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A case study analysis.

Every year, since 2016, music lovers around the globe get compelled to share their Spotify listening journey, dished in a beautifully crafted brand experience known as #SpotifyWrapped. As a result, in the days leading up to the December holidays, social media feeds, blogs, and personal photo galleries are stamped with colourful graphics—highlighting what songs, albums, artists, and genres they enjoyed listening to.

This case study explores the key components, psychology, and impact of Spotify Wrapped, shedding light on the behind-the-scenes strategies that contribute to its effectiveness and the challenges faced in maintaining its success.

The 2023 Wrapped Lockup in purple
2023 Wrapped Lockup — Purple | Source: Spotify Media Kit

Let’s get familiar…


Spotify Wrapped is an end-of-year feature that provides Spotify users with insights into their music listening habits for the year. Through dynamic visuals, personalized statistics, and curated playlists, Spotify Wrapped has become an anticipated event, fostering user engagement, brand awareness, and loyalty.

In my unpopular opinion, it is classic user-generated content (UGC) strategy at its finest, enabled by data-driven innovation (DDI) from user-generated data (UGD).

What does it mean?

User-generated data (UGD) is the most common and beneficial way that companies derive data.

In today’s digital ecosystem, consisting of digital markets with information generated as a result of user actions, stored in the form of data; patterns and trends can be analysed and transformed into facts and stories that provide value to organisations and their customers (Saura et al., 2021).

Fergus Bell, in his article titled “Let’s talk about user-generated data”, sheds light on his belief in the impact UGD will have on journalism. He gives an example of a user with a smartphone who goes running and can view their activity via the data provided by the accelerometer and GPS capability of their smart device. He says, “What if journalists were given access to your exercise or movement data and could combine it with the data of 1,000 others? Imagine the kinds of stories we could tell and the interesting ways we could present them.”

So what does user-generated data (UGD) have to do with Spotify Wrapped’s innovative approach? Let’s briefly explore how.

Well, from 2017, the platform began to roll out personalised listening statistics and user-specific interactivities, with added new features like badges awarded to users for achievements in being a ‘Tastemaker’ if their playlists gained followers, or a ‘Pioneer’ if they streamed a song before it hit 50,000 streams, or a ‘Collector’ if they added a certain number of songs to playlists. These features have evolved over the years, showing Spotify’s ability to transcend data-driven innovation through user-generated data to provide more useful stories that resonate with users behaviour and drive directed actions.

The different mobile app screen mockups of the different “Me in 2023” badges for the 2023 Spotify Wrapped—showing badges for ‘Hypnotist’, ‘ Luminary’, ‘Shapeshifter’, and ‘Time Traveler’
Me in 2023 — Share | Source: Spotify Media Kit

User-generated data can help companies create DDI models for better decision-making, and through UGD analysis, Spotify leverages three psychological theories which they adopt in the Wrapped experience. But before we delve into the mental models of why Spotify Wrapped works, let’s take a look at how it works.

Key components of Spotify Wrapped

1. Personalisation

Wrapped leverages the vast amount of user data collected throughout the year to create individualised experiences. By analyzing listening habits, top genres, and favourite tracks, Spotify Wrapped tailors content for each user, resonating on a personal level.

The different mobile app screen mockups of the “My Minutes Listened” data for the 2023 Spotify Wrapped
Minutes Listened — Share | Source: Spotify Media Kit

2. Social Sharing

The integration of social sharing features amplifies the impact of Spotify Wrapped. Users can seamlessly share their music journeys on various social media platforms, creating a viral loop. This social element not only enhances user engagement but also serves as a free marketing tool for Spotify.

The different mobile app screen mockups of the “Summary Share Cards” for the 2023 Spotify Wrapped
Summary Share Cards | Source: Spotify Media Kit

3. Storytelling Through Data

The use of data is transformed into a storytelling medium. By presenting statistics and insights in a narrative format, Spotify Wrapped goes beyond analytics, turning raw data into emotionally resonant stories. This approach contributes to user connection and makes data more digestible, especially with reinforced positivity baked into it.

The different mobile app screen mockups of the “Sound Town” feature for the 2023 Spotify Wrapped
Sound Town | Source: Spotify Media Kit

4. Gamification Elements

Spotify Wrapped introduces gamification elements such as badges, achievements, and rankings. Users are motivated to discover their unique accomplishments, fostering a sense of competition and community engagement. The idea of an archetype is brilliant, like levels in a game. It puts you under an umbrella you can identify with. What’s really fascinating here is how they label your music personality and still manage to make you feel good about it with the right choice of words.

The different mobile app screen mockups showing the interactive/gamified “Me in 2023” for the 2023 Spotify Wrapped—the result reveals the badge of a ‘Cyclops’
Me in 2023 | Source: Spotify Media Kit

Having explored these key components that make Spotify Wrapped so engaging, let’s get a little nerdy and delve into the psychological factors that power its success. Shall we?

