Tailoring Communication Through Social Data: Universal Music’s Experiment with the Appreciation Engine

Universal Music Canada is experimenting with big data in its email marketing strategy, incorporating social data to personalize messages to each individual subscriber.

By: Jessica Chambers, MPC 2014

Feature_Universal MusicData was once the realm of computer scientists; however, technology has made data more accessible for marketers looking to better understand and target their brands’ existing audience.

On December 10, I attended the Data Marketing conference in Toronto, thanks to the Ryerson Digital Media Zone. The mission of the conference was to encourage marketers to leverage data to better communicate to their audiences.

One particularly interesting session was entitled “Sparking Creativity with Data,” hosted by digital specialists Thelma Costa and Nicholas Osborne of Universal Music Canada. Costa and Osborne shared with the audience how the interpretation of data has revolutionized their organization’s email marketing strategy.

Case study: Universal Music and social data

Universal Music is interested in determining which artists a user follows on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The company has a partnership with California-based startup The Appreciation Engine, which tracks social behaviour across the web and uses that data to predict the musical preferences of a particular user.

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Universal Music cross-references the data collected by the startup with their own email subscriber lists to create custom email campaigns for each user. The company’s goal is to use the data to recommend new artists, and to strengthen the user’s existing artist relationships.
Costa and Osborne explained that Universal Music wants to give recommendations based on what the user wants to hear, not what music executives want them to hear. The result? Audience engagement levels have increased significantly with these targeted messages.

Three emerging trends in email marketing

This session highlighted three key trends in marketing that will increase in importance in the next few years.

1) Personalization leads to individualism
Personalization is a growing trend in big data and marketing. Communicators no longer have to make educated guesses on what audiences may want to hear—we now have the data to confirm it. The ability to personalize marketing messages also means communicators are no longer reliant on influencers to spread cultural information.

2) Respect for privacy is expected
Universal Music’s experience demonstrates that users are willing to give up some private information if they are given something desirable in return—in this case, musical recommendations. Nevertheless, marketers must always be extremely diligent to respect the privacy of their audience and use personal information wisely.

3) Quality over quantity
Finally, big data has started a movement toward less frequent communications that are of higher quality. While new technologies make it easier to communicate more frequently, communicators risk alienating existing audiences. Universal Music went from daily, generic emails to weekly, curated ones, and ultimately secured a higher return on investment.


Overall, Universal Music’s case study demonstrates that personalization is one way to breathe life into traditional direct marketing campaigns. While email was once a way to communicate quickly to a mass audience, it has now morphed into a tool for offering high quality, curated content to drive audience engagement.

Images: Lensicle, Appreciation Engine, Freepik