In the last two decades the music industry has been through radical changes, mainly because of digitalization (Théberge 2015). The number of new music releases has considerably increased due to lower production and distribution costs. This growth has greatly expanded competition in the music market, where sales are more and more concentrated (Aguiar and Waldfogel 2016) and revenues have dropped significantly (IFPI 2019). Therefore, the important question of how artists can break into, and persist, in the music market has become critical in today’s highly competitive context.
One possible avenue for musicians seems to be customer engagement (Vivek et al. 2014) – that is, targeting customers who are deeply immersed in music. Thus, relying on engaged customers could act as an “uncertainty reducer” for musicians releasing new albums.
That said, while the engagement of diehard hip hop fans can explain, for instance, the wildly successful crowdfunding campaign of the hip hop trio De La Soul (Setaro 2016), it cannot explain the fate of Scream, an electropop album by Chris Cornell, lead vocalist for the grunge band Soundgarden (NME 2009), which was roundly rejected by grunge fans. Therefore, it is unclear whether, and under which conditions, customer engagement has a positive impact on the success of new music products.
Using two experiments simulating the launch of a new album by fictitious musicians (manipulating brand and new product innovativeness and measuring engagement with brand genre in Experiment I and engagement with new product genre in Experiment II), we show that while engagement can be a powerful tool for enhancing the commercial performance of a new album, its usefulness is conditional on the fit between the perceived innovativeness of the new product and that of the brand that launches it on the market.
Note that in this article, the term “brand” or “music brand” refers to musicians, whether solo artists (e.g., the rapper Drake) or bands (e.g., the pop rock band Coldplay). It does not refer to music industry-related brands such as labels or venues.
In the marketing literature, customer engagement can be positioned as an extension of relationship marketing, where more attention is given to behaviours that go beyond purchase (Lemon and Verhoef 2016). In contrast to other consumer–brand relationship constructs (such as commitment, trust or attachment), engagement is highly interactive, behavioural and social in nature (Dessart et al. 2016; Hollebeek 2011).
In this study, we follow Vivek et al. (2014) and define customer engagement as the level of a customer’s interactions and connections with a specific music genre, in terms of conscious attention, enthusiastic participation and social connection. We choose to use music genre rather than music brand (i.e., musicians) as the focus of engagement, for both theoretical and managerial reasons.
The goal of this research is to develop and test a conceptual model (Figure 1) to explain why and when customer engagement positively affects the adoption (here, measured as perceived value, purchase, and word-of-mouth [WOM] intentions) of new music products.
First, the model suggests that customer engagement increases the adoption of new music products. Thus, we can expect that an artist with an audience that is highly engaged in his/her genre is more likely to see his/her new products succeed.
Second, we propose that the relationship between customer engagement and new product adoption is moderated by brand and new product innovativeness, defined as the extent to which a brand or new product is perceived by consumers to be innovative, creative, unique and unconventional (Pappu and Quester 2016; Shams et al. 2017). Thus, in our study an innovative brand offers unorthodox and unconventional music, in a new-to-the-market logic, while less innovative musicians offer works that follow established musical codes.
Third, we expect that music brands perceived as more innovative are less vulnerable to lack of innovativeness fit. Since innovative music brands can be expected to attract more innovation-minded consumers, they will be less penalized by their fans in the case of a stylistic change. Thus, the moderating effect of brand and new product innovativeness fit is less important for highly innovative brands than for more conventional ones.
Lastly, we expect that the fit between brand innovativeness and new product innovativeness has a stronger effect on customers engaged with the brand’s genre than on customers engaged with the new product’s genre. In other words, fit is more important for current customers than for potential new ones.
Results and Managerial Insights
Our results suggest that customer engagement has great marketing potential: under the right conditions, it allows artists to significantly increase the success probability of their new products. This aligns with previous research showing that engagement can be used by musicians as a tool to foster customer loyalty and to improve new product performance (see Brodie et al. 2011; Hollebeek 2011). Moreover, our results are in line with the recent craze in both the popular press (Buli 2014) and the music industry for customer engagement. For instance, Next Big Sound, a New York-based firm specializing in online music analytics, uses social media engagement data to predict which new artists are most likely to succeed.
We also show that if customer engagement can be used by musicians to enhance the performance of a new album, its effectiveness is conditional on the fit between the perceived innovativeness of the new product and that of the brand that launches it on the market. Indeed, rather than following their favourite artists wherever they go, engaged consumers have high expectations and appreciate having things stay the same. Brand managers must therefore be aware that although engagement is a good tool for musicians to develop a solid and loyal fan base, it requires them to make artistic concessions. For example, conventional artists with highly engaged fans are denied the opportunity to experiment with more complex music, while innovative brands are encouraged to always create cutting-edge songs.
That said, the results of the two studies do not necessarily prevent musicians from undertaking any creative changes. Indeed, for some musicians a genre change may still be the best marketing choice. This is the case when the loss of a musician’s original fans caused by a stylistic change can be offset by a gain in new admirers, especially when one genre is much more popular than another. Moreover, the results of Experiment II show that while fit is important for current customers, it is not a concern for potential new customers. Therefore, it might be interesting for switching-genres musicians to target consumers engaged in the new genre, to reduce the negative consequences associated with the loss of their previous customers. Thus, when releasing a new album, musicians must first determine whether there is a good fit between this new product and their brand, and then choose which engaged customers to target.
Consequently, the key contribution of this study is not to establish whether engagement is good or bad but, rather, to highlight the importance of considering the dynamic associated with fit and engagement when making artistic and marketing decisions.