How Word-of-Mouth Marketing Drives Music Album Sales

Why Born Sinner outsold Yeezus

June 18th marked a big day for all hip-hop fans as two of its biggest artists were set to release albums on the same day: Kanye West with his sixth studio album, Yeezus, and J. Cole with his second album, Born Sinner. Since Kanye is a well-established artist and J. Cole is a relative up-and-comer, it would be logical to predict that Kanye would sell more albums than Cole. However, predicting album sales is not that simple.
Yeezus vs born sinner music album sales
While critics lauded Yeezus with universal acclaim, by the third week after both albums released, Born Sinner surpassed sales of Yeezus, and was the first to go certified Gold (500,000+ records sold).   Even though Born Sinner only received “generally favorable” reviews  from critics, it was a major hit with hip-hop fans.
Using Crimson Hexagon’s ForSight platform, we examined the social media conversation surrounding both albums in the period before and after their release, in order to understand the way social word-of-mouth drives album sales and why Born Sinner resonated so well with consumers. In today’s environment of media consumption, events and the way they are discussed and handled on social media, including word-of-mouth marketing, can have a significant influence on album sales, which was the case with the simultaneous release of Yeezus and Born Sinner.
Word of mouth opinion of music album pre-release
We analyzed 549,267 relevant posts about Born Sinner and Yeezus a month before the albums released to understand the buzz about each album. Immediately, it is clear to see that Kanye generated more hype for his album with 42% of the conversation focused on those who were excited for Yeezus, compared to 18% for Born Sinner. It also seems clear that more consumers express that they intend to purchase Yeezus, as conversation around purchase intent for Kanye’s album is 10% compared to only 3% for J. Cole’s album. However, analyzing the illegal download intent we can see that just as much of the discussion surrounds consumer’s intent to illegally download Yeezus (9%) as they do to buy it legally, while the disparity is greater for Born Sinner (3% vs. <1%). Diving a bit deeper, perhaps we can try to explain why this is so.
Word of mouth opinion on music album post release
Taking a look at this visualization which breaks down the proportion of conversation for each day we can match significant events related to each album with increases in purchase intent. For example, on June 6th J. Cole hosted a listening session via the Born Sinner phone app, where users in select cities would download the app and be able to listen to the album in full at a designated location. On June 6th, purchase intent jumped to 10%, doubling the conversation from the previous day (5%). The very next day, Born Sinner leaked online and unsurprisingly the intent to illegally download the album increased from less than 1% to 6%. However, purchase intent also doubled from the previous day from 10% to 20%. What could explain this marked increase?

The above tweet from J. Cole himself can possibly shed some light on this. Rather than ignoring the leak, Cole acknowledges it and even goes as far as offering a free stream of the album on his website. Looking at some of the fans reactions to this, it is clear that this tactic worked in Cole’s favor and generated even more loyalty for the artist and most importantly, an increase in purchase intent.

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