Musicians have always conducted themselves as brands. Just look at examples like the Rolling Stones, The Beatles, or even more modern artists like Taylor Swift. Each of these figures have managed their brands differently to find success in their industry. It is our belief that Businesses can examine how artists manage their brands to get ideas and inspiration on how they can manage their own brand community.
The changes that musicians have made to their brands over time vary in their extremity. There are musicians and bands that have slowly evolved, and still managed to keep their brand image the same, retaining their audiences. While others have made significant changes in a short period of time, resulting in the alienation of some of their audience to capture a different audience, and bring them into their community. In this post we’ll examine how some musicians changed their genres during their careers, and what kind of consequences they had to deal with.
Evolution: Taylor Swift:
The prime example from recent history would be Taylor Swift. Taylor Swift announced that she would be switching her style to pop in her new album “1989” after starting out, and finding massive success, as a country artist. She cited wanting to evolve as the primary reason for her switch. Many of Her fans were not pleased with the news, and did not enjoy her music after the genre change. However, the change was extremely well received by her new pop audience that instantly fell in love with what she created.
Why was Taylor Swift successful in her style switch from country to pop?
First off, Taylor Swift did not just make a huge and abrupt change in her style when she released the new album, instead, she tested the waters by having songs on previous albums that were more pop oriented to measure the potential of switching styles. Her older albums performed well, with audiences enjoying both her country themed songs, and her more mainstream pop songs. Taylor essentially ran an A/B test with her previous albums to collect data regarding the potential of a switch to a different style. Moreover, Taylor Swift’s previous album “Red” did not win a Grammy award the year prior, and she believed that a switch to homogenously pop album would allow her to win. (which “1989” actually won!)
Taylor Swift’s move to pop is equivalent to what a brand would do to grab the attention of a new audience while risking the alienation of the current audience. In this specific case, after A/B testing and evaluation, the risks were worth the reward and Taylor Swift was successful in integrating a new audience into her community while losing some of her previous fans.
Consistency: Rolling Stones:
Alternatively, we can look at the Rolling Stones and how they have built themselves as brand over the years to reach legendary levels of success. The Rolling Stones have always stayed true to themselves, and built a huge community around their brand community by giving their audiences what they desired while staying true to themselves. When they debuted, They wanted to be different from what was popular at the time. And over the decades, they continued to provide their brand community with the music they expected, without taking too many chances that could alienate their base.
The Rolling Stones also understood the importance of branding, using imagery to increase their awareness. The iconic Tongue and Lips logo, adopted in 1969, has become one of the most recognized images in rock and roll.
Why were The Rolling Stones successful without changing?
The Rolling Stones became the embodiment of youthful rebellion when they first started out as a band. They embraced the “bad boy” image to stand out from other groups that were popular at the time (like The Beatles). They started off by building a brand around themselves by presenting their values to their audiences through their music, tours, and everything else the rock band was involved in. The Rolling Stones stayed true to their brand, placed the interest of their audiences at the forefront, and building their brand community as they recorded albums and went on world-wide tours.
It is challenging for a brand to build themselves a community like The Rolling Stones have built, but if a brand does, then changes to the brand community will almost never be required, and the brand can keep what they are doing until their community begins to show signs of weakness.
How can you relate this to your business brand?
Like businesses, musicians create their own brands. Their communities don’t follow them just for the music, and in many cases, don’t like every offering over a career. However, they stay loyal becasue of what the brand represents and what they stand for. Businesses growing their brand communities need to remember the same thing. People will remain loyal as long as you continue to represent them and their values.
• Take Nike for example: when the brand’s use of sweatshops and other unethical means of production came to light in the 1990’s, Nike was forced to make huge changes to their business model to keep their community happy. The brand was facing weak demand in 1998 that eventually led them to make changes to their brand community, or risk going bankrupt.
• This showed that consumers do not only buy products for their functionality, but for the values that are associated to them. By updating their practices, Nike upheld the values that their community wanted which has strengthened the brand over time.
So when and why should you make changes to your brand image?
Changing and not changing both come with consequences:
• Some argue, why change when everything is working out well? This means that your brand community will stay consistent and will not have any significant changes over time, which could lead to the loss of some of your audiences to other brands that are newer and more exciting.
• The other side of the argument would be that it is necessary to evolve. Sure, changing your brand image 30+ years ago was not necessary, especially when everything was working out well. But evolving is necessary in today’s brands. It does not really matter what business your brand is involved in, evolving the brand community will almost always lead to a change in the target audience. This is where strategic thinking and planning comes in; are the risks worth the rewards?
What kind of risks are you taking when you try to evolve your brand?
• The biggest risk by far that a brand faces when evolving their brand community to the next level is the alienation of their existing followers. This happens all the time if the changes are not planned properly such as with Shea Moisture. They attempted to reach out to a new audience for their product and had terrible results. They alienated their existing consumers by attempting to reach out to an extremely different audience WITHOUT giving something to their audience as well.
• Another risk that a brand takes when evolving is the risk of having to revert all the changes that they have made. It is expensive to start rebranding or evolving your brand in the first place, so if the changes you make do not bode well, you would have to revert everything back to what it was, resulting in all capital invested to be wasted.
The importance of assessing risk and making the decisions that are right for your brand and brand community can not be underestimated. Do your research, do your planning, and do the work!