Visit the ARCHIVE

Live music makes my soul shake. In the last few weeks, I’ve danced my can off at shows by Dan Mangan (pictured), Ron Hawkins & The Do Good Assassins, and David Bazan (formerly known as Pedro the Lion). If you’ve never heard of any of these guys, that’s my point. We’re used to thinking about brands like they’re huge stadium acts – Apple and Nike, the Boss and U2. But most brands are like smaller indie bands: they have a niche following. Every night, they fight to excite their audience. They improvise to survive.

There are few implications here for the lion’s share of brands.

1) Find your fanbase. For most organizations, success does not mean conquering the world. Open your local city paper, and you’ll find countless bands you’ve never heard of. Lots of them are playing sold out shows. Most industries have room for many, many players in the middle of the market. The goal of a strong brand should be to find and engage the right audience, and turn them into life-long fans. When I’m working with an organization, I pay special attention to the impressions and insights of their most passionate customers. It’s worth noting that hardcore fans tend to look surprisingly like their favorite artists. I can’t tell you how many men had beards at the David Bazan show.

2) Absolute consistency is stifling. This is especially true for service-based businesses. Every interaction is a little different. Every salesperson and service rep has a slightly different style. And that’s good – people go to live shows for the flesh-and-blood experience. The goal of brand strategy should be to provide the right balance of consistency and flexibility. The song stays the same – but you should be able to play it very differently depending on the audience, the venue, and the energy in the room.

3) The more you tour, the more money you make. In this day and age, simply getting your music out there isn’t enough. The real money is in touring and merchandise sales. Successful indie bands interact directly with their audience everyday. For brands, this means staying in front of their customers. It means moshing with them via social media. It means giving them opportunities to engage beyond purchase.