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It may seem like an idea out of left field, which it is, but there are solid reasons why ExxonMobil and Bandsintown should do a deal to leverage their respective digital ecosystems. It may seem like a weird match. ExxonMobil is a giant oil company. Bandsintown is a digital platform that matches fans with bands and DJs they know or might like.
However, they have elements that make them a good candidate for cross-platform integration. Both companies have invested in building digital ecosystems that could be brought together in interesting ways, which would create value and competitive advantages for both companies in these challenging times.
In this article, I review the recent investments each company has made to grow and extend its platform ecosystems and present ideas to illustrate how greater integration could yield mutual benefits. Three specific ideas for collaboration are 1) reciprocal loyalty programs that embrace artists as a key part of the rewards; 2) Live streams shows on Twitch where advertising dollars are redirected to support fans to support artists by matching tipping; and, 3) a marketing experience collaboration centred on bands visiting 26 gas stations on their tours, which hopefully recommence in 2021.
To show how these ideas would work, let’s start with ExxonMobil. The company has been busy inking deals to bolster its digital platform strategy. Earlier this year, ExxonMobil announced an integration with Echo Auto, Amazon’s Alexa voice control system. Now customers with Alexa-enabled vehicles only have to say, “Alexa, pay for gas” when they pull up to the pump and the transaction will be processed. More recently, the company announced an integration with the Waze navigation platform owned by Google. The integration makes it possible to automatically display a prompt for contactless payment through the Exxon Mobil Rewards+ app when customers fill up. These moves are aimed at improving customer engagement, loyalty, and better position ExxonMobil within rapidly evolving connected car ecosystems. The scale of these initiatives is significant. In the US alone, ExxonMobil operates 11,500 gas stations with an average of over 2 million vehicles filling up every day.
Note that ExxonMobil’s digital deals are not limited to the United States. In China, the company announced an arrangement with Tencent to establish an integrated “supply to business to consumers car care network.” Tencent is China’s second-largest platform company after Alibaba. The joint venture aims to grow the Mobil-branded car care network in China by providing a branded, digitally-enabled car maintenance experience by leverage Tencent’s extensive platform and AI capabilities in the China consumer market.
So, as the world digitizes and the distinction between products and services continues to blur, Exxon is in the game of using digital technologies to create a more seamless experience to steer customers to its service stations, with offers of deals on gas, and other potential inducements.
But digital investments do not guarantee a competitive advantage. Paul Daugherty, the chief technology and innovation officer at Accenture argues that companies now operate in a “post-digital” world. As he explains: “Digital is indeed still important, but now it is simply the price of admission for doing business—it is no longer a differentiation advantage.” For example, all the majors now offer to apps with similar loyalty rewards programs.
So how does a company like Exxon ensure that its digital investments do not just keep up but create real differentiation? Here, is it useful to turn to the work of Joe Pine and Jim Gilmore? They have argued with many cases to back them up that differentiation today requires staging unique and memorable experiences. Indeed, they demonstrate that experiences are the critical link between a company and its customers in an increasingly distracted and time-starved world.
How can a company like Exxon move beyond basic touchless payment and loyalty points to create personal, dramatic, and even transformative experiences?
Hold that thought as we turn to Bandsintown. It is a much younger company founded in 2007 to connect fans with bands and DJs. Since that time, the platform has grown at a brisk pace to become one of the largest musical communities in the world with 500,000 registered artists and over 50 million registered users. The majority of touring artists in the U.S. now use the platform. With that scale, it created an advanced recommendation engine and the ability to send alerts to fans. Before the global pandemic, the platform was sending out a hundred million alerts per month including geo-targeted messaging, which allows artists to target their fans by specific city or region. Most of these alerts (60 per cent) messaged users about artists they may not have been following so it became a valuable way to discover new artists based on their music preferences.
In addition to its discovery function, Bandsintown offers promoters, venues, and labels insights and direct access to concert-goers based on their music taste and location in key markets. Because it collects and aggregates the data, the platform can identify the number of users following a specific artist in certain geographic locations, which can be contacted via Bandsintown’s email marketing tools.
