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Think Global, Act Local

July 2019


Article credits
Dominika Mazur
Odd Lyssarides

In the third and final part of our series on designing for different markets, Dominika Mazur and Odd Lyssarides explain how they and their colleagues on the Global Insights Team help Spotify travel all over the world – without getting lost in translation. Enjoy our companion playlist for this article:

As Spotify expands to more markets, there’s a shift that can be seen at every level of the company. Previously, the prevailing mindset was European and US-centric. Most A/B tests were run in the English language, and most personas drawn from the US market. But this has changed significantly. And as part of the dedicated Global Insights Team, we’re on a mission to make Spotify feel local and relevant in every corner of the world.

We start with similarities

Our team brings together user researchers, market researchers, data scientists, and experts in other disciplines to identify growth opportunities and build a better understanding of the new markets we’re entering. Our approach is to start by looking for similarities across these markets, as our colleague Heli Rantavuo mentioned. After all, tastes transcend geographical boundaries.

Yet there are many nuances in music behaviours that stem from cultural variation. Take K-pop fans, for instance. In South Korea and the US, they’re loving the same bands, tunes, and artists, and listening in order to feel a sense of belonging and shared connection with their peers. In the US, however, there’s an additional reason for listening – the enjoyment of discovering and immersing themselves in foreign pop culture.

What’s more, local geography and infrastructure have significant impact on people’s ability to stream music and enjoy a service like Spotify. There are huge variations in the cost of data packages, the speed, and reliability of internet connections and the quality of phones. So we work hard to overcome cross-regional barriers to streaming and help everyone access their music, wherever and whenever they want to.

Different methods, same goal

Since the Global Insights team is cross-disciplinary and method-agnostic, our researchers and data scientists work hand-in-hand to define the burning research questions. Then together, we figure out the best way to answer these questions – whether that’s with an A/B test, a daily diary study, or a cultural probe, in which listeners submit artefacts that represent the meaning of music in their lives. We combine knowledge from disparate sources and come up with stronger conclusions and better product solutions as a result.

Cultural probes with K-pop listeners.

To see how this works in practice, let’s start with some questions.

Interrogating music culture worldwide

How do people discover new music in different parts of the world? What purpose does music fulfil in their daily lives? And how does music discovery differ locally and globally?

When we approach these kinds of questions, we may focus on a specific region – a place where our market fit needs addressing. Alternatively, we may focus on an opportunity that will make an impact in many regions, so that our improvements can easily be rolled out to other parts of the world.

We often start by analysing internal data to understand how our users currently discover music – perhaps through features like Charts, Discover Weekly, or Release Radar. We consider how such features perform in different regions and which currently drive retention and conversion.

When looking at our internal data, there are a few guiding principles to keep in mind. Firstly, there is no such thing as an average user, or an average A/B test result. An experiment which shows positive results on a global level might need to be further segmented in order to apply to individual countries, cultures or communities. And the findings of more locally-based experiments may not scale up successfully to the rest of the world.

Secondly, we always maintain a healthy scepticism of what internal data is telling us. For example, the data gathered since our recent launches in India and the Middle East may not be robust and representative, because we’re only just beginning to grow in those markets.

And finally, we steer away from simply comparing one country to another. It’s always more revealing to take a broader view across multiple regions and consider like-minded groups of listeners, as well as geographically-specific markets.

Tapping into local knowledge

As well as looking at internal data, we collaborate with local Spotify teams to get the all-important context for our findings – for instance, what recent marketing campaigns have been run in the region. We often then conduct user research studies to go deeper into issues that can’t be understood through the analysis of the internal user data alone.

Depending on what we want to discover, we’ll use different research methods – conducting surveys and diary studies or even visiting listeners for conversations in their own homes. We’ll involve our designers, product managers, data scientists, and engineers, so the whole team is fully invested in the project. And we’ll start to identify patterns and similarities with other regions, in case a product solution could have wider relevance and roll-out.

Visits with Spotify users in their homes in Jakarta.

Delving beyond data

One area we’ve been investigating recently is how to minimize the barriers to streaming resulting from high data cost, poor quality cellular networks, or low-end devices. And once again, our research methods are diverse and multi-disciplinary. To understand and segment the audience affected by these constraints, we first look at the types and ages of phones owned by our listeners, the cost of cellular data in relation to their income, and the quality of network connection available to them. We then consider demographics, geography, and behavioural segments as secondary dimensions.

We were surprised and delighted by the colourful phone booths on the Brazilian streets.

Analysis of our internal data shows that retention and engagement with Spotify are lower for listeners on older and less advanced devices. We believe that the technical performance of the app plays a part here. Yet there’s also a rich cognitive and emotional side to the issue of access constraints and the story can’t be fully told with metrics only.

For instance, many listeners in our user research sessions tell us they’re frustrated with the limitations of Lite apps – smaller, faster versions of regular apps – even though they understand these limitations on a rational level. We also observe that curating your music collection on low-end phones with poor data plans is a fragmentary, manual process. Yet our music fans are willing to use complicated workarounds because simple methods like streaming aren’t always reliable.

It’s thanks to our team’s diverse skills that we’re able to capture such subjective stories and consider them alongside metrics to get a full picture of what our users experience. And it’s thanks to our close collaboration with regional offices and local listeners that we’re able to set out findings in context – in a global marketplace, with an ever-changing culture and personality.

Read more from our Global Team in the previous two pieces of this series, “Bringing Spotify to India—and Beyond” and “Designing on the Road.”


Dominika Mazur

Product Insights Manager

Dominika works with the Messaging team at Spotify. She studies how our listeners make decisions and develop habits when using Spotify and how we should talk to our users.

Read More

Odd Lyssarides

Product Analyst

Odd is a data scientist who likes evidence-based design.

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