We are all in our heads too much.

First published here.

Marco Bertozzi, most recently Vice President, EMEA and Multi-Market Global Sales at Spotify is a true digital veteran and NDA’s new regular columnist. He started his career at Zenith Optimedia, went on to have leadership roles at companies including Vivaki and Starcom and has long been an influential, some might say legendary, industry figure.

Over the last few weeks I have been speaking to a lot of people. I wanted to use the time I have to try and give back a little and so offered my time to my network for advice on anything.

I have filled five days and counting so far, learnt how to used Calendly to organise all the requests and met a lot of really great people. I have written before about the importance of your network but this time it has involved 50+ calls with complete strangers bar one or two.

This was the unseen, unknown network who got the confidence to reach out to another complete stranger offering time to talk.

The topics so far have been very varied. We have talked about launching and growing businesses, people stuck at a crossroads, some struggling to find work, changes of careers, and changes of direction within their companies.

It’s only been two days but already it’s been fascinating. As I reflected on these conversations I realised there was one thing, that I haven’t heard spoken about so much, that it was clear we are all suffering from.

We are spending too much time in our own heads.

Work from home has had many impacts on us, like stress, boredom, loneliness, loss of joy and many other side effects but one less spoken about is the lack of inputs into our minds and a dramatic reduction in stimuli. Stimuli that could be a variety of things.

It could be validation, reassurance that you are doing well – who doesn’t like a ‘wow looks like you are doing great’ or ‘you guys are doing great!’ comment. In normal days, inspiration can came from anything and anywhere, whatever the stimulus is, it is welcome, it distracts, it motivates, and of course can sometimes be a negative as well but keeps you thinking externally.

The reality now is we lack all that, we are just in our heads.

Those times when you press leave or end on the video call and just sit and breathe out. Left with our own thoughts, wondering how we did, whether that was the right thing to say or not. More than that though, if we are at a juncture, starting a business, getting a job, being rejected daily, we just go around in circles in our heads.

I heard on my calls a number of times comments like, I am stuck, lost, don’t know what to do.

I firmly believe the vacuum of external stimuli has been filled with us arguing and debating with ourselves. Another dog walk alone, a chance to go over old ground again, in more ways than one.

So, after the first few days of talking, I realised for both me and the person on the other end of the call, what we were really getting out of our chat was a chance to talk to someone different, someone who had no connection to their work or business, someone who would listen without judgement and give some new stimulus. It may be reassurance, direction, feedback or sometimes a push to get out of the position of being stuck or lost.

The future of work is around the corner and I am hopeful some of what we love will return, but before then, why don’t you go looking for that stimulus.

If you are stuck or lost, get hold of someone you don’t know and just have a chat. I hope when you press Leave at the end of that next Zoom call you don’t let your brain just churn about how you did, but rather smile at the opportunities ahead.

BertozziBytesize : Communicate/Adage MENA – Audio goes everywhere.

Marco Bertozzi, Vice President, EMEA Sales & Multi-market Global Sales at Spotify, tells  Communicate what users were listening to while social distancing was in effect around the globe and in the region.  

Original post HERE

What were the significant consumption trends by users on Spotify during the lockdown period? 

Audio plays a very important role in people’s lives, because of its flexibility in being able to follow users wherever they go. When people’s daily lifestyle was [disrupted] by the impact of Covid-19, many had to stay at home, to help prevent the spread. As the listening followed user’s into their homes, it also branched on to a variety of new platforms. So the two [components] that we really focused on were – what kind of content people were listening to and how they were listening to it?

What people were listening to People were looking for comfort during these challenging times. At Spotify, we’re able to measure behavior based on users’ [search queries] and playlists. We were able to see the users’ behavior reflected on the playlists that they were listening to. One of the most prominent trends around the globe was the increase in nostalgia. We saw a 54% increase in listeners making nostalgic-themed playlists, as well as an uptick in the share of listening to music from the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s. Within the UAE and KSA, there was a spike in ’90s music as well as gaming playlists.

During the initial stages of the lockdown, “Covid” and “Corona” were some of the fastest-growing search terms for podcasts around the globe. As time passed by, these search trends dropped in favor of fun and educational topics.

We’ve also seen an increase in the sharing of playlists as well as the listening of collaborative playlists between users. To give a bit of context, people are able to share Spotify playlists through a link with their friends and family via email, Whatsapp, etc. However, in a collaborative playlist, people can connect over shared music and have virtual jam sessions together. These trends were bringing people closer to one another and became a point of focus, especially for users with a family.

For family members, there was a noticeable shift from personal listening on earphones to group listening via a connected speaker. Even the content transitioned to family-oriented themes, such as kids and comedy podcasts, to keep everyone entertained. These themes were popular for group listening while news and information themed podcasts were less front and center.

During April – May, as people continued to spend most of their time indoors, they were creating playlists to keep themselves entertained, while attending to household chores. There was a 40% increase in the creation of cleaning-themed playlists, and a 65% increase in the streaming of those playlists. These playlists were popular among users in the UAE and KSA.

