Thumbs-Up to Disruptive Brands and Authentic Narratives

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Pandora CMO Simon Fleming-Wood acts on the believe that "the product is the marketing."

Pandora CMO Simon Fleming-Wood's personal mission is to apply technology and branding in innovative ways; in essence, to reinvent product categories. That's not surprising given that he was one of the founders of the groundbreaking Flip Video Camera (for which he shares in nine patents). At Pandora, Fleming-Wood has honored the founding team's original brand narrative by acting on his belief that “the product is the marketing.”

What gets you up in the morning as a marketing executive?

My passion in marketing comes from working on disruptive brands and products that reinvent categories. Pandora is a reinventor of radio. Earlier in my career I was one of the creators of the Flip Video Camera, which absolutely reinvented a category and made people fall in love with video again. There are common themes in both of these stories. One theme involves applying technology and branding thoughtfully to reinvent categories—that's really my passion.

When did you discover this desire?

I was working at a startup called Creative Wonders that made educational software, CD-ROMs. We had the licenses to some well-known television brands, including Sesame Street and Schoolhouse Rock. At the beginning we had a publishing mentality: We'd put out a title, forget about it after a week, and go to work on the next title. I convinced my company to take more of a brand approach by developing systems of products that addressed consumer needs. Rather than publishing standalone titles, we geared groups of titles toward grade levels. We earned $3 million in revenue the year I joined, and we grew that to $40 million after my first year there. I thought, “Oh my God, I can do this.” Our company was acquired by The Learning Company, and I stayed on while running early learning marketing until The Learning Company was acquired by Mattel.

Non-paying Pandora listeners who give a song a thumbs-up—an icon on the platform's digital interface that allows listeners to express how they feel about a song within a “station” mix—are 12% more likely to return to the platform the following month. The figure stimulated the marketing team to begin segmenting listeners based on their degree of loyalty. The team then created the “Now Playing You” campaign that appears to non-paying listeners; it educates them about the benefits of “thumbing” individual songs (more relevant music mixes), which helps to increase return listeners.

Tell me about another formative career experience.

I began my career in packaged goods as a marketer for Clorox. It was an amazing place for a marketer to learn the essential brand-management toolkit. But from a brand innovation perspective, the guardrails were pretty narrow. You can innovate in laundry or you can innovate in salad dressing, which is great and the world needs it, but, ultimately, it wasn't that inspiring to me.

So you headed to Silicon Valley?

After The Learning Company, I joined an Internet company that was purchased by Sega. And then some friends and I started Pure Digital, the company that created Flip. That was a long journey that culminated at Cisco after it acquired our company for $600 million in 2009. We took Flip from nothing to the largest camcorder-maker in the world in a three-year period while displacing Sony, JVC, and other brands that people thought could never be displaced. The way that we did it was by turning upside down what people thought a camcorder should be, not only from the product perspective, but also from the brand perspective.

How did you accomplish that?

We knew that there was this fundamental dissatisfaction with video cameras. Every parent had the same story: They bought a camcorder when they had their first child, they used it a lot, and then they never watched the videos and then the battery died. Now, the camcorder is sitting in the closet with all the tapes that they never watched, and they have no video footage of their second child. Once we understood that, we didn't need to do any more focus groups. We had this theory that if we could greatly simplify the video process and make it effortless, then there was room for a disruptive product there. We deliberately said not only are we going to reinvent this product, but we're also going to reinvent the way a brand talks about being a video camera—right down to the name of Flip, which couldn't have been more different than something like the “Sony XT4/102.” It was all about building a brand that inspired fun and joining a movement.

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