significant issues in our culture and in our society. So what about you Charlotte, what’s been one of your favourite moments?

Charlotte Goodwin: I think what takes the cake is that day that we found out that we were I think number 17 on the marketing and management charts for iTunes. I remember seeing it and running to Nat and going “Oh my goodness we’re on the charts!” And we just ran around the office all excited, so it was fantastic and it’s moments like those that the hard work of our fantastic team really pays off.

Natalie Cupac: And on that note Charlotte, we’ve actually got a special message from all the people who have been involved in producing The CMO Show from producers, audio engineers and hosts.

Tom Henderson: Yep, and stick around to the end of the episode for a special message from Mark.

Nikki Majewski: Hey guys, it’s Nikki Majewski here and I was actually The CMO Show’s very first producer. I remember we got an interview with Robert Rose from The Content Marketing Institute, that was pretty massive for like our first episode, that was so cool.

Kate Elks: Hi, I’m Kate Elks and I was the production manager at Filtered Media at the time we set up The CMO Show. My favourite memory of The CMO Show is the time we spent setting it up, bringing a really great idea to life.

Daniel Marr: Hello, I’m Dan Marr, I was the first audio engineer on The CMO Show when it first launched in 2015. It’s been so wonderful seeing the strong foundations that were laid back then carrying on to now with the teams that have been producing the show ever since.

Megan Wright: It’s Meg Wright here I was producer of The CMO Show from mid 2015-2017. I think one of my favourite interviews was Glenn Dobson, he had a really amazing and unexpected story to tell and it’s always wonderful to me as a podcast producer when you hear a story that you didn’t quite expect.

Jonny McNee: My name is Jonny McNee and I was one of the main audio engineers and editors. I remember when Mark Jones and I were trying to come up with the intro music, we looked through a bunch of different music tracks. Mark listened to it, his piece of feedback was: ‘No, it needs to be dubstep!’

Jeanne-Vida Douglas: My names JV Douglas and I was one of the co-hosts of The CMO Show. Mark and I had an awesome time interviewing some of Australia’s best marketers and we had some very funny outtakes where we used to trip up on our words all the time and go ‘ba-da-ba-da-ba-da’.

Tom Van Leeuwen: Hi my names Tom Van Leeuwen and I was a co-producer on The CMO Show. My favourite moment was when JV and Mark interviewed Andrew Howie from MLA and they talked about the LAM ads, it was by far the funniest and most cracking episode they’ve ever done.

Candice Witton: Hi, my name is Candice and I was the lead producer on The CMO Show. I think my favourite moment working on the show was the episode with Robbie Brammall from MONA.

Nicole Manktelow: Hi, it’s Nicole Manktelow here, former co-host of The CMO Show and well, I for one can believe The CMO Show has reached 100 episodes but I’m still floored to have been a small part of it. Cheers mate, and here’s to the next 100 shows!

Charlotte Goodwin: Big thank you to everyone who has worked on The CMO Show past and present, if you’re interested in checking out any of the episodes that they mentioned if you go to the blog post associated with this episode at you’ll see all the episodes listed there. Back to Serena and Mark.

Mark Jones: What is the interest, as you mentioned with podcasting it’s been a easy does it type approach. Do you have any thoughts generally speaking, on podcasting through a marketing lens? What’s the opportunity there?

Serena Leith: I think the opportunity is absolutely enormous and not even close to being fully understood. I think for us, we think about podcasts as a stand alone piece of content, but then I also think of it in the suite of it’s not alone. Nobody just listens to podcasts as a rule.

Serena Leith: So if you’re in an environment like Spotify, then you’re probably listening to podcasts in the context of a days worth of other listening. So your journey might be, get up in the morning and go listen to the news.

Serena Leith: So it might be a news podcast, or it might be a radio show on Spotify. Then you might listen to a playlist which is Beast Mode at the gym.

Mark Jones: Mm-hmm.

Serena Leith: And then you might listen to another playlist as you get on the train on the way to work. And you might listen to the BBC when you’re sitting at your desk. A day in the life of an audio consumer is pretty varied, so we think about podcasts differently in that they are a different piece of content to consume than music, but equally we think of them as an ingredient in the salad.

Mark Jones: Yes.

