Gaining Experience: Pandora Live and Ashley HomeStore Turn on the Sound

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Cover image for  article: Gaining Experience: Pandora Live and Ashley HomeStore Turn on the Sound

Experience marketing is a key tactic these days, especially for marketers seeking to appeal to millennial and Gen Z audiences. Pandora has been an enabler of high-profile experiences via Pandora Live, which offers sponsors ways to deliver customers up close and personal access to high-wattage musicians. After participating as one of a group of advertisers at recent Country music concerts, Ashley HomeStore went the custom route to build out an exclusive experience designed to promote the launch of its new furniture line, "Urbanology."

With Pandora pulling together a concert featuring multi-award-winning artist Ne-Yo, Ashley tricked out Goya Studios in Hollywood with an engaging, hands-on experience for 1,000 fans. The retailer recreated home environments using Urbanology, the new mid-century modern style line that is now "retro-cool" to that target audience. Stationed between fresh donuts in the "kitchen" and Air Guitar challenges in the "den", well-known DJ Jerzy spun songs at the pre-show while influencers such as the Stauffer twins bounced on the bed in the "bedroom" and Bachelorettes and others milled around striking poses with press and fans. (It bears noting that the print and digital collateral for the furniture line, dubbed as city-inspired, is curiously lacking in models of color, but a multi-cultural representation of influencers was present for the live event.)

Senior marketing director Kelly Davis (pictured below right) found some time to speak with me as last-minute touches were set in place — from motion-triggered house plants rigged to play music to an engraving machine customizing cocktail coasters for the guests. ( Note: The $80,000 worth of furniture from the night's display was donated to nonprofit A Sense of Home , which creates homes for youth transitioning out of the foster care system. )

The following is an edited topline of our conversation. Listen here to the quick chat, which describes the brand marketer's goals for the event, how they're approaching the use of sound, and more about a refreshing corporate initiative to aid lower-income families. Also subscribe or listen wherever you get your favorite podcasts: Apple, GooglePodcasts, iHeartRadio, Pandora, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn, and YouTube.

Moss: There's a lot of research about millennials and Gen Z really loving having experiences almost more than stuff, which is underscored in the Pandora For Brands description of live events. Is that how this experience came about?

Davis: It did. We found that we weren't really reaching the younger demographic and so we wanted to branch out a bit, start to build a little bit of brand awareness. We know they're not naturally going into our stores and we want them to touch [and] see the product, have fun, interact with it just like they normally would. So, that's why we started doing these events about two years ago [with] Pandora. And this is our largest one yet.

Moss: And so how did this particular [artist choice] come about? … I understand Pandora offers to tap into their listener data and help ID artists that trend in certain markets.

Davis: We looked into the market demographics, at what everyone's listening to within the Los Angeles area, plus we wanted to make sure that it was going to be a mainstream artist. And Ne-Yo was top of the list.

Moss: Your brochure quotes the CEO of Ashley HomeStore that Urbanology's brand position is "being developed to let creativity run free with thoughtful and surprising combinations of color, texture, style, and history." Does that feel like the music has come to life with Ne-Yo? Does it feel like a reflection of what you're trying to launch?

Davis: It definitely does, and we actually had a one-on-one tour with Ne-Yo earlier today … and he loved it…. This is exactly what he has in his home. In particular, he said he loved more neutral tones.

Moss: I also wanted to ask you when this hits stores, and other things you've done to launch something as big as this whole new brand extension.

Davis: Urbanology officially launches on October 15th nationally in all stores, and it's on our website. We actually started to dip our toe in the water last year with Mane + Mason, which is another lifestyle [product line] that we launched last year in August and did a smaller Pandora event. We went to New York City and did a press event to [give] a sneak peek. And that was really our first… dabble into experience marketing from a product launch perspective.

Moss: Where do you place media for this?

Davis: We leverage a lot of digital [and] we're really starting to make a huge digital shift, which is different from what our company traditionally has been involved in with [on] the television-side of our buy. But we really went in hard with YouTube and have seen a lot of success with it lately, as well as social channels.

Moss: What will you consider a win for this experience marketing concert?

Davis: We want #urbanology to be trending after this event and … we do have a hard goal: 110 million earned media impressions. Again, just how do we get more exposure for our brand…. Awareness is a big goal here. Changing the mindset, that consideration piece with a younger consumer. But at the end of the day, we want them to buy the furniture.

Moss: How else are you using audio, and sonic branding, for example?

Davis: Sonic branding … is something we started to just recently to work on with Steve Keller [of] Pandora. We're really excited to see where that's going to take us as a brand. But streaming audio is a massive part of our overall buy and we've seen a lot of success. We have the ability to measure Pandora streaming audio channels through place and see what our actual incremental lift is through store traffic.

Moss: What about podcasting?

Davis: We're going to do a test as we enter Q4 with some podcasts. We've selected four podcasts that we're going to dabble with and, hopefully, we'll see good success.

Moss: Our last podcast interviewed three female CMOs. How has your path to this career been impacted in one way or the other as a female?

Davis: I would say the furniture industry is traditionally a male-dominant industry. So, seeing more and more females within furniture has been very exciting over the past seven years. The majority of our corporate office are young females now, which is incredible to see. Ashley's extremely passionate about bringing in a younger demographic, a more female demographic, and they definitely give us the ladder to grow.

Moss: Is there any advice that you would give a brand marketer, male or female?

Davis: I would say just make sure you're passionate. We have a motto at Ashley: "Passion, drive, and discipline." That's what we follow every day.

Moss: Is there anything else that is purpose-driven that the company gets behind?

Davis: A lot. [For] our founder, Ron Wanek, and our CEO, Todd Wanek, that's important for them and it's part of our purpose. We say, "We're here to inspire the love of home and enrich the lives of those around us," which goes back to the programs we have, such as Hope to Dream; we're getting ready give our hundred-thousandth bed to a child who does not have one to sleep in.

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