Spotify Mess And Cleanup — What Can Startups Learn From It About Long-Term Brand Thinking?

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Jim Andersen, the former CEO of Spotify, caused a stir earlier this year when comments surfaced that reignited the debate over the streaming platform’s motivations.

He says, “Spotify was created to solve a problem. The problem was to overcome piracy and get artists’ music out there. The problem was not to pay people money.”

Understandably, this did not go over well. Commentators across the board slammed Spotify’s attitude as harmful to artists and the music industry at large, and the backlash was swift and harsh.

Was the backlash, however, entirely justified? A quick look at Spotify’s website reveals that its current leadership isn’t singing the same song as their former colleague.

In 2021, the company’s goal is to “unlock the potential of human creativity.” This is provided with a list of Spotify commitments, such as providing artists with the data and training they need to maximize their Spotify streams and earnings. To put it another way, the goal is to get artists’ music out there and pay them.

So, what’s going on here? Is Andersen a pessimist, or is Spotify attempting to stifle reality? Let’s look at how Spotify’s’mistake’ and solution can serve as a useful blueprint for any startup looking to grow into a long-term, well-loved brand.

Creating a plan

Many of the apps we use on a daily basis were designed with a single “solve” in mind, from ordering takeout to seamlessly splitting bills. And, in many cases, this singular focus is a key to success.

However, as any seasoned entrepreneur knows, for every problem solved, another 99 can arise. Growth can be quickly derailed without a clear overarching vision for how to respond.

Take, for example, Uber. Its team has been working for years on a single goal: to create an app that makes hailing cabs easier. What they didn’t expect was that achieving this goal would set in motion a new set of challenges.

Regulatory restrictions, passenger safety, driver rights, and disgruntled employees all conspired to make a simple “solution” seem anything but simple. Uber was on the verge of collapsing due to a lack of a clearly defined brand strategy to help focus and communicate their efforts.

Uber’s problems are similar to those that many startups face when they focus on product development rather than long-term brand strategy. Defining a brand entails much more than picking a logo; it entails establishing clear and consistent principles that guide everything a company does, both now and in the future.

Perceptions must change

What Spotify has done well is adapt its strategy, moving away from the overly technical approach advocated by its former CEO.

When Spotify talks about “unlocking the potential of human creativity,” they’re not trying to divert attention away from their previous streaming service. Instead, they’re focusing on everything they want to be tomorrow.

Spotify has a more widely applicable and emotionally appealing organizing principle than a pure technical solve by broadening its focus to creativity and putting an emotional need at the heart of its mission. In a way that a functional piracy-fighting platform would struggle to do, the brand can position itself as engaging with users and artists.

Engagements like Spotify’s Year Unwrapped roundup, which puts users at the center of their own story by celebrating their listening habits, and the Loud And Clear resource for artists are examples of putting this emotional promise into action.

Not only do initiatives like this help win brand loyalty by humanizing Spotify beyond a faceless tech platform, but they also help the brand stand out from its competitors: anyone can create a new streaming platform, but only a few can replicate strong brand love.

Inspire creativity

Spotify gives themselves permission to play far beyond the confines of a specific product, platform, or even industry by defining their brand in terms of unlocking creativity. When asked about the competitors that he is concerned about, CEO Daniel Ek said:

I am looking at Fortnite, or Minecraft, or Roblox. All forms of media and entertainment is minutes that could have been spent listening to audio instead.

The implication is clear: Spotify views “creativity” as encompassing all forms of self-expression, not just streaming songs. And when seen through this lens, the potential for business innovation is enormous. The possibilities go far beyond music, whether through artist-controlled tiers of access, experimenting with forms of visual media, or even dabbling in NFTs.

Spotify’s past may have been to solve a single problem, but its future is multi-faceted thanks to some long-term brand thinking.


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