Dynamics of Change

When I listened to the new Green Day album “21st Century Breakdown”, I was blown away by how much Green Day has changed… yet stayed the same.

It is rare for a band, in today’s download world, to create an album that deserves to be listened to from start to finish. The songs weave together to tell a story. Yet on their own, each song stands strong. The band has brilliantly taken their songwriting and storytelling to a new level, while still being true to their punk rock roots.

Change isn’t easy, for bands or their fans. When you press play and hear the new album by your favorite band for the first time, it is easy to be disappointed if the music doesn’t sound like you think it should.

There are some universal dynamics of change.

1. People will always be uncomfortable with change. It makes them ill-at-ease.
2. People often feel alone, like they are the only ones uncomfortable with change.
3. People can only handle so much change at one time, yet when presented with the right amount of change they often find creative ways to deal with it.
4. People will look at the negatives of change first.
5. People are all at different levels of readiness for change.
6. People will always revert back to the old ways – what is comfortable for them.

What can you do to help people react more positively to change?

1. Present change in a positive light to the people who are in charge of making it happen.
2. Ask “What do you like about this idea?” instead of asking “What do you think of this idea?”
3. Follow up. If you don’t follow up, they will revert back to their old ways.
4. REMEMBER – people don’t dislike change itself, they dislike being changed and the feeling of loss of control that goes with it.

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Well Branded Feet


If you were Metallica, and you were going to create a branded line of footwear, what shoe partner would you work with?




Same thing with AC/DC.

A nice pair of $1200 John Lobb’s?

Or maybe a more affordable $500 pair of suede Prada shoes?

The answer, of course, is none of the above.
Converse Shoes is releasing a line of Metallica and AC/DC shoes for the fall of 2009. The AC/DC shoes each profile a different era from the band’s career… as you can see above from the “Highway To Hell” shoe and the “Back in Black” shoe.
Like Mick Fleetwood’s wine, a partnership between Converse and AC/DC and Metallica is perfect brand building.
It helps the bands by providing a unique item to their fans.
It helps Converse by putting their shoes on the feet of their most likely customer base.
Not all partnerships are created equal though. Wrigley gum was pretty happy with having Chris Brown as their pitchman. His hit song “Forever” was actually written as a jingle for them. But when Brown was accused of assaulting girlfriend Rihanna, Wrigley quickly pulled their commercials featuring the singer.
Kellogg’s went through a similar issue with Michael Phelps, when the swimmer was photographed smoking pot. They quickly ended their Frosted Flakes endorsement deal with Phelps because they deemed his conduct “not consistent with the image of Kellogg.”
I don’t see anything like that scaring Converse off. After all, what illegal things could AC/DC and Metallica possibly do that they haven’t already done?
Before you partner with another brand, ask yourself a few key questions:
* What do they stand for? How are their values different from ours?
* Who are their target customers?
* What value do they see in the partnership that you might not?
* What plan do you have in the event a scandal hits their company?
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Making Your Brand More Human

I drive a Jeep. I have, for most of my life, owned one kind of Jeep or another.

It started with a 1979 CJ-5. It was a big, mean, off-road machine.

When our first was born, my wife made me sell the old CJ-5. Apparently 35 inch tires and a soft top wasn’t going to work with a car seat. So we bought a ’94 Cherokee that served us well.

Next was a Jeep Liberty. It was black with bad-ass fog lamps on top that only got used once, when we needed extra light for a street hockey game that extended into the evening.

When we lived in the Caribbean, we went for the classic Wrangler soft-top. I bought it used, and the previous owner of this particular Jeep was fantatical about dolphins. So much so, that she had them painted on the side and the hood. I bought the Jeep thinking I would have the dolphins painted over, but never got around to it. Promise to never use this picture against me… seriously. As a man and a Jeep owner this picture is highly disturbing.

Back on the mainland a few years ago we bought a Jeep Patriot with nice leather heated seats and a sunroof. No sea-dwelling mammals. And we loved it, but it just didn’t feel “Jeep” enough for me.

So now I am driving a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited. Four doors, two tops, and all the off-road capability of the original. Doubtful I’ll ever drive it on anything more challenging than a dirt road, but still good to have.

What’s my point?

The cars we drive say things about our personalities. Seth Godin, in All Marketers Are Liars, would say that the car we drive reinforces the lie we choose to believe about ourselves. Driving a Jeep reminds me that I’m adventurous, take the road less traveled, and don’t want to have myself confined by a roof. I might never actually go off-road in my off-road truck, but I like to think I’m the kind of person who goes off the beaten path.

