It's time to ditch the old radio ad model

How jazz wisdom helped us think differently about in-app promotion.

I’m a jazz head.  I started studying jazz guitar when I was 13 as part of a protracted negotiation with my guitar teacher.  I wanted to learn how to play Mark Knopfler’s  solo on "Sultans of Swing," by Dire Straits.  He wanted me to learn how to play Joe Pass and Miles Davis tunes.

“I’ll teach you that kind of music if you learn how to play Jazz,” he postured.

“Um.  Isn’t that the kind of music that old people listen to?”

The lesson came to a swift close at that moment.

I cautiously returned a week later and explained that I was up for the challenge.  During that week I tried to learn everything I could about jazz.  I went to the school library and listened to old records by Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Joe Pass, Bill Evans and others.  I just didn’t get it.

There were no lyrics.  The musicians seemed to have endless solos that sounded completely out of key.  To make matters worse, ALL of the musicians took a turn playing some crazy solo.

But over time, I learned.  I learned that there is a method to the madness. I learned about the creation of musical tension and subsequent release.  I learned about playing “out” when soloists would purposely play out of key to heighten that musical tension and how returning back into the proper key would create a heightened feeling of release.

One of my favorite jazz artists is Miles Davis.  Miles created the modal jazz movement which exploded on the scene with the landmark album, "Kind of Blue." It was a direct contrast to the bebop jazz era and use of ornate lines and superfluous notes (as Miles would say) popularized by by Dizzy Gillespie.  Miles’ solos were beautifully phrased, and they deliberately used few notes.

When asked about the Spartan quality of the new modal style by critics, Miles explained, "Music is the space between the notes. It’s not the notes you play; it’s the notes you don’t play."

The clear simplicity of that statement lodged in my brain. It’s a concept that extends itself to more than jazz phrasing.

Professionally, I’ve been working with my team to leverage music in apps as a tool to build engagement, retention, and revenue for brands.  In a page taken from Miles’ philosophy, we’re working with companies to use the spaces in between songs to reach their customers in new ways.

Rather than just utilize the traditional radio ad model, we have an opportunity to create interactive callouts and personalized messages that leverage those spaces more effectively. For example, we worked closely with a large adult beverage company to power music in the mobile app of a popular winter music festival.  Bringing music from the performers into the app is a no brainer and drove huge gains in attendee engagement.

In fact, average app session times increased 13X to nearly 10 minutes when fans listened to radio.

To add to the experience, we also included house audio spots that included more into on the artists, updates on schedules, and callouts for secret performances. The content kept the fans coming back – an average of 40 sessions per fan during the festival.

Moving over to the retail vertical, smart retailers are focused on finding ways to drive more cohesive experiences across the digital and physical realms. Customers expect seamless service and consistent branding at every touch point. We recently worked with American Eagle Outfitters to promote their latest Reserve, Try, Buy product in app. While customers stream hand-curated stations during their shopping experience, they are subtly reminded that they can easily reserve clothing in the app, then pick up at a store near them. Utilizing in-app radio to drive sales in the app has been incredibly effective, and now we’re finding ways to help get foot traffic into the store, as well.

Space can be used in a lot of ways.  Miles Davis believed it should be sacred – a time for listeners to relax and reflect.  Brands are using it as another opportunity to communicate with their audiences.

Rather than shouting at users with another discount or call to action, the success stories are built around delivering relevant, personal, unique content that augments the music experience.

Back to the inspiration for this post: I’m just glad my guitar teacher opened my eyes to the awesome world of jazz. Just last week, I tried to teach my son how to play a jazz tune.  “Isn’t that what grandpa listens to?” he asked. Some perceptions never change.

Jeff Yasuda