With a central focus on live events, the global pandemic posed a real threat to the company’s business model. Government restriction and outright prohibitions on bars, clubs, and festivals, its function of discovery, matching, and ticketing caused demand to abruptly evaporate. However, within just a few weeks platform made a significant pivot to staging virtual livestream events. March 2020, Bandsintown LIVE was launched on platforms like Amazon’s Twitch. The company’s quick shift amassed more than 11MM unique views in a few weeks. Beginning on March 26, when Bandsintown enabled livestreams, the platform supported 10,336 artists hosting 28,000 livestreams. Special daily programs hosted on Bandsindown’s Twitch channel have garnered emerging artists up to 100,000 views, which is many times more than they would attract in a physical space.
Like ExxonMobil, Bandsintown has also sought out partnerships to strengthen its ecosystem. For example, it recently signed an agreement with Billboard. When a fan goes to a Billboard artist’s page, they see their Bandsintown tour dates embedded, as well as the direct links to purchase tickets. They can also click on a soundtrack widgets, which help fans listen and discover new music. The goal is to enhance music discovery and fan engagement and help artists sell more tickets and merchandise. The agreement also included the establishment of a joint Billboard + Bandsintown Tour Index, which takes advantage of data sharing to produce weekly predictive charts based on the top touring artists trending in cities and around the globe. However, the arrangement and the value creation opportunities are confined to the existing music industry ecosystem.
So, in summary, we find that both Exxon and Bandsintown have made significant investments in digital assets and built capabilities that can personalize matching and other interactions at significant scale.
They also have large user bases, which already likely overlap to a significant extent. It is more than likely that artists and fans that connect via Bandsintown also get gas, oil, and other items at ExxonMobil stations. However, at the same time, the platforms are currently not connected leaving missed opportunities to create value.
What are some of the things that could be achieved via a cross-platform integration? Here are three ideas:
- Artist Loyalty Program
Surveys show that customers often forget they have enrolled in a program, lose track of the points they have accumulated, and, perhaps, worse view the rewards on offer has not very interesting or compelling. An integration between ExxonMobil and Bandsintown could help reduce these risks.
If a deal is struck, one could imagine several mutually beneficial arrangements. At the pump, Exxon Mobil Rewards+ users can currently tap these points at checkout to save money on gas and other eligible purchases. Instead of redeeming points for themselves, Exxon customers could be allowed to gift points to their favorite band or DJ that is part of the Bandsintown platform. With venues closed or highly capacity constrained across the country, artists are now facing challenging economic circumstances. They would likely appreciate the support from fans in the form of gas rewards allocations.
Bandsintown does not have a loyalty points program for fans. However, the platform has set up mechanisms where artists could reward the most engaged fans by allowing them to purchase tickets before everyone else. To ensure this happens, the platform encourages artists to have fans track them to receive pre-sale code announced on social channels. Special promotions could be arranged for fans who were also ExxonMobil Rewards+ members. This would encourage more fans to download and use the ExxonMobil app and become part of its fuel and service ecosystem. Likewise, programs could be run by ExxonMobil that encourage its members to download and become part of the Bandsintown ecosystem.
The base digital infrastructure is already in place. Bandsintown and ExxonMobil have both established digital mobile capabilities that reach millions of users. Both have apps that are available for free on iPhone and Android devices. With some tweaks and some little creative thinking, new network effects can be established and new experiences can be offered that win existing and new customer’s attention and loyalty.
- Livestream brand-fan engagement
Another interesting opportunity involves livestream music. Bandsintown now has a large following on Twitch with significant room to grow. If Exxon wanted to grow its app use among Millennials and Gen Z, it could run adds during Bandsintown’s Twitch streams. However, this approach has the problem of all advertising in that it creates negative network effects that undermine the self-reinforcing effects that platforms seek. Indeed, within Twitch, there is already a mechanism in place to avoid advertising. Fans that buy a subscription automatically avoid ads. Indeed, ad avoidance is touted as one of the key benefits of a Tier 1 subscription. It is also likely that passionate fans of Bandsintown artists are likely to be subscribers and therefore would never see the ads.