Music is the same. It helps define you… and your brand.

Do you think Lennon was the true genius behind the Beatles, or was it McCartney?

Are you a Stones person or a Beatles person?

Where were you when you found out Kurt Cobain died? John Lennon? Jimi Hendrix?

Did you go see “Mama Mia” because you wanted to, or because she wanted you to go?

Which early 80′s British band was better: Duran Duran or Iron Maiden?

Does “Seasons In The Sun” make you reflective, or nauseous?

Did you think Alanis Morissette circa 1995 was angry and scorned, or just bitchy and whiny?

Although these questions are personal, it is a very cool exercise to put them to your company or product.

What song would be your brand’s theme song? Who would you get to sing it?

What concert venue would your brand play, Bonnaroo or Radio City Music Hall?

When your brand plays live, do girls flash their breasts or flash their camera phones?

Using these human terms can really help you define your brand.

You won’t ever market yourself in those terms, but by defining your brand in human terms you start to give your brand qualities that people can identify with and relate to.  People don’t bond with corporations or mission statements or companise. We bond with other people, who share similar values and experiences.

Alanis Morissette, Duran Duran, Iron Maiden, Jeep, Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon, Kurt Cobain, Mama Mia, Paul McCartney, Rolling Stones, Seth Godin, The Beatles 191 Comments

Know Your Enemy


I was driving home yesterday evening, widows down, sunglasses on, and the radio cranked. It was a perfect ending to a busy day, and I had found the ideal song to go with it… the new Green Day song “Know Your Enemy”. Nothing says “I’m done with work” like the anarchy of Green Day!

But when you listen to the message, it is hard not to ignore the branding lesson within the lyrics.


“Do you know the enemy?
Do you know your enemy?
Well, gotta know the enemy.”


Without Lex Luther, there is no Superman.
Without David, there is no Goliath.
Without Angels, there are no Demons.

In branding, the same holds true.
Coke needs Pepsi.
Apple needs Microsoft.
The Yankees need the Red Sox.

Our lives are all about overcoming obstacles and challenges. The forces working against us become glue that unites and empowers us.

Having a clear and defined opposition is vital to create an identity for your brand. Everyone on your team needs to know what you stand for, and by virtue of that they need to know what you don’t stand for.

That doesn’t mean you need to embark on a negative marketing blitz. It simply means that in order to clearly define your brand, you need to understand your brand’s values and know what brand stands for a different set of values.

Did you ever think you would be learning a valuable lesson in branding from a punk band that played Woodstock ’94 covered in mud?

Green Day, Woodstock 188 Comments

The Challenge of Changing Minds


Nothing is more challenging than trying to alter people’s deep perceptions of your brand.

In a few months, ask KFC.

They are hell bent on convincing the world to – in their words – “unthink KFC” as they embark on the launch of “Kentucky Grilled Chicken”.

Wow. Asking your customers to “unthink” you doesn’t sound like a very smart marketing strategy.

It reminds me of a posting on this blog a few weeks ago about the rise and fall of Garth Brooks. Short story: Garth Brooks became the #1 country star in the world. He became so popular that he was, essentially, a rock star. His fan base was bigger than country music itself. But being the biggest country star in the world wasn’t enough, so in 1999 he decided to try become a rock star. He recorded an album of pop/rock songs. Predictably, rock fans didn’t get it. To them, Garth Brooks was a country star… and a very good one. And country fans didn’t get it. To them, Garth was a country star… and a traitor for leaving his traditional fan base behind. Both groups didn’t like it, and as a result it was a colossal failure. That year, Garth Brooks said goodbye to his career, never to recover.

KFC is the far-and-away #1 choice in the world for delicious fried chicken. Sure, we all know fried chicken is unhealthy. It may be one of the most unhealthy things you can put in your body. So what? We all put unhealthy things in our body. Some of us avoid fried chicken altogether, but most people are willing to treat themselves to something unhealthy every now and then.

Isn’t the wise branding path for KFC one that reinforces existing perceptions, instead of trying to change them?

“Finger Lickin’ Good” is WAY more powerful than “Unthink KFC”.

Seth Godin wrote about it here. Great brands (“Rock stars” as he called them) settle for a small audience that views them as a rock star, and they then serve those fans very, very, well.

Adadge commented on the KFC launch of grilled chicken, calling it a “Kentucky Fried Fiasco”.

KFC would be so much wiser to acknowledge what they are, celebrate it, and serve their customers very, very, well.

