Simplifiers Interview: Seth Farbman, CMO of Spotify

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Behind every brand delivering simpler experiences for customers is a leader who recognizes the inherent value in keeping things simple. As part of this year’s Global Brand Simplicity Index, we interviewed marketing leaders and founders of brands that have performed well over the past few years, to understand why and how they simplify. In this Simplifiers interview, we speak with Seth Farbman, CMO of Spotify.

MM: What does your brand stand for, and how does it deliver on that promise every day?

SF: We say at Spotify that we are for music fans and by music fans. What the brand stands for is a connection between artists who seek audiences and audiences who seek artists.

MM: What role does simplicity play in delivering on that promise?

SF: The experience has to be highly intuitive; it has to feel like Spotify already knows who you are in order to enable discovery. When you have that simple and tailored experience, you get the feeling that Spotify knows you better than you may even know yourself, which makes you want to come back over and over.

MM:How does Spotify strive to create simple experiences?

SF: First, we believe that if you have an organizational structure that’s simple, you’ll usually have a simple outcome. We’re structured for autonomy, which allows people to feel like they own their part of the user experience from start to finish. We keep teams small and focused.

MM: What benefits have Spotify experienced from simplifying?

SF: We’ve seen deep engagement, passion and love for our brand and its products. The sense of connection between music fans and Spotify transcends what most companies and brands have.

MM: What metrics indicate that Spotify and its customers have that deep connection?

 SF: The amount of time music fans listen to Spotify, the positive engagement on social media and our Net Promoter Scores. And of course the organic growth we achieve through the greatest of all marketing channels—word of mouth.

MM: How do you lead as a simplifier?

SF: We’ve adopted a squad structure—with small teams—so everyone has a simple goal to focus on.

I also lead with the notion that we should first improve the experience for the customers we already have, and then find ways to encourage those customers to share their experiences. We’ve found this to be a powerful customer acquisition tool.

MM: What’s the most recent simple customer experience you’ve had?

SF: I had a great experience when I set up what I feared to be a complicated home audio system. I had committed an entire day to setting up my Sonos, which in the end took about half an hour. Not only was it simple to set up, but it was fun.

MM: What do you think c-level executives need to do to operationalize simplicity?

SF: You need a system. Process enables creativity, and constraints are the mother of invention. Be rigid about your process and allow complete freedom within that framework.

MM:What’s the top piece of advice you’d give other brands trying to simplify?SF: Prioritize simplicity as an outcome. Your customers lead busy lives and carry anxiety with them throughout their day. So you should strive to give your customer the feeling that you know and care about them.

Use simplicity as an approach to structuring your team. People thrive when they understand the mission of the team. That level of clarity improves the quality of work and employee satisfaction. So try new ways of structuring the team, and don’t be afraid to get it wrong. You’ll know you have it right when there isn’t much friction and people feel motivated.

 MM: Can the same people in a new team structure get the job done, or do you sometimes need different people?

SF: Both. However, fluid structures aren’t for everyone. In many businesses, especially ours, things move so fast that all you know about tomorrow is that it’s going to be different from today.

MM: At Spotify, do you make simplicity a deliberate focus? And how do you define it?

SF: Yes. I think of simplicity as providing everything you want and nothing you don’t. I think of simplicity as being highly useful.

MM: Why do you think it’s so difficult for the majority of companies to deliver simple experiences?

SF: It’s difficult with so many legacy systems to prioritize simplicity. There’s an especially great risk of this at successful companies, because the thing that brought them success initially may not be what brings them success again.

MM: What are the biggest mistakes brands make regarding simplifying?

SF: I think they’re hurting themselves when they play it safe and follow a path of improvement along iteration. They should step back every now and then and ask, “Is what we offer customers still useful to them?” Ask this about the product, the way you communicate and employ data to understand your customer.

MM: Is simplicity a lost cause for established companies?

SF: No, it’s attainable—although it requires greater focus, more bravery and greater investment to achieve. It’s a price you have to pay for success. If the company is successful for a period of time, there’s a high cost to reinvent yourself, whereas a company that hasn’t been around for a while, like Spotify, may reinvent itself every two years.

This interview of Seth Farbman, chief marketing officer of Spotify, was conducted, edited and condensed by Margaret Molloy.

This is one in an ongoing Simplifiers series. See interviews with Target CMO, Jeff Jones; Ally CMO, Andrea Riley; McDonald’s USA CMO, Deborah Wahl; Direct Line Group Marketing Director, Mark Evans; President of Jet.com, Liza Landsman and VP of Marketing at Jet.com, Sumaiya Balbale.

Margaret Molloy is global CMO and head of business development at Siegel+Gale. Follow her on Twitter: @MargaretMolloy

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