Powered by the persona: Pandora at SXSW

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By Doug Zanger | Americas Editor

March 9, 2016 | 4 min read

Pandora’s presence at SXSW has a decidedly human touch. Though the digital audio streaming service relies heavily on technology and, specifically, the Music Genome Project that began in 2000, the idea that people power the service through first-person (plenty of thumbs-up and thumbs-down) and other data will be most present at the “Pandora Powerhouse,” their Austin HQ during SXSW Interactive at The Gatsby. With 80m active listeners per month and 1bn data points each day, including third-party data, the Oakland, California-based company, and official music streaming partner of SXSW Music, is showing how the data and, specifically, more sophisticated targeting capabilities, can be of greater benefit to brands.

The targeting takes the shape of “personas” — by using the data and, ultimately, humanizing it to afford greater clarity and better understanding of audiences. As of now, the company counts over 650 specific audience segments that help brands target audiences better.

“We get all of these signals that our listeners are sending out,” said Susan Panico, VP of B2B marketing. “You can tell a lot about a person from their behavior and lifestyle based on what they're listening to, when they're listening to it, what device they're listening to it on, what time of day, and so we are able to collect all of that rich data on an individual level and at scale at the same time and then develop these personas that advertisers would want to reach.”

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Personas include the young pop and hip-hop loving “College Bro,” the “Progressive Professional,” a more seasoned listened who enjoys an eclectic mix that includes indie and EDM — “Suburban Moms,” “Active Boomers” and more. At SXSW, Pandora is giving festival-goers the chance to experience these personas, by adding interaction in to the mix. Each room at the Pandora Powerhouse will be set up and mirror a persona that people can find on Pandora, allowing for a more immersive experience at the festival.

This is the fifth year that Pandora has sponsored SXSW — they have been an official sponsor of the music side of the festival all five years, but this marks the second year of being involved in the interactive part of the show. It’s a full slate from the 11th to 19th with the “Pandora Powerhouse” focused on interactive and the “Discovery Den” featuring a diverse group of 39 acts across dance, Americana, hip hop/R&B, and rock genres.

“Last year was the first year that we had an official presence at interactive and really bridged that with music — and it was a great year to experiment, have boots on the ground and set up a headquarters on sixth street which is right in the heart of it all,” noted Panico.

In addition to the persona rooms setup at their HQ, Pandora has a full lineup of special events and music featuring top industry luminaries such as Mondelez’s Bonin Bough and Joe Marchese of True(x).

Sunday, March 13th, there will be a special “Love Has No Labels” happy hour with the Ad Council and the Ad Club of NY, celebrating diversity and the well-received campaign done in partnership with R/GA. Last year, Pandora helped scale the campaign with their “Sponsored Listening” product and resulted in a 52 per cent lift in awareness among 18+ and 72 per cent in the coveted millennial (18-24) audience.

“Diversity in general is a really important topic for Pandora,” said Panico. “It all started as a partnership where we help support their campaign because it was something we really felt strongly about. When we were thinking about how we could further create awareness for something that's really important, within an industry, we felt that co-hosting a happy hour at SXSW would be a great way to showcase that initiative.”

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