George Costanza learned this lesson the hard way on Seinfeld a few year ago, when he tried to change perceptions of himself at work by coming up with the nickname “T-Bone”. As you can see in the video below, it didn’t work out so well.

Garth Brooks, KFC, Seinfeld, Seth Godin 201 Comments

Three Chords in Thirty Years

To be fair, AC/DC plays more than three chords. But only slightly.

Here’s vintage AC/DC doing “Back in Black” from 1980.

Now, here’s AC/DC from last year singing “Rock and Roll Train”.

Dramatically different songs? Not really.

How about song structure? Pretty similar.

What about the band’s look? Well, Angus is still wearing the school boy outfit. Brian is wearing the same hat. Looks pretty much the same.

By no means am I criticizing AC/DC for sounding a looking the same 30 years later! In fact, quite the opposite is true.

AC/DC sell out massive arenas night after night in large part because they do not violate their brand promise. Almost every song on almost every album will live up to the promise of being fun to listen to, easy to sing along with, and impossible not to turn up nice and loud. That is the AC/DC brand promise. They live up to it in every song and every concert.

So far, they haven’t recorded any songs about political oppression, global warming, or the difficulty a man has when saying “I love you” to a woman. And don’t hold your breath expecting them to.

For branding experts, AC/DC demostrates a critical lesson:

* If you’ve established a brand promise or expectation, you risk everything if you don’t live up to it at all times. Your website, office, brochures, staff, and end product need to communicate that brand promise. Your customer should never see something that isn’t perfectly in-line with their expectations. But…

* That doesn’t mean you can’t evolve! While AC/DC made being consistent into a 30+ year run, other bands have made continually reinventing themselves part of their brand expectation. Madonna is a great example. The Beatles evolved more in eight years together than most bands do in a lifetime. But both Madonna and The Beatles made reinventing themselves part of the customer’s expectation.

* One final note of caution: the only expectation that matters is that of the customer. If they think you are a fun, loud, party band like AC/DC, you’d better live up to that expecation, even if you really see yourself as a romantic singer-songwriter. Once your customer decides what they expect of you, you can either live up to that expectation or start over with a new name and image.

The rather deep concept that you aren’t really in control of who you are is another post altogether… one soon to come!

AC/DC, Madonna, The Beatles 171 Comments

Fleetwood Vine


In the 70′s his band was notorious for consuming all kinds of mind-altering chemicals.

Today, as a refined 61 year-old British gentleman, Mick Fleetwood is now promoting a more dignified substance than fine white powder… fine white (and red) wine.

You can take your pick of wine’s from Mick’s “private cellar” and enjoy a Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, or Pinot Noir. The bottles are available on-line here.

Mick Fleetwood obviously knows his audience well. Thirty-two years ago, when “Rumours” was on top of the charts for the entire year and Mac was playing for 60,000 fans a night, wine would have been the last substance Fleetwood Mac fans would consider consuming. But today the average Fleetwood Mac fan likely uncorks a bottle of wine or two regularly. And they are at an age and stage-of-life where paying $30 for a bottle is no problem, and ordering it on the internet isn’t threatening.

Times change, and audiences and their tastes mature with them. Mick Fleetwood is smart to recognize this and tap into it using his personal brand.

But just because the Fleetwood Mac audience has aged into their 40′s and 50′s doesn’t make the brand extension into wine a great idea. It works because leap from between Fleetwood Mac’s brand values and wine isn’t a long stretch. In my experience, “Dreams” goes well with a Merlot. “Second Hand News” is complimented by a Cabernet Sauvignon. And “Go Your Own Way” is best suited to a Pinot Noir.

Remeber that Van Halen came out around the same time, and I can’t see David Lee Roth promoting a line of wines. Even Deep Purple would have a hard time attaching their name to a deep purple grape drink.

There needs to be a reasonable congruency between the two products for this to be effective.

And who knows, maybe in another 20 years the Mick Fleetwood name will appear on a line of signature motorized wheelchairs.

The branding lesson from Mick Fleetwood’s “Private Cellar” wine collection:

* Research your audience and follow them as their tastes change. While some tastes stay the same, it is easy to fall out-of-touch in today’s fast-moving environment.

* If a product is congruent with your brand, don’t be afraid to put your name on it. But be careful of extending your name too far and attaching it to something that doesn’t reflect your brand values.


Deep Purple, Fleetwood Mac, Mick Fleetdwood, Van Halen 185 Comments

Different Beats Better

Many marketers believe that because their product is better, it will win. All they need to do is tell everyone how much better they are.

