Why I shut off Pandora, It’s probably not why you think.

Pandora works on a freemium model. I get it. It’s a pretty successful model too. Pandora grossed $712 million in 2014 according to their Q4 report. When I first heard of the streaming service I thought it was groundbreaking…and it was at the time. Finding artists based on your musical taste, and streaming those tracks right to you, was a fantastic new technology.

Now, there are at least half a dozen competitors and their moat isn’t as wide as it once was. We all have options like Spotify, Last.FM or any of these. So while they’re pretty successful, they’re going to have to fight to maintain brand dominance.

A lot of branding is common sense, and here’s a perfect example. When a brand loses its moat it has to try harder because it has competition. I’ve said before, in this post and in my book, that being the best is not a good long-term strategy for brand building. Inevitably shine wears off and competitors come in…and that happens at light speed in today’s on-demand world.

So, with competition at an all time high, I was surprised this message popped up on my screen.

Still Listening? message from pandora.com

Still Listening? message from pandora.com

One part condescension, one part insensitivity and one part rudeness made for a cocktail of poor branding. It’s not even subtle. It’s a middle finger up in the air, squarely pointed at the listener (in this case, me).

Here’s what I heard when I read this:

They say: “We pay for the songs we play” – I heard: We’re not some deadbeat pirate like you.

They say: “so we try not to play to an empty room”- I heard: You’re basically wasting our time, and you have nothing to contribute.

They say: “Do a quick activity from our sponsor” – I heard: Get off your lazy ass and do some work like us. It’s pretty menial for all the value we’re offering you.

They say: “and we won’t ask you if you’re listening for the next 4 hours”. – I heard: it’s like getting a short break from your nagging partner…but don’t worry, we’ll come back and bug you soon.

They say: “You will still receive ads during these 4 hours” – I heard: Just to mess with you, we’re still going to peddle. There’s no such thing as a free lunch, buddy.

So guess what I did? Well, you already know the end since I told you up front. But here’s the lesson:

1. Consider your words carefully. There are many ways to say the same thing. 

2. Have it proofread by a professional copywriter to check for tonality and overall “voice”. Subtle tweaks can make a world of difference.

3. Test it with your target audience or existing customers and get their feedback before you go live with copy. Reprints are costly, but losing customers are even costlier.

Following these simple steps will help you build brand champions instead of critical bloggers like me that tune you out. It will win you happy customers (that convert). It will help you endear yourself to your audience. That’s the point of good branding and the ultimate end-game for any company.