The psychology behind ‘Wrapped’

The way Spotify Wrapped introduces and updates aspects of it’s key components yearly, such as product feature additions or deprecations, to enhance your personal experience and tell a deeper story, is impressive. To understand this, let’s consider these theories of user-generated data production in digital markets.

1. Critical-mass theory

They use the critical-mass theory, which posits that, provided there is a sufficiently high number of supporters of an idea, technology, innovation, or social system, the adoption of this idea, technology, etc. will be self-sustaining and will cause its growth. [from Prasarnphanich and Wagner (2009), Peng (2010), Sledgianowski and Kulviwat (2009)] Utilising UGD and dishing it out to users and non-users alike, Spotify pushes personalised narratives for music listeners around the world, evident in the volume of shares of their Wrapped experience, facilitating data sharing between users.

2. Information overload theory

According to the Information overload theory, when a large amount of input into a digital system exceeds its capacity for data processing, the information overload will lead to worse decisions, as the cognitive processing capacity is limited. [from Kaufhold et al. (2020), Ndumu (2019), Saxena and Lamest (2018), Allen and Shoard (2005)] Spotify is aware of this theory and the risk it addresses, and thus employs state-of-the-art storytelling techniques to make UGC concise, emotive and comprehensible

3. Common-ground theory

The common-ground theory argued that the overlap between different opinions and positions on a subject may lead to disagreements. In digital markets, this phenomenon leads to the appearance of large amounts of data with segmented feelings and personalities. [from Keller et al. (2017), Westerman et al. (2014), Schoen et al. (2013), Wohn, Lee, Sung, and Bjornrud (2010)] Spotify has leveraged this theory in their 2023 #SpotifyWrapped by including data categories like ‘Sound Town’ — a new feature that generated the most buzz online in their ‘2023 Wrapped’. It works by matching a listener to a city based on their most streamed artists of the year and how much those artists are streamed in other cities (Time: Spotify Wrapper Sound Towns Explained).

This theory attributed to the Sound Town feature is so powerful that it matches certain personality types to geographically independent communities and creates a sense of belonging based on your listening preferences.

Strategy effectiveness

The way that these data stories are being shared can spark in-person and online conversations and ignite friendships based on individual musical connections. But for some, it’s become a modern-day Scarlet Letter — a public display of the songs and artists we might not be so proud to admit dominated our streaming habits. Others are simply perplexed by the derision they receive—as seen on WashingtonPost: Spotify Wrapped 2023 Sharing. Some people go as far as manipulating their streaming activities on the app to skew the data generated to fit a certain narrative so that they can share it confidently and ‘feel among’ or for fear of being cancelled, like Eddy Dignan. Others get a good laugh by making a brilliant joke out of it, like Aleks did with this tweet:

A screenshot of @aleksliving’s tweet on the X app. His tweet says, “Damn this year’s Figma wrapped goes crazy” and includes images that mimic the 2023 Spotify Wrapped design language but has data of his personal Figma interactions (e.g My Instances Detached are 28,606)
Screenshot of Aleks’ tweet on X

Since Spotify caters to both the consumer and creator economies, the benefits of a user-generated content (UGC) strategy benefit all—from validating audio taste preferences with fans listening stats from creators to opening up a new world of opportunities for creators and consumers to discover new fans and faves, respectively.

The different mobile app screen mockups of the “Spotify For Artist” data for the 2023 Spotify Wrapped
Spotify for Artists| Source: Spotify Media Kit

Spotify Wrapped seems to be doing so well in doubling-down on the effectiveness of its strategies.

1. User Engagement

Spotify Wrapped excels at driving user engagement. The personalisation and storytelling elements create a sense of ownership and nostalgia, prompting users to spend significant time interacting with their Wrapped experiences. This engagement is a testament to the feature’s success.

“Hopefully listeners discover something about their listening that perhaps was a surprise. And that it also inspires them to keep discovering new music.” — Marie Rönn, Global Group Creative Director, Wrapper 2022

2. Brand Loyalty

The emotional resonance created by Spotify Wrapped contributes to increased brand loyalty. Users associate positive emotions with the Spotify brand, making them more likely to remain loyal and continue their subscription.

3. Social Media Amplification

The integration of social sharing features has turned Spotify Wrapped into a social media phenomenon. The virality of users sharing their Wrapped experiences contributes to increased brand visibility and attracts new users.

Impact on market success

Spotify Wrapped has significantly contributed to Spotify’s market success.

User Growth

The virality and appeal of Spotify Wrapped have played a role in attracting new users. The feature serves as an effective marketing tool, showcasing the platform’s capabilities and unique user experiences.

