At the start of the spring 2020 semester, Pandora asked two marketing classes in the Sawyer Business School to help them better understand 18- to 24-year olds and their listening habits.
Finding that answer is pretty important to Pandora, the largest streaming music service in the United States. According to market and consumer data expert Statista, Pandora has lost more than 10 million U.S. users since 2018. At the same time, Pandora’s parent company, SiriusXM, has steadily increased its subscribers, a trend dating back to 2011.
A Suffolk marketing research project typically involves framing the client questions, surveying consumers, students digging into that data as a group, crunching the numbers, and then taking clients through all the recommendations in an in-person presentation.
The pandemic changed all that.
Almost overnight, class groups had to start meeting virtually. Finding consumers to talk to became a different (and difficult) process. Presentations were upended. And underneath everything was the drumbeat of COVID.
But in some ways, the pandemic actually made the whole process better, according to Professor Andrew Smith, who says that moving online aided the students with their presentations.
“The students had more opportunity to observe and refine their delivery, something they might not otherwise do if they were practicing and delivering their presentations in a face-to-face environment,” says Smith. “That translated to a higher number of truly engaging, creative, and polished presentations this semester from the students than we have had in the past.”
“COVID changed everything, of course,” echoes Marketing Professor Müjde Yuksel. “But not all in bad ways.”
Some students took the new normal of COVID and incorporated it into their presentation even though that wasn’t part of the assignment. For example, knowing that large gatherings aren’t going to happen any time soon, one group suggested that Pandora sponsor virtual concerts.
“One of the executives seemed intrigued by that idea and even asked the students how it could be successful once in-person concerts come back,” says Yuksel.
Going virtual meant that senior-level executives who normally might not have come to the in-person presentation could attend online. That included people not only from Pandora in California but also SiriusXM in New York, including the head of user experience and product research, the senior director of corporate strategy, and the senior director of brand marketing. Talk about the A-list. But students were not intimidated.
“The students were into it,” says Katie Bessière, head of consumer insights at Pandora. “I was really impressed by how polished and put-together they were presenting from a desktop camera. They had a bunch of great ideas and gave us deeper insights than I expected.”
One of the student suggestions included dialing up Pandora’s social media presence.
“We have a social media presence, of course. But the students were basically saying, ‘You don’t, really,’” says Bessière. “It wasn’t anything that we didn’t already know, but where they took it was really interesting.”
Bessière plans on presenting the students’ ideas across the company as a launching point for further research. And the relationship between Suffolk and SiriusXM continues to rock on: in fall of 2020, marketing classes will commence work on a branding study for the company.