So they promote the features of their product that exceed the features of their competitor. They tout that they’re faster, stronger, longer-lasting, better-tasting, and more affordable.
But what they forget is that being better matters very little on the scale. People don’t make purchasing decisions based on what is better. If they did, we would all drive the same car, wear the same jeans, and fly on the same airline.
Back in the early 1970′s, four guys were just another rock band in New York City. The band was Wicked Lester. They wore leather pants, played electric guitars, and loved to turn it up real loud. They sang about sex, partying, and rock ‘n roll.
Hardly unique.

What made these four guys rise above the hundreds of other similar rock bands in NYC in the early 70′s?

Make up. A fire-filled live show. A reputation for doing the unpredictable on stage.

Wicked Lester became KISS, and love ‘em or hate ‘em, there’s no denying that KISS was different.

Were they the absolute best rock band in New York in 1972? Probably not.

But they were the most outrageous.

Nobody else wore comic-book make-up. Few other bands blew up as much pyro. Hardly anyone else besides Gene Simmons was breathing fire and spitting blood on stage!

KISS lost the make-up in the 80′s and 90′s, and gradually lost much of their following too. But today they are back, in full make-up, once again being the outrageous band that millions came to love in the 1970′s.

Being good (or even better) does matter. But being different from your competitor is more important than being better than your competitor.

What makes your product different – not just better, but truly unique?

That difference is your story. Now go and tell it!

KISS, New York, Wicked Lester 182 Comments

Demand + Scarcity = Value


Nintendo gets it.

1. Create demand.
2. Create scarcity.
3. Reap profits.

That is the formula they used to create hype for the Nintendo Wii.

And it is the lesson learned from comparing two legendary classic rock acts: The Who and Led Zeppelin. Both have created amazing catalogs of music that will remain influential for generations to come. Both bands also lost key members around the same time.

Led Zeppelin lost drummer John Bonham in 1980.

The Who lost drummer Keith Moon in 1978.

That’s where their paths diverge.

After losing John Bonham, Led Zeppelin called it quits. They have played together for only two public shows since then. They reunited for Live Aid with Phil Collins on drums. After agreeing that their performance wasn’t up to standards, they refused to let any of the footage be used in the future album and video release of the event. Their next public performance was last December at O2 Arena in London. In between, they played two private shows; the Atlantic Records 40th Anniversary Party and their own Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction.

That’s it.

On the other hand, The Who kept going full steam ahead after Keith Moon died. They replaced him right away, recorded two albums, and then decided to break up. But not before a highly-publicized farewell tour that ended in December 1982 at Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens.

Like Zeppelin, they reunited for a one-time performance at Live Aid in 1985.

Then they got back together in 1988 for a 25th Anniversary “Kids Are All Right” Tour. That was the “new” farewell tour.

Then in 1996, they hit the road again playing songs from “Quadrophenia“.

They had so much fun in ’96 that the following summer they went out on a full-fledged tour across the UK and North America. Pete Townshend announced at that time that he wanted to keep the band active.

And active they were, touring as a five-piece band in 1989 on a full world tour.

During the summer of 2002, The Who planned to go on tour once again. But that spring, bass player John Entwistle was found dead in Las Vegas.

That wasn’t going to stop The Who. They found new bassist Pino Palladino and hit the road for their planned 2002 tour.

After recording their first studio album since 1982, they went back on tour to support it through most of 2006 and 2007.

On one hand, you have to give The Who credit for surviving the death of two members and continuing on through adversity.

But by continuing to go on tour and record new material, The Who have not created any scarcity for their product. When they go out on tour, there isn’t a mad rush to see them anymore. After all, chances are good they’ll go back out on tour again next year. And if you are a hard core fan, is The Who really The Who without Keith Moon and John Entwistle?

Led Zeppelin has brilliantly created scarcity. Their show last year was legendary and fans around the world rushed to pick up tickets, knowing it may be the only chance they ever get to see Led Zeppelin live in concert.

By breaking up when John Bonham died, the band showed a tremendous level of respect to their fans. They recognized they were a team, and the team wasn’t going to be the same without Bonham. In their touching press release in December of 1980, they said “We wish it to be known that the loss of our dear friend, and the deep sense of undivided harmony felt by ourselves and our manager, have led us to decide that we could not continue as we were.”

And last year, when rumors of a Led Zeppelin tour were running wild, Robert Plant put them to rest by stating “The whole idea of being on a cavalcade of merciless repetition is not what it’s all about. However, it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to play together from time to time.”

A Led Zeppelin concert is a scarcity.
A Who concert isn’t.
And therefore the demand for each is very different.

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