In a world where brand loyalty is fleeting, music and musicians seem immune. It’s easy enough to make fun of tweeny-boppers and their Bieber fever (feber?), but the truth is that music – and the musicians and bands who make it – stir a kind of dogged loyalty that most brands would love to have.
“If you look at the top 25 or 50 artists of any kind on almost any social media platform – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter – you see that half are musicians. These are people who are culturally influential, who fans identify with and have a natural desire to follow in a variety of ways.”
That’s Edward Aten, the CEO and founder of Merchbar. And that was the insight that Ed gave his founding team back in 2013 to help solve a big problem for those fans: Buy branded merchandise that they could wear loud and proud as a sign of their undying devotion. But connecting those fans with that merchandise was a lot harder than it sounds, Aten told Karen Webster in this week’s The Matchmaker Is In.
The problem, said Aten, was that but for a handful of top 10 artists in any U.S. market whose stuff could be found in a lot of places – like Walmart, Target or their local fan sites – the commerce channels to connect artists with merchandise to sell and fans who want to buy it were sparse. Even artists with sizeable regional or niche followings had trouble making that connection with their fans outside of the once a year tour that provided access only to a limited selection of mostly logoed T-shirts and hats.
Over the years, Aten noted, social media opened up more possibilities for direct contact, but directly monetizing those channels can be a dicey proposition for artists, since many artists don’t want those social media feeds to be commercial.
Four years and 100,000 items from 3,000 bands later, Merchbar seems to have cracked the code in any number of ways – including landing a partnership with Spotify to enable a more contextual pairing of fans, branded merchandise and now beauty products used by those artists when they’re in the music moment.
So, how did they get there – and where are they going?
Very glad you asked.
Building A Platform For An Unusual User Set
Aten said that he and his team knew their biggest problem to crack in 2013 was getting critical mass. (A true Matchmaker at heart). And that started with getting the value creators – in this case, the musicians – to the platform so their branded merchandise would inspire fans to check them out, and hopefully check out with branded gear in hand.
“We went out and partnered with the major merchandise companies, the independent firms and the record labels because those were the places that had technology and access to the goods we needed to sell,” Aten said, adding that it was the fastest way to get a critical and diverse mass of products onto Merchbar.
That provided Merchbar with products from artists as big and recognizable as The Rolling Stones, as well as the “indiest of the indy players,” and merchandise as diverse as the 2011 tour T-shirts that didn’t sell out or the re-release of the 1973 super tour T-shirts that super collectors are looking for. Both were necessary, he noted, since Merchbar’s goal from day one was to be the one-stop shopping location where fans could browse and buy a variety of their interests and musical passions.
A quick tour of Merchbar’s front page going into holiday 2017 confirms that broad is still the order of the day – consumers can find everything from the 2017 commemorative Kiss-mas pin (for the Kiss army member in your life) to the “Eagles Of Death Metal” Christmas ornament (which is surprisingly red, and not the black we might have otherwise expected a “Death Metal” ornament to be).
Landing A Spot With Spotify
Merchbar, Aten noted, has always been a fan of partnerships, and for good reason: They’ve landed some big ones. In its founding year, Apple featured it on the homepage of its App Store during the holiday season. “That is pretty much the dream come true when you are launching a new digital product,” Aten said.
But in the last year, Merchbar has been working with Spotify, as the two firms share a passion for helping artists of all stripes and types reach fans everywhere in a variety of ways.
Aten explained that ever since the beginning of the iTunes era and the shift in ecosystem power, artists have been keen to explore new and interesting ways to reach fans and generate revenue. It’s an opportunity, he said, that has also been very fragmented in the past.
“And that is putting it diplomatically,” Aten said, adding that the Spotify and Merchbar partnership works because each understands the other’s goals and makes an effort to be mutually supportive of them.”
For Merchbar, that meant creating the experience of having a fan listen to their favorite artist on Spotify and buy their merchandise in a way that feels both instinctive and organic.
The newly announced partnership between Merchbar, Spotify, makeup artist Pat McGrath and musician Maggie Lindemann is an attempt to further extend those contextual commerce boundaries, by moving from merchandise directly connected to the band itself to an exclusive line of cosmetics that allows the shopper to adopt the artist’s “look.”
“The start of the whole thing was with Pat McGrath and Maggie, “Aten said. “Maggie is very influential and has a massive musical following combined with a huge social following. She is one of those next-generation influencers and content creators that people love to follow across platforms.”
As it turns out, Pat and Maggie were mutual fans of each other – and wanted to find a way to both create something together and release it in a uniquely impactful way. Merchbar + Spotify created just such an ideal venue.
And, Aten noted, though the move is new – a day old at the point he spoke to Webster – the effect is notable and immediate: The products, he said, are literally flying off the shelf.
While one might not think Spotify is the ideal context for makeup sales, it turns out that it’s a near ideal place to showcase this out-of-the-box approach to band-adjacent commerce.
The point, Aten told Webster, is connection – and finding the right way to build the right touch points between both sides of the platform throughout the journey, and then building on those points in finding ways to build out other services.
“A one-stop location to learn to look like a rock star and also buy a Kiss-mas ornament – I mean, come on … What customer can pass that up?”