How they were listening At Spotify, we have always talked about a ubiquity strategy, which means being able to be with the listener wherever you want.  Think about all the different places you can listen to audio today – Mobile, tablets, desktop, connected speakers, cars, connected televisions, gaming consoles and heck there are some lucky people who even got it in their fridge. There’s no limit to the possibilities. And on top of that, it provides visibility for audio, especially from an advertising perspective.

Regardless of the circumstances, advertisers are able to follow the user wherever they go. We spoke about this [aspect] even during normal times, where advertisers were able to reach customers while they go for a run, commute to work, etc. But during the lockdown, we saw a rise in listening through other platforms such as connected speakers.

However, gaming was the platform that stood out above all others and the MENA region ranked on top in this category. Gamers are able to stream Spotify through their console while playing, and during the lockdown, we began to see a surge. Our research found a 41% increase in streaming of Spotify’s curated video game playlists across the entire platform. Digging in a little deeper, we found that the top three countries that listen to Spotify-curated video game playlists globally are in the MENA region – Tunisia, Oman, and Saudi Arabia.

As many people were working from home, desktop listening on Spotify experienced a surge as well. According to our data, between April 17th – May 17th, WFH themed playlists increased by 1400% compared to the first ten days in March.

 How were marketers leveraging the trends and communicating with consumers? Our communication with advertisers has always been around creating messages, that are contextual and relevant to what the user is doing on the platform. The lockdown period amplified that very same notion. Initially, there was a rush for advertisers to try and be empathetic with consumers about what was going on. They were quite good at responding in that manner. Slowly, a shift began towards more utility messaging, where brands have decided to not only come out and recognize the situation but also provide services that would be beneficial to the consumer.

What tips did you provide to advertisers to make sure they don’t appear like trying to profiteer from the situation? We mainly advised advertisers to use context while reaching out to users on the platform and keep the format in mind. Spotify’s streaming intelligence can identify when the screen is in view and when the audio is the star of the show. For example, an ad with a direct call-to-action is a great fit for when the screen is in view while listening on desktop, tablet, or smartphone. For screen-less moments like cooking or working out, use the power of audio to tell a story and create a memorable impression for the listener.

Since it was a sensitive period, we advised advertisers to be considerate of the cultural moment. The streaming generation is especially critical right now, as brands are rushing in to weigh in on the current moment. Being culturally relevant doesn’t just mean addressing the cultural zeitgeist. It’s about tailoring the message to [address] personal as well as cultural moments, that we can identify through audio. We cautioned brands to be careful around using explicit references to COVID-19 including words and phrases such as, “it’s going viral” or “in these uncertain times.”

People were leaning towards audio while social distancing to help fill very specific needs such as, to stay informed, grounded, and occasionally entertained. Brands can play a role in filling those needs by focusing on brand-building messages that capture emotion and nuance. They can bring these messages/stories to life on audio across multiple formats like video, audio, and display. But regardless, they have to be mindful about not adding to the overwhelming news cycle with yet another piece of brand commentary on Covid-19.

Is kids mental health being left behind?

I sent a tweet last week that seemed to hit a chord. It started with a chat in the office about school homework with Sam Hicks and the pressure that builds around doing it, who does it, tuition etc. It is something that is a regular conversation with all parents of kids at a certain age. Parents will pretty much universally agree that as kids they did not have to do as much at a certain age, around 9ish. No one remembers the same level of activity, homework, after school activities, weekend stuff, it’s frenetic for a nine year old. The most important thing for me, it’s seven days a week.

The thing is, it coincides with the sea changes going on in society and in the work places. Just look at the ‘interruption’ to BGT the other night? At our work place and many others over the world companies are working hard to support people who may be suffering with mental health. There are very visible initiatives like Mediacom with Josh pushing the agenda very hard, at Spotify we have Heart and Soul at its core with lots of opportunities for support and to talk openly which some of our team have been doing. It’s all so important that these issues are discussed.

Beyond ‘corporate’ acknowledgement there are smaller initiatives. My leadership team have agreed that we should not be emailing the teams after working hours, at weekends and not have fifty emails waiting for them at 6am Monday. We have been really working on this over time, when my directs are on holiday I have a hard rule that says they go on holiday and switch off. It sends shivers when people say ‘yeah I am off but will be on email.’ Don’t do it, don’t do a poor job of your holiday and a poor job of working and at the end or it all, not properly relax. That’s no use to me. All my directs know how I feel on this and I encourage them to do the same. A break is vital.

So all good, we are on it as adults. We know however that education moves slower than industry, schools can get stuck in old fashioned ruts, they do not adapt fast enough. So here is the thing. Why is it good for us to switch off when the kids are getting homework on Fridays for the weekend, why is it ok for kids to come home and work when we get to take a break in the main, why is it ok for kids to have to work through holidays when we don’t. Have we forgotten that their minds are more fragile than ours, we are setting behaviours, we add to that stress with arguments about how hard they are trying or how well they are doing? Pressure, lack of rest, lack of relax, arguments and more. If we were to set this as our approach to the work environment we would not hold on to a single employee.

The worst of this is that it’s tough to say here is what we do about it..stop doing homework gets reprimand at school and depending on schools will leave kids behind. So it’s open ended but feel like we should keep talking about it and asking schools what they intend to do. Certainly my next parents evening, it will be my first question.