Generic Is Moronic (And Deadly)


I heard a commercial on the radio today. It went something like this:

If you’d like to see your child in a movie or TV show, call us now. A world-famous agent will be in your area this weekend for auditions.

Really? There are companies out there using this kind of generic crap and expecting it to work.

That’s like going to see your favorite rock star in concert in your hometown, and having them shout out things like “It’s great to be here” instead of “It’s great to be here in (your hometown).”

If your favorite rock star fails to mention the city he is playing in, it is for one of two reasons:

a) He doesn’t know.

b) He doesn’t care.

Not knowing is pretty bad, but not caring is even worse.

Pearl Jam played in Halifax, Nova Scotia back in 2005. In a now-legendary local moment, Eddie Vedder asked the audience if someone could pass him a Keith’s beer. That’s like being in Boston and asking for a Sam Adams. Eddie didn’t just say “How are you doing Halifax!” like most rock stars would. He went the extra distance and grabbed onto a powerful local touchstone. His fans ate it up. And he drank it up. You can watch the audience go crazy as Eddie opens his bottle of local brew here.

Meanwhile, this moronic talent agency can’t be bothered to customize their radio commercials for each city in which they air.

Would it be so difficult to cut versions for each city? Even if they were stopping in every major city in North America, it wouldn’t take a tremendous amount of work?

Couldn’t they mention who this “world famous” talent agent is? By being generic, they alert our bullshit detectors and make us doubt that this agent really is world-famous.

It doesn’t take that much work to understand who you are speaking to, and speak to them in a way that matters.

I’ve mentioned it before, but it bears repeating. As Roy H. Williams said about branding, “talk to the dog in the language of the dog about something that matters to the dog.”

Don’t talk to anyone in generic language about something that may or may not matter to anyone.

Order Brand Like A Rock Star now and start learning how to build a better business and make more money using the marketing strategies of rock and roll legends like U2, AC/DC, Grateful Dead, Bob Marley, Eminem, Lady Gaga, Bob Dylan, and Jimmy Buffett.

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Eddie Vedder, Keith's, Pearl Jam, Roy Williams 422 Comments

Evolving Your Brand Consistently


Then they were pioneers of grunge. Twenty years later, Pearl Jam holds a stately place among rock’s elite and their lead singer’s new solo album is a showcase of the ukulele.

Their breakout performance at Woodstock ’94 was a muddy punk rock mess. Seventeen years down the road, and Green Day has had their music adapted for Broadway.

Wisely managing change while maintaining brand consistency is a hallmark of a rock star brand.

Coke’s logo has hardly changed in 100 years, yet Coke is always finding new avenues to promote their brand. They evolve, yet retain their consistency.

Starbucks got a lot of press over their logo update earlier this year, but that was just a subtle evolution. Their consistency remains.

It is an interesting and difficult proposition for any brand: How do you evolve and change with the times, yet never lose the consistency that made you great? Here are three ways to manage that challenge:

1. Don’t change your story, change how you tell it. Whether Red Bull is telling their story at extreme sports arenas, by signing rock bands like AWOL Nation, or by sponsoring wealthy playgrounds like air races, they are telling the same story.

2. When you update your look, retains core elements. Starbucks’ new logo isn’t really all that different than their old logo, just updated. The only people who really got worked up about it were us marketing geeks. Average consumers absorbed the change quickly and seamlessly.

3. Through it all, values don’t change. Apple can evolve from desktops to laptops to phones to tablets, but their brand’s values – sleek, user friendly, cool high tech toys – never change. No matter what Apple does, they continue to sell “cool”, not just gadgets or computers.

Your brand can and should evolve. Every day is a fresh start. But if you ignore change, or fail to manage change it carefully, it could kill you.

Managing change and evolution is the focus of Chapter Two of Brand Like a Rock Star, using U2 and Proctor & Gamble as role models.

Learn from U2 and P&G by pre-ordering the book now.


Apple, Coke, Green Day, Pearl Jam, Proctor and Gamble, Red Bull, Starbucks, U2, Uncategorized 133 Comments

Better To Burn Out, Than To Fade Away

That first product launch is exciting, energizing, and spectacular.  Your enthusiasm is contagious.  You’ve spent your whole life, or at the very least a large part of it, getting ready to launch.

And after a few months, you start to wonder “what next”?

Brands that successfully endure for years and decades think beyond the next six or twelve months.  Change is a part of their corporate culture. They thrive on the uncomfortable feeling that change brings. They always ask “what’s next?”

MySpace started losing groud to Facebook.  What’s next?  Myspace evolved into one of the world’s leading sites for musicians and artists.

Apple spent decades with just 10% of the personal computer market.  What’s next?  Apply grew into the world’s biggest music retailer.

Sure some attempts at evolution fail. McPizza, New Coke, and Star Trek “Nemesis” are three examples.  But those are spectacular failures from brands that today remain incredibly strong in large part because they were willing to risk failure in order to evolve.