Serena Leith: That you are listening to content throughout the day. I’m very conscious as we’re talking to consumers to not carve it out as something that’s very distinct from the other audio that they consume. Because for me it’s about when they consume it, not necessarily what they’re consuming.

Mark Jones: Got it.

Serena Leith: So serving up something that’s really important in that moment to make, as we always say at Spotify, life better with Spotify. So every moment can be made better with music. I really fundamentally believe that. And equally, if not music, were gonna shift the wordage around and make it content, or audio.

Mark Jones: Yeah, I hear what you’re saying.

Serena Leith: Aurally happy.

Mark Jones: Aurally happy, yeah, I guess as an audiophile and musician myself I’m well into all of that thinking. I was gonna say, do you use the term “Share of ear?”

Serena Leith: Yes, we do.

Mark Jones: Right. So, podcasting seem to fit broadly speaking into that. So what are all the moments in life that … and then obviously, you’re competing at another level there, aren’t you? TV time and so forth.

Serena Leith: Yeah, and we have a lot of rich data that supports existing music moments. And then, I guess for us then, it’s working in which of those moments were music moments because there was a lack of podcast content that now is being filled with that instead, equally the moments that we know are true podcast moments, and then how we can make sure that we’ve got a deep enough podcast catalogue to fulfil our promise, which is we’re going to make everything better with Spotify. And those moments are pretty well established.

Serena Leith: I mean, any streaming service will tell you, things like working out, eating, cooking, chores, having sex. All those moments, commuting, are fairly core to listening peaks and troughs.

Mark Jones: Yep, yep.

Serena Leith: The podcast moments are slightly different, but still there’s real insights there that we can tap into to have some consistent messaging. And for us, we think about moments and audiences as much as we think about content. Content kind of sits horizontally, audiences and moments are the vertical peaks that we build everything around.

Mark Jones: Right, which is kind of this audience-centric approach. What’s it being used for? How do we use content?

Serena Leith: What is a day in User X look like, and then how can we make it better? How can we be so indispensable to them that they wouldn’t dream of doing anything else?

Mark Jones: And, just briefly, on the data side of things, how do you use that to inform your marketing?

Serena Leith: Oh, every single part from understanding what the opportunity is. So we have something close to, I think, more than a billion different points of listening data that we can dredge into to see natural behaviours about how people are using content.

Serena Leith: So the insight about a marketing challenge will come from data. What’s the opportunity for growth? Then the insight around what kind of content to serve to which kind of audience at what time. And then right through to the data around what kind of messaging, what kind of copy, what kind of imagery, what kind of moments.

Serena Leith: So data literally fuels …

Mark Jones: Everything.

Serena Leith: From soup to nuts, everything that we’re doing.

Mark Jones: How are you getting the creative insights out of it? Are you expecting AI to do it? Do you have a secret brains trust?

Serena Leith: No, they’ll put me out of a job.

Mark Jones: There you go!

Serena Leith: That’s a really great question. Sometimes-

Mark Jones: Someone’s gotta look at the AI’s work.

Serena Leith: Yes, I’m very intrigued by that. And we’re toying with AI around, I guess more from a media and a platform perspective. Where will that be clever in terms of native advertorial … those kinds of channels.

Mark Jones: Serving content, yep.

Serena Leith: Serving content in live time, especially in markets. How can we look at the weather, the news, what’s happening in the world and have really smart content solutions around that? That’s really exciting to me.

Mark Jones: Yep, yep.

Serena Leith: I think the insights that we draw and how we come up with marketing campaigns, though, are about 50% led from data points that are provided, and then 50% gut.

Mark Jones: Yep.

Serena Leith: And that’s with each local team and the 79 markets we’re in. But those teams are responsible for understanding what are the things, the hot topics or pieces of content or artists or cultural conversations that are happening that we need to either be a part of or lead or confront.

Serena Leith: So sometimes it a bit of push and pull.

Mark Jones: Yeah.

Serena Leith: The marriage equality fight, I call it, last year in Australia was a classic example of where some brands didn’t want to make too much of a stand about it, but we really pushed hard to say, “This is something that is important to our platform, our users, our creators, and our staff,” and that was something that I was really lucky that we could push out.

Mark Jones: Fantastic.

Serena Leith: Very quickly, actually, and that was not so much data led, that was definitely a gut instinct thing.

