Jay Z's Faltering Streaming Service Is a Case Study in Failure-to-Launch Syndrome
On paper, it must have seemed like a dream launch strategy: A stage packed with the world's most famous musicians joining together to sing the praises of the first artist-owned digital music platform, designed to single handedly rescue the music industry.
In real life, though, dreams have a way of turning into nightmares. And that's precisely what happened when Jay Z and a contingent of music industry superstars, including Madonna, Kanye West and Rihanna, got together to launch Tidal, a subscription streaming service touting its higher pay rates for artists.
While the event certainly conferred star power, it was also viewed by many as being a little, well, tone deaf. Fans mocked the event on Twitter, calling it a faux starving artists' campaign. Even fellow musicians scoffed at Jay Z & Co. for failing to spotlight independent and unsigned artists struggling to eke out a living in the music business.
In the months since, Tidal has struggled to respond to critics and find solid footing. The initial burst of bad publicity soon swelled into (ahem!) a tidal wave, with a round of layoffs that included the CEO, revelations that the app had fallen from the iPhone top 700 download chart, leaked -- and possibly fake -- royalty statements, and an epic Twitter rant from Jay Z himself.
Tidal's woes offer an important lesson on launches. More than theatrics, launches are pivotal to a company's long-term success. When done right, they create powerful head winds for a product or brand. However, a failed launch can depress sales, weaken morale and permanently damage a brand.
Here are some important points to remember when developing a product or company launch.
Amplify, don't distort.
One of the reasons the Tidal launch fell flat is that it tried to make itself into a social justice platform when it's actually a commercial venture. Savvy fans and journalists recognized this disconnect and called foul. Paying artists for their intellectual property is a topic worthy of discussion, but it's not the most-pressing issue on most consumers' minds.
Tidal's decision to focus on the artist-owned aspect of the platform glossed over the elements that really make the service special: namely its ability to deliver specialized content not available on competitive platforms like Spotify. This key differentiator is likely to lure more subscribers willing to pay the higher monthly subscription fees, especially when coupled with a promise of better sound quality. Tidal failed to trumpet its value for music fans and instead focused on a self-serving statement about the downsides of the modern day music machine.
Arm yourself with information.
If you don't have key facts and figures, chances are you are not ready for a formal launch. Even the best-planned event, and the most concise message, can't guarantee that there won't be skeptics. Be prepared for hard questions.
Despite positioning his platform as a champion for artists, Jay Z couldn't provide the data and research to show how Tidal compares with other streaming services. If you're not ready to lay out the facts, delay or go with a soft launch. Star power won't outshine a lack of substance.
Choose celebrities carefully.
It's tempting to dial up the biggest celebrity on the planet for your next product or company launch but consider how the person resonates, not just with the target audience but with the ethos of the brand. Choose a spokesperson who complements and enhances your brand, with enough reach and influence to connect with your core constituency. Jay Z got some of the equation right, pulling in artists from across musical genres, but his jet-set team didn't jive with the artists' royalty message.
Like a first date, a launch is your opportunity to make a good first impression. You wouldn't meet your date wearing stained or crumpled clothing, and you shouldn't rush through the process of introducing your brand or product to the world. Take at least two months to plan, prepare and strategize. With a little preparation, you'll be off to a strong start.
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