The McDonald’s pizza experiment failed miserably.  But their recent growth into healthier foods with a wider variety of menu items has rebounded the company in the past few years.  And their adventure into breakfast food gave them the wildly successful Egg McMuffin.

New Coke was a legendary disaster, yet the Coke brand – despite almost ludicrious line extension – remains the #1 cola brand on the planet.

Star Trek “Nemesis” in 2002 was the lowest-grossing and most poorly reviewed movie in the series.  Yet the Star Trek movie from last spring was a massive hit.  It has already made three times more money than any previous Star Trek movie.  But this one wasn’t like the other Trek movies.  William Shatner wasn’t invited.  Niether was Captain Picard.  And director JJ Abrams took a fresh approach to the story.  That’s a risk that paid off.

Winning brands are willing to fail, because failure means you are doing something, and doing something means you are growing.  If you’re smart and calculated, you’ll make more wise moves than mistakes.  And if you’re really wise, you’ll know when to pull the plug on mistakes and cut your losses.

It is the unwise who become stale because they were afraid of change. Change and evolution is too frightening and uncomfortable for some brands.  They don’t understand the warning from Neil Young in 1979, when his career was fading.  He felt his music was becoming irrelevant, and he wrote song about the dangers of recording the same type of music too much.

“My My, Hey Hey… It’s better to burn out, than to fade away.”

Neil was willing to go down in flames.  He took a risk and recorded a song that took his career into punk and grunge music, and recorded a song that influenced the careers of Pearl Jam, Nirvana, and a subsequent generation of musicians.  It turned his sagging career around.

So if you think it is the right thing to do, and you can do it in the name of evolution and greater success, then go ahead… risk burning out. It sure beats fading into obscurity.

Apple, Coke, Facebook, McDonalds, MySpace, Neil Young, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Star Trek 344 Comments

Fixing What Ain’t Broken

Pearl Jam is back.

“The Fixer” is the new Pearl Jam song, released as a preview of their new album “Backspacer” which will come out later in September.

Reviews of “The Fixer” have been interesting. Some have criticized the song for being too optimistic from a band that traditionally has been somewhat dark and moody in their music. The band has been accused of “working too hard at having fun” on the track.


Pearl Jam has never been that dark and defiant. While they are easily lumped in with other early 90′s grunge acts, the musical truth is that Pearl Jam has equally as much in common with classic rock of the 70′s and raw punk rock as they do the grunge movement.

What I like about “The Fixer” is the honest optimism in the lyric, vocals, and music. There is a real sense of purpose to the entire song. When Eddie Vedder sings “When something’s broke, I want to put a little fixin’ on it… I want to fight to get it back again.” he truly sounds like he means it.

But my opinion of Pearl Jam’s new album isn’t what this blog is about.

Let’s talk about the steps Pearl Jam has taken to market their brand in 2009.

Pearl Jam’s promoting “Backspacer” without the support of a major record label. They’ve negotiated a deal to sell the CD through Target stores. The CD will also be sold through the band’s website and via iTunes.

Fan who buy the traditional CD at Target (versus a downloaded version, legal or otherwise) will have access to a “virtual vault” of eleven Pearl Jam concerts that span the band’s career, two of which they can downloaded. And those buying the album from the band’s official website will receive a version with different packaging, artwork, and liner notes.

And the entire album will be available as a download for the Rock Band video game series.

That’s how you market rock music in 2009.

1. You give fans who pay for the content added value that illegal downloaders won’t get.

2. You recogize the value of putting the music where the fans are. For some reason, Target is a hell of a lot more alt-rock credible than WalMart, where AC/DC and The Eagles sold their latest albums.

3. You allow fans to repurpose your music, in this case by playing it themselves on Rock Band.

4. You give them something true to your brand, yet fresh and exciting. Musically, I think Pearl Jam has done that brilliantly.

Here’s the video for “The Fixer” so you can see and hear them for yourself.

Pearl Jam, Rock Band 119 Comments

Engaging Your Fan Like A Rock Star


Women used to throw their panties at Tom Jones because he engaged them in a meaningful way, right? But there wouldn’t have been quite as much polyester all over the stage of Tom had not connected with them.
Rock stars connect with their fans emotionally, resulting in amazing levels of devotion.
One example is Pearl Jam, who recently reissued their classic album “Ten”. Pearl Jam has done a great job of connecting with their fans in a meaningful way, and I’ve blogged about it in the past. Their innovative opinions on touring, Ticketmaster, fan bootlegs, and the environment helped change the slow-to-adapt music industry as the digital age dawned.

To help promote the reissue of their classic album “Ten”, the band created The idea appears to be to engage fans and get them excited about the reissued tracks.