Mark Jones: Yeah, I was gonna say, that’s leadership and a cultural point of difference. So, you don’t need the data to make the decision at the top level, but I do wonder about audience testing.

Serena Leith: Yeah.

Mark Jones: So you might have two or three different lines that you’re pursuing, for example, or …

Serena Leith: Mm-hmm.

Mark Jones: Creative campaigns, and maybe that might speed things up.

Serena Leith: Yeah. I would love to say that there’s a tonne of science around that, but actually it’s usually a white board, some post-it notes, and some very honest conversations around a boardroom. And then more often than not, I’ll print a few lines of copy, and then I’ll get what I call my cohorts at work …

Mark Jones: Yeah.

Serena Leith: Two old people, two middle aged people, and two young’uns …

Serena Leith: And I’ll show them the copy and say, “What do you think?”

Serena Leith: And they give me a thumbs up or a thumbs down. It’s real science.

Mark Jones: Yeah.

Serena Leith: So, sometimes that’s based on the fact that we just don’t have the time. We might go from ideation, insight ideation, and execution in two weeks at Spotify for a pretty big brand campaign. Sometimes it’s six weeks. The ideal for me is three months. Has never happened in my career, we need to run at the speed of culture, and culture in Australia is fast, so if we’re not delivering really great, concise messages at the speed with which people are expected to consume them, then it’s old news.

Mark Jones: Yeah, I think if you have cultural permission inside the organisation to effectively test and learn, like in terms of those big campaign executions, then that’s it.

Mark Jones: It’s actually very interesting to hear your perspective on that. The sticky note lives on.

Serena Leith: Well, I mean, that is people survey work in its purest form.

Mark Jones: Right.

Serena Leith: It’s just something that we can do in a few minutes, and we do have a really –diverse … not to labour the point, but we do have a really diverse staff here. So by nature it should be a snapshot of the Australian consumers.

Mark Jones: It kind of gets to my last conversation topic I wanted to raise with you is … the broader questions of design thinking, and CX and Agile, and all these things that we go through.  it’s actually about how well do you understand your customer? And how do you make sure that the messaging that you put out in the marketplace through different channels is consistent with their experience and feeling on platform. I think that’s a really important thing that a lot of people spend time wrestling with, and I’m interested in your insights.

Serena Leith: Yeah. I think the lucky thing about us is, as I said, because we are a live time platform we get instant feedback on anything that we do. From a UX, from a product iteration, we’re constantly testing. Similarly, the fact that we lean towards digital media, both digital out of home and pure digital channels, means that we iterate and optimise messaging in live time as well. So at any given time, we might have five, six, or 10 pieces of content with slight twinges to them that we’ll live time optimise.

Serena Leith: So we get that real feedback. It’s like doing live comedy, really. We either get applause, or the room goes dead. We know that with some of the creative that does or does not work.

Mark Jones: Yep.

Serena Leith: The product UX in and of itself we’re trying to be more explorative with in our marketing work. Traditionally we would have a marketing message and actually the product sets somewhat separate to that.

Serena Leith: We’ve actually started to bring the two things together much more cohesively. Partly because the product just looks so much better now than it ever has, and also because of the competitive market, we really need to showcase our UX visibly as often as possible to be able to differentiate ourselves from our competitors.

Mark Jones: So, how important do you think it’ll be to stay focused on that? I guess my passion here is that I really do believe in the idea of behavioural economics, and we really got to get to know customers, right?

Serena Leith: Mm-hmm.

Mark Jones: So that’s gotta be at the centre of what you do. That’s not a new idea, but I think it’s one that many marketers can overlook in the pursuit of a big shiny idea.

Serena Leith: Yeah. There’s no space for ideas over insights here. An idea needs to have insight to bring it to life, and I think for us, we’re really lucky in that our users tell us if we’ve fucked up.

Mark Jones: Yeah.

Serena Leith: Excuse my French. We know pretty quickly. Also some of the best marketing ideas we’ve had have come from actual natural behaviours in the platform that we’ve picked up.

Serena Leith: We had a playlist campaign a couple of years ago, and then again last year around the weird and wonderful playlist names that our users … and there are something more than a billion playlists that our users have made, featuring things like bin chickens, inexplicably, in Australia.

Mark Jones: Nice.

Serena Leith: Or – yes. So that was actually our users feeding us the idea-

Mark Jones: I see what you did there.

