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How to Rock Your Marketing Strategies: Lessons Learned from the Superstars of Rock

Passion, practice, and branding: there's a lot we can learn from rock's top stars

Passion, practice, and branding: there’s a lot we can learn from rock’s top stars

Here’s a mid-week mind-teaser for all the music fans out there—name the first band that leaps to mind:

  • Eternally ebullient, effusively happy, forever young, enthusiastic, and a bit esoteric. And with 378 million in total album sales, this group’s appeal is as timeless as its image
  • Caribbean-blue oceans, beautiful women in grass skirts, palm trees swaying in the breeze—and of course “cheeseburgers.” A $100 million empire that encompasses everything from a clothing line to casinos to a chain of restaurants started with a single song about a favorite cocktail.
  • Evilly good…or just evil? Controversial, intense, and eager to start fires—both literally and figuratively—they thrive on all things theatrical and dark. Four decades after they first stepped on stage, they still averaged 10,000 ticket sales per concert in 2013.
  • Hedonism, with a generous helping of soul mixed in for good measure; the word “strut” has their lead singer’s picture next to it in the dictionary. And with an astonishing 73 albums to their credit, this band has played together consistently for over 50 years

Do you have these rockers firmly in mind? Let’s see how well you did. Here they are in order: ABBA, Jimmy Buffet, KISS, and Rolling Stones.

You probably guessed at least three within seconds, if not all four. That’s how deeply embedded these rockers’ brands are in our hearts and minds. You hear the words “cheeseburger” and “margaritas” in the same sentence, and it doesn’t matter if you’re ordering at a restaurant or planning the menu for an afternoon BBQ, you instantly think “Jimmy Buffet.”

So how have these musicians and bands successfully created a brand that consistently keeps their fans coming back for more?


ABBA is so committed to maintaining their carefully honed

ABBA is still the young, enthusiastic group that bounced along to catchy tunes. The members are in their 60s now; if they reunited, that image of endless youth would be destroyed. ABBA recently revealed that they turned down $1billion to go on a reunion tour.

Case in point: ABBA, the first band on our list, was one of the most famous bands in the world in the 1970s and is still beloved today. When the group released its all-time greatest hits collect “Abba Gold” in 2013, it skyrocketed to the top of sales charts, selling 23 million copies. On the surface, such a feat would seem a minor miracle, especially considering the fact that ABBA hasn’t performed together since December 11, 1982. But in the intervening years, ABBA has kept their youthful vibe firmly entrenched in the social consciousness by re-releasing hits from their heyday, and by their involvement in the popular musical “Mamma Mia,” based on one of their most famous songs.

When establishing a business brand, like a group’s brand, it is vital that early on you decide the style, tone, voice, and personality of your company. McDonalds is perhaps the most famous company brand: they are so committed to the consistency of their brand that whether you are in Calabasas, California or Calais, France, the look and menu of each McDonald’s restaurant is virtually identical.

Another company that has done an outstanding job of branding itself is Brawny paper towels. You can’t think of Brawny without thinking of the handsome, rugged man who graces the plastic wrap around each roll.

Aspirational marketing: Brawny Paper Towels gives the harried mom with a spill-happy toddler the vision of a clean kitchen.

Aspirational marketing: Brawny Paper Towels gives the harried mom with a spill-happy toddler the vision of a clean kitchen.

Consistency means knowing what fans of your brand expect and delivering it time after time. Imagine if the Brawny Man were suddenly replaced by the image of a cute little bunny? The fans of the brand may be put off by the change. Worse yet, the perception of the paper towel itself might change: from strong and able to take on any mess to soft and gentle—not ideal for wiping up spaghetti sauce.

Aspirational Marketing

One key thing that superstar brands accomplish so well is that they market to who people want to be, not necessarily who they are. When you listen to Jimmy Buffett croon about whiling away the days in Margaritaville, you see yourself on that same beach–even if you’re really sitting at your desk late at night paying bills. You’re a rebel at heart, despite the surgery scrubs suit you wear to work each day, so your iPod is filled with classic KISS and Rolling Stones.

Jimmy Buffet has turned the beach bum lifestyle into a multi-million dollar empire

Jimmy Buffet’s music appeals to the “beach bum” in all of us

People want to belong to something: a movement, a group, a belief system. Music helps them do that. Companies can, too. Toyota’s Prius line is marketed to people who want to help the environment—buying a fuel saving car may be their first step. Harley Davidson motorcycles has done a masterful job of turning daytime accountants into weekend warriors.

For your company, its important to differentiate what your brand will accomplish for the customer that others won’t. Once you determine what that is, you can shape your marketing campaign to reflect the ideal that people want to achieve.

Find Something No One Else is Doing and Do it Well

Wicked Lester was just another band until KISS was born! Set your company apart: be different and be noticed!

Wicked Lester was just another band until KISS was born. Set your company apart: be different and be noticed!

Forty years ago, Wicked Lester was just another band among the thousands trying to be heard above the cacophony of the early 70’s New York City rock scene. So how did this group of musicians go from playing in nearly empty bars in 1972 to one of the biggest selling acts in the world just three years later? They found a brilliant way to differentiate themselves. They created a whole new image for themselves, literally. They took on graphic novel-worthy alter egos. They lathered elaborate makeup on their faces, becoming virtually unrecognizable. They took the band name from boring and basic to something that could mean, well, something evil (an acronym for…???). This band is known worldwide to their legions of loyal fans as KISS.