Differentiation in the Market

In a competitive streaming landscape, Spotify Wrapped sets Spotify apart by offering a unique, personalised experience. This differentiation strengthens Spotify’s position in the market, making it not just a music platform but a platform that celebrates individuality.

“Wrapped really credentialed us in the marketplace in terms of marrying data with creativity and delivering it to users in an interesting way. And it gave us permission to think outside the box,” says Louisa Ferguson, Head of Global Marketing Experience.

Business outcomes

The data dive turned cultural phenomenon, in which global listening charts as well as fans’ personal listening trends are unveiled, is as much of a learning experience for the Spotify team as it is for its users. In Spotify’s Q4 2023 performance announcement, we learn that the business delivers strong results, meeting or exceeding all of their KPIs.

An animated gif image showing the growing chart of Spotify Users and Subscribers for the fourth quarter of 2023
Q4 2023 Report — Users & Subscribers | Source: Spotify Newsroom

Let’s play it by the numbers according to the report on the completion of the 9th annual Wrapped Campaign, drawing in more than 225 million MAU:

  • User engagement grew more than 40% Y/Y across 170 markets.
  • Monthly Active Users grew 23% Y/Y to 602 million and 1 million ahead of guidance. Net additions of 28 million represented the second largest Q4 net addition performance in our history.
  • Subscribers grew 15% Y/Y to 236 million. Net additions were 1 million ahead of guidance. Q4 net additions of 10 million contributed to a record full year of net additions of 31 million.
  • Total Revenue grew 16% Y/Y to €3.7 billion.

Challenges Faced

In terms of challenges faced in leveraging UGD for a product like Spotify Wrapped, from an engineering perspective, is to determine how to best collect, process, optimise, and iterate on the massive quantities of data in a compliant and efficient way. In 2020, the power required to deliver Wrapped to all of Spotify’s users clocked in at 844 years of processing time, and in 2019, they processed five times the amount of data compared to 2018, according to Tyson Singer, VP of Engineering at Spotify, in Unwrapping Wrapped 2019. However, beyond processing the data, there are some other challenges to bear in mind.

1. Data Privacy Concerns

As Spotify relies heavily on user data to create personalised experiences, it faces ongoing challenges related to data privacy. Striking a balance between personalisation and addressing privacy concerns remains a delicate task.

2. Seasonal Dependency

Spotify Wrapped is a once-a-year feature, creating the challenge of seasonal dependency. Maintaining user engagement throughout the year, especially during non-Wrapped periods, requires additional strategies to sustain interest.

A desktop web and mobile app screen mockup for the 2019 Spotify Wrapped
2019 Wrapped | Source: Spotify Newsroom

Spotify Wrapped stands as a prime example of a product that goes beyond utility to create an emotional connection with users. Its success lies not only in the technical prowess of data analysis but in the strategic integration of personalisation, storytelling, and social elements. The challenges faced, particularly in data privacy, highlight the importance of navigating ethical considerations in the pursuit of personalised experiences. As Spotify continues to evolve its Wrapped feature, the lessons learned from its success can be applied more broadly to product development, emphasising the power of personalisation, emotional storytelling, and user engagement.

Key takeaways

  • In leveraging user-generated data to drive innovation, it’s paramount to focus on the potential value it provides users.
  • This way, you tap into a personalised approach that invites your users to learn more about themselves, their behaviours, and usage actions while giving them an opportunity to brag about it or improve on it.
  • The “Wrapped” experience is the capstone of an supposedly delightful year for your users. This experience represents a new way of thinking about marketing and product at SaaS companies.

References and further reading:

  1. Jose Ramon Saura, Domingo Ribeiro-Soriano, Daniel Palacios-Marqués, From user-generated data to data-driven innovation: A research agenda to understand user privacy in digital markets, 2021.
  2. Spotify Newsroom — ForTheRecord: Scrolling Through Social Sharing at Spotify With Priscilla Chan and Agnès Steinwall Berman
  3. Spotify Newsroom—ForTheRecord: Marie Rönn, Global Group Creative Director, Works Across Spotify To Bring Wrapped 2022 to Life
  4. Spotify Newsroom—ForTheRecord: Spotify’s Interactive Experiences Create the Magic of Wrapped Year-Round
  5. The HardTimes: Local Man Begins Month-Long Process of Listening to Cooler Music to Achieve Presentable Spotify Wrapped
  6. Spotify Newsroom — ForTheRecord: Global Head of Brand Design Rasmus Wangelin Explains the Creative Behind Spotify 2021 Wrapped
  7. Spotify Newsroom — ForTheRecord: 6 New Features to ‘Unwrap’ in Your Spotify 2020 Wrapped
  8. Spotify Newsroom — ForTheRecord: Spotify Reports Fourth Quarter 2023 Earnings
  9. Spotify Wrapped: a UX review by Rosie Hoggmascall

Why is Spotify Wrapped so popular? was originally published in UX Collective on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.






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