A conversation with Darren Hemmings

Published on January 13th, 2015

Darren Hemmings is the founder of Motive Unknown, a strategic digital marketing consultancy that works with Moby, Alt-J and the BBC among many others. He also publishes the Daily Digest, a must-read for professionals in the music tech space. In this interview, he shares his insights on music marketing, mobile campaigns and the meaning of success.

Tell us a bit about your background. How did that lead you to where you are today?

I was always an internet obsessive and actually wrote my degree thesis on building an online record shop for my local record store - and that was back in about 1996. From there via various roles I went on to become the Head of Digital Marketing for the PIAS Group. After being there for about three years I left to form Motive Unknown, which has now been running for over 3 years.

What are the 3 key factors for building an efficient online marketing campaign? 

Understanding the artist, the audience and the response. Music is a strange beast to market, because it is art. Art doesn’t conform to the objective norms of marketing, not least because the artists involved may object to heavy-handed sales messaging, for example. So, understanding the artist’s world view and working within that is key - once you’ve had a good go at getting them to see your point of view too, of course! Equally, I think understanding who your audience is and how they see the world is critical, because you need to relate to these people and have them buying in to your messaging. Finally, understanding the response is also essential, because you need to appraise the value of your actions and know whether what you have done generated a net positive response for your artist - be that album sales, streams, views, or meaningful fan growth of any kind.

How do you determine what success looks like? 

There’s an ongoing joke with one of our clients that “success looks like lines going up”. Ultimately success is a growth in whatever metric your objective was focused around. If that’s more fans and your graph points upwards as the growth rate has risen significantly, then you are achieving the objective. Finally, success should be a rise in revenues for the artist in question, be that via sales, streams, ticket sales, sync deals etc. One thing we always keep a focus on is what actually generates money; on the whole I’m not a fan of citing social media metrics as if they equate to revenue.

Could you share with us one of your most efficient online campaigns? What were the goals and how did you achieve them?

A recently surprising one was an ad campaign we ran for one artist where we explored a very specific type of mobile advertising that most people in the music business hadn’t latched onto yet. We’d been running a lot of ads across the usual spaces (Facebook, Google, Twitter, select site placements) but just felt there was still a whole cross-section of people we might not be reaching - or possibly that our audience could be better served by other means.

We used this new ad exchange that focused quite tightly on in-app and mobile web app advertising among very compatible platforms and sites. The results were astonishing: as well as achieving a 6% clickthrough rate, it also managed a 20% conversion to sale rate, which is unprecedented. For me then, the learning here was that it was the right thing to explore these new ad platforms and determine their value, because for the foreseeable future this mobile ad exchange will quite definitely feature in every ad campaign we plan out.

What do you think led to such high clickthrough and conversion rates? 

The context of the placements, which were all highly targeted to specific music apps and webapps. That said, I think pretending to know 100% would be retrospectively fitting wisdom onto what was (at the time of booking) an unknown quantity of sorts, which is something I don’t like doing. These were run initially as tests to see how the audience responded, and they proved to respond very well. The lesson here is “try new things and don’t just plough the same old furrow” because you never know what might drastically improve your results.

With music an increasingly mobile experience, are there some basics for mobile marketing that music marketers are missing?

I think just understanding how massive mobile consumption is should be paramount for anyone in marketing now. Its not as simple as people just using social networks the whole time; there’s all manner of apps and other channels through which you can reach these people, and it is critical to explore that. I think through our tests we learned that solid mobile placement worked very well, and based on that learning we now allocate more money to advertising on mobile platforms.

Outside of advertising though, I think its about fully understanding what content works on mobile, what does not - and ticking those basic boxes like making sure your website is mobile-compliant. Equally, understand that things like Facebook are fragmented as a user experience. Directing fans to your custom tab for mail signups is all well and good, but those tabs don’t work on the mobile app - and when the majority of views are on mobile, you’re headed for a fall if you try strategies like that these days.

Are you finding that marketers are changing their concept of a sale as streaming media cannibalizes downloads? 

I think for a while now we’ve been more pragmatic about things being about revenue, not sales. It has certainly helped that the drastic growth of Spotify in particular has convinced managers and label heads that it is a viable platform for making money now. That said, iTunes is still a primary focus, which I suspect might start to change in the next 12 months.

What marketing tools do you see as being integral to your daily work? 

We are relatively light: having trialled a lot of third party services for things like ad booking, we’ve fallen back into using the native tools - like Facebook Power Editor or Google’s AdWords. We’re doing some testing with AdEspresso at the moment and are impressed so far. Beyond that, we use Next Big Sound more for general insight and reporting now, as the Spotify integration is excellent. Sprout Social also gets some use, ironically more for its reporting tools than its social media management ones (they do a very good-looking PDF report that managers love!).

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