There is another way to engage that would create fan favor, higher chances of loyalty and positive network effects. Instead of advertising, marketing dollars could be put to work within the Twitch chat function. Chat interaction is extremely popular for fans to connect with the artist and each other. The chat text and emoji-based function, which Twitch calls “emotes”, not only allows fans to interact with artists and fellow members of the community but also permits monetary transactions through tipping to show their appreciation. To get a sense of the scale of the engagement, the heart emote has been used more than a trillion times on Twitch.
ExxonMobil and Brandsintown could establish an innovative program, where marketing dollars are used to match fan tipping within Twitch. The funds would be released when fans used custom created branded emotes in the live chat. With its granular data, Bandsintown could help make the selection of the bands to engage to meet reaching specific audiences. The program could match fan donations up to a pre-set level. Note that the matching support would be seen by all the participants watching the performance. In this respect, it is different from rewards points gifting idea discussed above.
A collaboration where brands empower fans to help the artists they love or new artists they are just discovering has key benefits:
- Brands are not passive sponsors, they are enabling richer fan interaction
- Brand perception changes by enabling and supporting fan passion
- There is better incentive alignment between artists and brands because the financial support is directed through fan engagement
- New positive network effects create new value for the platforms
This idea would break new ground. Some oil companies have developed social media programs that leverage social media influencers to better reach millennials. However, few brands have tested the full potential of livestream engagement. Bandsintown and ExxonMobil could start with a pilot to test brand fan tipping across several shows to evaluate how it compares in effectiveness against traditional add as well as spending on social media influencers.
- Tour of 26 Gas Stations
The road trip is a quintessential part of being in a band. The lore that surrounds touring has been captured in the movies “Almost Famous” about a teenage journalist writing for Rolling Stone touring with this dream rock band. It is also the basis for many classic hits like “We’re an American Band” by Grand Funk Railroad, “Every Day Is a Winding Road” by Sheryl Crow, and “Road Trippin’” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
To tap into the vibe of the iconic American experience, ExxonMobil and Bandsintown could arrange a tour of 26 gas stations. Why 26 gas stations? It is an arbitrary number but it does have precedent. In 2016, the Swiss group ensemble baBel arranged a road trip that involved performing at 26 gas stations in the US. The project was inspired by the 1962 book by the famous artists and photographer Ed Ruschua titled: Twentysix Gasoline Stations (Cunningham Press, 1962). While the Swiss group is likely too Avant-garde for Exxon, there are plenty of bands active on Bandsintown platform that would offer a great match.
As an inducement, the bands that sign up would win free gas for their summer tour under the banner of getting more artists to more places. In turn, they could hold a meet and greet at gas stations, either in person or virtually. There are now popular apps like Cameo, which let artists send personalized video messages to fans. These could be done from the gas stations. This would involve adding a third party as a plugin. The tour would be a way to get more Bandsintown fans to sign up to the ExxonMobil Rewards+ app and a reason to frequent Exxon stations over rivals. Those that did would be rewarded by being able to redeem their points for concerts and events as well as meet and greet opportunities with their favorite artists.
There is any number of additional cross-marketing arrangements that could be struck. For example, “where to fill up” advertisements could be featured in the Bandsintown app. Special Instagram 26 Gas Station tour campaigns could be developed as could video shorts of the bands getting gas as part of their tour. ExxonMobil could also run video shorts of the bands in the video displays that are now widely deployed at gas stations across the country that help promote shows. Finally, Bandsintown could introduce a loyalty program in which ticket purchases earn gasoline and oil change points with ExxonMobile.
By the summer of 2021, bands will hopefully be able to tour again. Launching a cross-marketing program timed to the return of live events can create new value and engage customers uniquely and authentically.
