Songza: Achieving Competitive Differentiation Based on Customer Expectations

The Challenge: As an online music start up in a market crowded with undifferentiated offerings and several large, well-funded competitors, the challenge for Songza was to quickly understand how consumers defined a competitively differentiating music experience.
When Songza launched the music service last year, generating in-depth feedback regarding consumer’s preferences and expectations for a competitively differentiating music experience was essential. Without them, they could not compete against the established and well-funded market leaders.
To learn these consumer preferences, Songza conducted extensive Voice of Customer (VoC) research. They discovered that customers were looking for something much simpler than what was on the market at that time. According to Elias Roman, CEO and Co-Founder, “They found other [music] services too hard: the enormous selection they offered was lost on them, because they didn't have the time, knowledge, or inclination to navigate it.” (Full disclosure: Songza’s CEO, Elias Roman, is my son)
This discovery directly contradicted an assumption that other music services were based on: customers want infinite choice. VoC insights led the Songza team to set their old assumptions aside. Per Elias, "VoC has done many things for us over the years. Key among them was testing (and disproving) strongly-held but previously un-challenged beliefs that were keeping us from innovating."
In response, Songza launched “Music Concierge”, which provides situationally-appropriate playlists, pre-filtered based on the time of day, day of the week, user device, and observed preferences. Rather than incrementally improving on a service customers didn't want, Songza tripled retention and engagement by trusting, and acting on, customer expectations.
» Aspire to Have a Radical Differentiation
Elias explains the importance of using VoC research to differentiate your offering: “In crowded markets, just getting the basics right doesn’t cut it ... If a customer could say “Oh, this is like Competitor X, but better, it’s a very, very bad marketing idea!"
» Regularly Challenge Your Market Assumptions
Today’s VoC discoveries are next year's “un-challenged beliefs”. Infinite choice in music was what customers wanted in 2005, but careful curation is what they want in 2012―though it may not be what they want in 2013. Conduct VoC research annually to make sure your ideas are in sync with the rapidly changing needs/expectations of your customers and prospects.