I give Pearl Jam full credit for attempting to engage their audience.
But I’m a Pearl Jam fan, and I am reasonably computer-savvy. My age and gender puts me pretty much dead-center on the Pearl Jam demographic target. Yet I have to admit that I had no idea what I was supposed to do when I landed on this website and even less of an idea of what the payoff was supposed to be.
Check it out, and let me know if I’m just missing something. Maybe I’m older than I think I am.
The point is that while engaging your customer is important, engaging them in a way they can easily grasp and understand is even more important.
So when you take on an innovative conversation with your customer the way Pearl Jam did with this project, think about a few
things first:
* Make the payoff easy to understand. If I don’t see any immediate benefit, I’m not going to explore the conversation any further.
* Don’t push the technology too far beyond your customer’s level. It is cool to be ahead of the curve, but the moment you get “too cool for the room” you are in danger of losing them quickly.
* Don’t be afraid to try something new! While I might think this particular Pearl Jam venture missed the mark, it is still pretty cool. It got my attention. It made me think. Most of the time, trying something new beats doing nothing at all.
Pearl Jam 112 Comments

Brilliant Branding Lessons From Pearl Jam

Today Pearl Jam reissued their vintage album “Ten”, including remastered songs, unreleased material, a concert DVD, and the album on vinyl.

When you look back at the past two decades, it is hard to fathom that Pearl Jam was initially labeled as an alternative rock sell-out by Kurt Cobain. In the early days of the grunge explosion, Cobain lashed out at Pearl Jam because of their classic rock influences.

Eddie Vedder and Kurt Cobain reconciled before Cobain’s death, and Pearl Jam went on to embody the alternative spirit both on stage and off.

It is pretty easy to see the model of consistency that Pearl Jam has been in terms of music. They have always taken on new directions, but always returned to their core sound. They have never strayed so far from the expectations of their fans that they would risk losing them. But it is Pearl Jam’s off-stage dedication to living up to those expectations that provides brilliant lessons for business.

Being an “alternative” band comes with a heavy label. It is nearly impossible to be alternative while simultaneously making record companies, ticket agencies, venues, merchandisers, and others filthy rich in the process. Pearl Jam nearly broke up under that pressure.

But they didn’t. They lived up to the label. They rejected making Ticketmaster rich. First, they put a cap on ticket prices, and eventually refused to play concerts in venues where Ticketmaster issued tickets. The result was several years in which it was nearly impossible for the band to tour in America, resulting in lower sales of their CD’s. Eventually, after a failed anti-trust lawsuit and under pressure from fans, Pearl Jam returned to playing Ticketmaster venues. Would Pearl Jam have made more money by cooperating with Ticketmaster all along? Absolutely. But standing up for the fans was important to Pearl Jam.

Since long before it was fashionable, Pearl Jam has allowed fans to record their concerts, making their own “official bootlegs”. In 2000, they took that concept a step further and recorded every show on their tour professionally. The plan was to provide them to their fan club members, but their record company contract prevented it. So instead, Pearl Jam took the groundbreaking step of releasing every concert on their tour as a live album. In 2000 and 2001, Pearl Jam released a total of 72 live albums. Would they have made more money releasing one live album? Almost certainly. Yet that commitment to doing right by the fans, even at the band’s expense, that was vital to Pearl Jam.

The band’s debut album “Ten” included the song “Jeremy”, and the video for that song won “Video of the Year” and “Best Group Video” at the MTV Video Awards in 1993. It would be one of the last music videos Pearl Jam would ever make. Despite immense record company pressure to release videos and singles, Pearl Jam refused. The band has also regularly forced their record company to release its albums on vinyl as well as CD, even though the profit margins on the vinyl releases have been non-existent for years. Could Pearl Jam have gotten filthy rich and famous by releasing singles and videos like every other band? Definitely. Yet by not doing the expected and usual, Pearl Jam struck a chord with their fans, who remain with them today. Pearl Jam has managed to get filthy rich their own way.

High concert ticket prices aren’t the only cause that Pearl Jam has supported. Since the beginning they have been socially active, supporting Crohn’s Disease research, pro-choice causes, and the environment. The band spoke out against US President George W. Bush, supported the Green Party, and played charity concerts in support of the victims of Hurricane Katrina, United Nations efforts against world hunger, and the memory of those lost in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Did they need to potentially alienate fans of differing opinions by being vocal in support of causes they believe in? Definitely not. But they chose to, because part of being alternative is speaking out.

Pearl Jam has wisely realized that in order to create a group of passionate fans, you need to get noticed… to stand out… to be different. That might get you in trouble now and then, and it will certainly result in some people not liking you.

But those actions reinforced the image that Pearl Jam was cultivating as a truly alternative band. With every decision they endeared themselves to fans who felt the same way; that record companies and ticket agencies were ripping them off, that big oil companies were polluting the earth, and that children shouldn’t go to bed hungry at night.

Business lessons from Pearl Jam:

1. Exceed the expectations of your customers.
2. Stand up for what you believe in, especially if it gets you noticed.
3. Bravely abandon old-world rules and set your own course.
4. Passionately align yourself with causes that fit your image.
5. Be consistent in everything you do.

Eddie Vedder, Kurt Cobain, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Ticketmaster 700 Comments