The email I get from Spotify on December 1st is my favorite email of the year: my personal Wrapped playlist.

I doubt I'm alone in this experience. It has become the annual ritual for audiophiles and music lovers the world over and has helped launch Spotify into brand stardom.

It's consumer psychology at its finest. The warm fuzzy feeling we get after opening the email is because it feels so personal (in a good way). It feels like someone took the time to unpack all our listening habits and say to us, "I see you. I listened to what you listened to ..."

Walking through the Wrapped experience.

Once I follow the delightful breadcrumb trail from email to app, here's what I get: The reel starts off with, "If 2021 was a movie, you were the main character." I'm then walked through all my top listens and playlists and artists. I'm told I listened to 30,000 minutes of music and podcasts, which is more than 80% of my fellow Canadian listeners.

 I'm wowed.

Then there's my audio aura - "spooky and mellow".

I'm intrigued. Slightly confused. 


Then I realize. It's a family account, so it's likely that 29,999 minutes of the 30,000 was my 3-year-old listening to Tim Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas album, on repeat, over and over and over again.

Okay, I'm back to being wowed.

The Spotify algorithmic style is perfectly tuned (pardon the pun) to fit neatly into what feels like one of the most user-friendly experiences of any digital product out there today.

It's not just the end-of-year wrapped reel either. Music listening has been totally transformed in the last 10 years, with Spotify leading the charge. Our music listening habits have been altered in the name of convenience and ease, with the annual Unwrapped playlist the pièce de resistance of an already delightful user experience.

But I can't help but wonder: In all that simplicity and ease, are we somehow missing out? Is there something to be said about experiences that are less convenient, slightly more work and tad more effortful?

The move from analog to digital.

On the same day I received the Spotify email, I also purchased a record player.

Unboxing the various pieces and parts, I then spent the better part of an hour wiring the player and getting it set up. Once connected, I set the player down onto the antique credenza, flanked by the two stereo speakers set apart by exactly 6 feet. With everything in its place just so, I flicked the on-switch to set the turntable in its centripetal motion. With surgical precision and the most delicate touch of the finger, I moved the tone arm and eased the needle downwards onto the outside ridge of the spinning record.

Music filled the room. 

It emitted the most perfectly imperfect sound. A crackle here, a touch too fast there, the listening experience felt vastly different than what is normally a convenient single button press on my Spotify app.

Why did I enjoy it so much? After all, record players shouldn't be 'a thing' anymore. And yet they are. Vinyl has been making a comeback in recent years. In 2020, it surpassed annual revenues of CDs for the first time in 34 years. A trend that's continuing in 2021. The number of vinyl LPs sold rose 108% in the first six months of 2021, up from 9.2 million during the same period in 2020.

Among the top sellers are Taylor Swift's "Evermore", Harry Styles' "Fine Line", and Billie Eilish's "When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?". Even the Gen-Zs are on board with the trend, evidence that it's not just a cheugy fad of the Millennial crowd feeling nostalgic about their parents' record collections.

There's a lesson in all this for brands and companies. It's not always about maximizing convenience. Things that are effortful, difficult, or require some work have a place in the customer experience. Remember the following lessons for your brand.

Customers will justify any effort they put in.

When a consumer - a human no less - engages with a brand's product, the perceived effort that's involved can lead to greater liking of that product. Behavioral scientists Michael Norton at Harvard Business School and Dan Ariely at Duke's Fuqua School of Business dubbed this the IKEA Effect. 

It describes how people tend to value an object more if they make it themselves. So, if I build the Billy bookshelf, versus having a Task Rabbit person build it for me, I'm more likely to value it down the line.

Customers will ritualize and savor the experience.

Rituals are behaviors that are scripted, rigid and repetitive - and full of meaning. Several studies in the last decade, including my own research on the psychology of rituals, has found that consumption related experiences tend to be ritualized and thereby improved through savoring and enhanced enjoyment. Smart product design creates the space for rituals to naturally emerge.

Rituals, we know, take up needless amounts of energy and time. Yet despite their superfluousness, they have the power to transform experiences "from the mundane to the profane." Through ritual we create meaning, connection, and we tap into something greater than ourselves. It's like a religious experience.

 Customers are motivated to "put in the work". 

According to Professor Michael Inzlicht at the University of Toronto, effort and work is both valued and valuable. "Vinyl records require more effort to find, preserve, and play. That work and effort add to the enjoyment of the things we consume, and we value things that require a bit of friction."

Such an irrational yearning for work runs evolutionarily deep. Monkeys, rats and even various insects will behave in similar irrational ways. Cognitive dissonance

To wrap up my Unwrapped experience, I'm not saying that Spotify is missing the mark. Nor am I saying that they need to change course for catering to the needs of their listener audience. But for all the digital-forward brands of the world, there's a lesson here hidden in the quirkiness of human behavior: sometimes we like the messy, the inconvenient, the effortful. It reminds us of our humanity.