What iTunes Shuffle can teach you about bad marketing


What iTunes Shuffle can teach you about bad marketing

What iTunes Shuffle can teach you about bad marketing

Variety is the spice of life and the key to opening your customer’s eyes to all the great things that you do.

Mixing it up.

From the outset, I should say that I know that I am not a typical user.  I understand and appreciate how and why the decisions that the designers made were reached and achieved and that they didn’t have me as either an individual or a category in mind.  But that doesn’t mean that I have no right to be annoyed by the shuffle function on iTunes.

Let me explain…

Whether it is at work or in the office, I don’t use my iPhone for music.  I have the original CD’s (because I am old school but not hipster) and an Android tablet because I can add extra storage for the records that I have digitised.  If I am playing music in the house, it doesn’t come off my phone and I choose whole albums rather than short singles to play.  I use iTunes when I am in the car and because I don’t want to touch my phone while I am driving, my routine is largely set.

  1. Phone in holster
  2. Charge cable connected
  3. Google Maps programmed with my destination
  4. iTunes > Songs > Shuffle all
  5. Drive

As a married father of two girls, I will confess that not all of the music on my phone is necessarily reflective of my taste.  There’s a little too much Taylor Swift and an obligatory copy of “Let It Go” on there and a few more besides, but the vast majority of the 1700 songs are my choice.  They are the songs that I like and I thoroughly enjoy each and every one.


I recently spent a week catching up on some domestic tasks, and, upon being handed a roller, 10l of paint and a clear brief I turned to my iTunes for company as I set about my decorating task.  I hit shuffle and set about my task.  I was a little surprised that, after a couple of hours, I started to hear repeating tracks – but there is 4.5 days worth of music to go at…  it’s a fluke surely?  Going in to the second day of graft, things were starting to sound very samey and by the end of day 3 I had abandoned iTunes and was using the iPlayer Radio App among others for a little bit of company.

I have become convinced that iTunes is looking at the songs that are being played and trying very hard to give me more of the stuff that I like and want to listen to, because that is what I am playing – even when every selection has theoretically been random.  Instead of giving me breadth, it’s an algorithm that is giving more and more of the same.

Interesting, but hardly relevant..?

The fact that on appearances, I have a music collection that is short on eclecticism should not bear any relation to how we behave as marketers.  But in fact, there are many parallels that you can draw.

The boom of big data, profiling, retargeting and social advertising has enabled us to understand exactly who we are targeting and talking to when we publish content and ads.  We can define offers that appeal to every instinct we want our customers to have.  We can operate like snipers, selecting targets and picking them off, almost at will and getting them to convert.

The problem becomes an over-reliance of this sort of hyper-targeting.  By looking at our customers through scopes, we forget to look at the world around them.  We don’t take in to account the environment in which they exist and operate and we don’t encourage them to consider all of the things that we do that they might not have thought of.

There is an argument that we’re becoming socially increasingly parochial.  Our news feeds are full of stories from the brands, correspondents and friends we’ve historically responded to and the effort taken to give us the things that we are told we’ll like is enormous.  We are safe and comfortable and surrounded by things that we like.

Which is why your brand should be taking opportunities to surprise and excite customers.  Show them what they have historically bought and hope that they will have more of the same.  They will respond in very predictable ways.  Inspire them.  Surprise them.  Excite them.  They may just respond in kind.

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