The KISS lesson is a great one to embrace. Rick Otten, founder of ReaderRest Magnetic Eyeglass holder (the product won “Shark Tank in 2013), recognized that the accepted way of keeping eyeglasses close at hand—a cord or chain around the neck, propped up on the top of the head, or vulnerably stored in a shirt pocket—didn’t work for everyone. He created a simple magnetized glasses holder that prevents people from losing their glasses. He didn’t try to make a more “innovative” glasses cord—he solved the problem an entirely different way. In less than two years, his company has had over $7 million in sales.

The key here is to be different, not “better.” Everyone has their own definition of “better.” By being different, you as a marketing expertcan define what is “better,” indeed, what is “best.”

The rock star in all of us

As marketers, there is a lot we can learn from superstar bands to help us launch our companies and brands into the stratosphere. To pirate a song title from KISS, these bands “Sure Know Something” and it’s time for us to learn it, too.



Brought to you by Vertical Marketing Network, a Leading Integrated Marketing Agency.

Screen captures intended as illustrative examples only. Registered trademarks and logos are the property of their respective owners.


7 comments on “How to Rock Your Marketing Strategies: Lessons Learned from the Superstars of Rock

  1. joannemhilton
    May 28, 2014

    Consistency in advertising is a promise that you are always delivering the same brand. It’s your identity. It has to be clear so that people recognize your products easier and always. Whether it’s your rock superstars or some of the products mentioned in the blog here, Starbucks, McDonald’s or Alka-Seltzer, recognizable branding is the key.


  2. Philip
    May 23, 2014

    Outstanding blog and really a good way for all marketers to remember the importance of consistency in brand messaging. This consistency forms the basis of truly effective integrated marketing.


  3. Jeff Courtney
    May 22, 2014

    It’s great to see an article about good ole fashioned branding and marketing!

    As marketers, we have become so enamored with the latest trendy digital innovations that we often lose site of the tried and true fundamentals of marketing and advertising based on simple human nature. Finding our client’s own unique selling points, focusing the brand and messaging on those unique qualities and narrowing the message down to it’s essential ingredients. Then beating that drum consistently and repeatedly at every point of contact with the customer. As old fashioned as it is, this has always been the basis of effective long-term branding and marketing.

    As clients, we can easily slip into what I call, “brand fatigue”. This is where you become so close to the constant day-to-day drumbeat that you are generating about the brand that you start feeling the need to change up the messaging and tinkering with the brand look and feel. (New Coke is the legendary example). I am frequently reminding clients that their customers are rarely suffering from the same overexposure to the brand that they are experiencing. I advise that before we do anything to mess with with the brand awareness that we have all worked so long and hard to build, we need to take a critical look at what is really motivating this change in direction.

    I am reminded that KISS at one point dropped their elaborate costumes and make-up on the misguided assumption that their fans were into the music. It didn’t take long for them to realize that they had dropped the only thing that made their brand unique to their customers!


  4. Tommy Humphreys
    May 21, 2014

    It’s interesting that you bring up Mc Donald’s. I worked in Starbucks New Store Development in the early 2000’s, and I remember that at one point the company hired a VP from McDonalds, who gave a speech about his plans for transforming the way people looked at the brand. I remember him saying “We’re going to make this brand so ubiquitous that just like people say “I’m going to go get a coke” when they mean “I’m going to go get a soda”, they will say “I’m going to go get Starbucks” when they mean “I’m going to go get coffee”.

    At the time (around 2001) it sounded really awkward : “I’m going to go get Starbucks”. But I’ll be darned if they didn’t succeed. I think it is largely through consistency that they did succeed – I’ve never worked at a company before or since with such strict branding requirements, or with such a well-developed “look” and “feel” to the stores and the product. You can go to a Starbucks pretty much anywhere and you know before going in exactly what experience you are going to have. They craft that experience down to the smallest detail.


    • Kim Haman
      May 22, 2014

      Wow! That is a cool story about Starbucks. I’m impressed that they were able to make their vision become a reality. And I agree: Starbuck’s consistency is key. There is a level of comfortable that comes when you know what to expect when you go into a Starbucks.
      Plus, when Starbucks developed its vision, they offered something no other coffee shop at the time offered: a complete “experience”–they set their stores up with comfortable furniture, interesting wall art. Starbucks gave people a place to hang out, or work, or visit with friends, all in a relaxing environment.


  5. Diane
    May 21, 2014

    I completely agree on consistency of messaging and of the overall look. I can think of several brands that do this well. Whether it be a certain look or even a song, several television commercials have you thinking of the brand well before the actual product is shown. I would add a few things here about creating a need where there wasn’t one before – and also how advertising and marketing can increase sales with well thought out strategic campaigns. Alka Seltzer wanted people to use twice as much of their product – so came up with pop,pop/fizz, fizz and people started using two tablets instead of one.


    • Kim Haman
      May 22, 2014

      Yes, Diane! I love that Alka Seltzer example. That is brilliant subliminal advertising. And it’s important to create a “need” as well. Or rather, marketers create a perceived “need” that customers didn’t know they had. For example, a person may need a new car. A car is an important mode of transportation for many people. However, luxury car makers have done a masterful job of expanding that need for transportation into a “need” for status, comfort, and performance.


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This entry was posted on May 21, 2014 by in Uncategorized.

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