Serena Leith: Around what we can do. Yeah, and we actually managed to include a couple of our users in the ad, because they asked us, “Hey, can I please be in that ad? I’ve made a fun playlist.”

Serena Leith: And of course we made an ad for them. So it’s a very reciprocal relationship. We have to take the constructive feedback on when we go to market with work that might not be received well, and we have to iterate really quickly.

Mark Jones: Yeah. The classic word zeitgeist comes to mind. How well can you reflect the cultural nuance and mood of the time, right?

Serena Leith: Pretty well.

Mark Jones: Am I right in suggesting that’s really the art and science coming together of your approach to marketing? This is kind of like fashion. You’ve gotta be at and just slightly ahead of what the thing is at the time. Does that make sense?

Serena Leith: It does, and I think it’s a really interesting challenge to both reflect and lead culture. And we feel we have a responsibility to reflect what’s going on because most of our users are millennials, so they have very strong points of view and they are very savvy about what’s happening in the world. But we also have to lead about issues that we feel as a brand matter to us.

Serena Leith: And more importantly our creative community. You’ve got to remember we’re a music service first and foremost, so music has always been at the precipice of politics and culture and revolution almost.

Serena Leith: So we have to be brave in our work, and we have to reflect and be honest around that. And I think we’re really lucky as a brand that we’ve been given licence by our super senior leadership to take a lot of big swings, as I’ll say, or big risks, and really reflect but also lead some of those cultural conversations. And some of them are difficult.

Serena Leith: But we have been empowered from day dot to do that, which is amazing. The art science blend, I’d say, is probably about 50/50.

Serena Leith: With a nice big layer of gut at the bottom.

Mark Jones: Just in closing, thinking about your experience, what advice would you share for other marketers and …

Serena Leith: Don’t do it.

Mark Jones: Don’t do it?

Serena Leith: No, I’m kidding.

Mark Jones: Yeah, right?

Serena Leith: I would say trust your instinct. Don’t let science drown out the art. It’s a really fine line, especially when everything we’re doing from a marketing perspective has got that big attributable word written on it. If you can’t count it, does it count? And I think that drowns out really good ideas, so I think it’s important to listen to the art side as much as the science.

Serena Leith: Be prepared to be proven wrong and to move and to pivot. If the market isn’t responding, if your team isn’t responding, if your creators aren’t responding, then be prepared to be humble and move. And move really fast. Have some art and some humility and I don’t think you can go wrong.

Mark Jones: Fantastic. Serena Leith, it’s been fantastic to have you on the CMO show. All the best with-

Mark Jones: Your world domination plans, and … In a flat structured, open vibe-y way, of course.

Serena Leith: In a very humble kind of way.

Mark Jones: Very humble, that’s right. Involving all the creators and all the audiences, and all the rest of it. It’s been great to speak with you, and let’s talk again sometime.

Serena Leith: Okay, thank you for having me.

Mark Jones: All right.

Mark Jones: That was a great interview with Serena. One of the things I wanted to mention to you after we finished recording, she was talking about how useful Spotify is in our lives more broadly, and that is that there are these spaces that you can go to, these playlists in Spotify, which you can choose for your mood, right? It’s actually an interesting development in a brand to become so intimately part of your own journey.

Mark Jones: Of course, in marketing and in comms, how do we take that experience, that intimate customer experience, and then reflect that back out into your marketing,  You know I think it’s one of the biggest challenges in marketing, is being real and actually having an authentic connection between how you behave, the products and services that you offer, and then what you actually tell the marketplace.

Mark Jones: What do you think? What do you think of the show? What do you think of Spotify? What do you think of their approach to marketing? I’d love to get your thoughts.

Mark Jones: Send us an e-mail at You can also get us on all the socials. Make sure you subscribe to us in Spotify, obviously, in iTunes and all the other aggregators that are out there.

Mark Jones: Until next time.

Mark Jones: 100 episodes. What a cracker.

Mark Jones: I just want to thank you for being part of our journey. Thanks for listening to the show. Thanks for sharing it with your friends and sending your suggestions and pitching us to be on the show. Really, we really do believe in educating and sharing stories, the more stories we share, the better we’ll become, so I thank you for being part of this journey.

Mark Jones: As always, thank you to the team here at Filtered Media, for making this show happen week in and week out. It’s a real pleasure.

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