Most strategies focus on growth within the framework of a single platform. They also tend to see competing via the deployment of touchless payment, voice assistant other technologies as the end rather than the beginning of experience offerings that truly differentiate and inspire. However, we are now at a point in the Experience Economy where it makes sense to explore the potential to integrate platforms. There are now thousands of platforms with advanced digital capabilities that boast large user bases. As this thought experiment shows of an integration between Exxon and Bandsintown, there are many innovative ways platforms can combine forces to create memorable experiences and new value for the linked ecosystem.
Most platform-to-platform integrations remain to be realized. Finding these opportunities requires thinking outside the box and looking for synergies across platforms and broader digital ecosystem. As Accenture has noted, investing in digital alone no longer guarantees a competitive advantage. It is just the cost of admission.
Peter C. Evans is the Managing Partner of the Platform Strategy Institute and the co-founder of the advisory firm Enterprise Sound Strategy.
 Sarah Perez, “’Alexa, pay for gas,’ Command to Work at over 11,500 Exxon and Mobil Stations this Year,” TechCrunch, January 6, 2020. https://techcrunch.com/2020/01/06/alexa-pay-for-gas-command-to-work-at-over-11500-exxon-and-mobil-stations-this-year/
 Isabelle Gustafson, “ExxonMobil Partners with Waze,” CStore Decisions, August 13, 2020. https://cstoredecisions.com/2020/08/13/exxonmobil-partners-with-waze/
 This estimate assumes that an average of 15 cars an hour visit ExxonMobil stations over a 12-hour period across its network of 11,500 stations.
 “ExxonMobil, Tencent and Automotive Aftersales Market Partner to Build Digital Automotive Maintenance Ecosystem in China,” Businesswire, January 21, 2020. https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20200121005619/en/ExxonMobil-Tencent-Automotive-Aftersales-Market-Partner-Build
 A Digital Automotive Maintenance Ecosystem for China, AftermarketNews, January 21, 2020. https://www.aftermarketnews.com/a-digital-automotive-maintenance-ecosystem-for-china/
 Michael Jacobidies, “In the Ecosystem Economy, What’s Your Strategy?” Harvard Business Review, September-October, 2019.
 Paul Daugherty, “The post-digital era is coming: Are you ready?” Accenture, February 12, 2019. https://www.accenture.com/us-en/blogs/technology-innovation/daugherty-digital-transformation
 Joseph B. Pine and James H. Gilmore. The Experience Economy: Competing for Customer Time, Attention, and Money. Harvard Business Press, 2020.
 Steve Baltin, “How Bandsintown Built a Music Community of 50,000,000 Users, Forbes, February 4, 2019. https://www.forbes.com/sites/stevebaltin/2019/02/04/how-bandsintown-built-a-music-community-of-50000000-users/#1d581fa83d03
 Dani Deahl, “Bandsintown adds live stream concert alerts as more musicians head online,” The Verge, March 20, 2020. https://www.theverge.com/2020/3/20/21188393/bandsintown-live-stream-concerts-notifications-twitch-black-coffee-coronavirus
 Peter Evans, Geoffrey Parker, Marshall Van Alstyne, “Pandemic Stress-tests Platform Power,” Medium, July 1, 2020, https://medium.com/mit-initiative-on-the-digital-economy/pandemic-stress-tests-platform-power-7a007719e17b
 “The Truth About Customer Loyalty: The World’s Consumers Reveal What Keeps Them Coming Back,” KPMG, https://assets.kpmg/content/dam/kpmg/xx/pdf/2019/11/customer-loyalty-report.pdf
 Marissa Luck, “Courting Millennials, Shell, Phillips 66 Turn to Social Media Influencers,” Houston Chronicle, September 6, 2019.
 Music for Gas Stations: US Tour 21-29 July 2016. https://www.greensboroprojectspace.com/task/music-for-gas-stations-us-tour-21-to-29-july
 The book is now a collectible and lists on Amazon starting at $3,500. See: https://www.amazon.com/Twentysix-Gasoline-Stations-Edward-Ruscha/dp/B008SFIXIK/
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