Does Your Brand Have Soul?

If you’re passionate about great bands and great brands, please click here to subscribe to Brand Like A Rock Star by email. You can also join the discussion on Facebook.

Now, let’s talk soul.

Listening to the song “Kandi” by One EskimO, a friend of mine noted how much “soul” the song had, and lamented the lack of soul in today’s music.  He commented that even most R&B music today lacks the soul found back in the Motown days.

What is soul?

Soul, in the music sense, is essentially the merging of R&B and Gospel music.  Deep funky grooves combine with heartfelt lyrics to blend together and create an emotional experience for the listener.

Rock star brands also have soul.  Brands with soul do exactly the same thing – they blend elements together to create an emotional experience for the consumer.  From emotional experiences come powerful brands with intense loyalty.

How can your brand have more soul?

1. Be human.  Brand strategist Bernard Leibov noted that “it takes a soul to touch another soul”.  Exposing your faults and imperfections is a great start, since human beings are inherently imperfect creatures. You can also gain trust by recognizing the flaws in your product category, like certain airlines have done.  Be honest and human, and you’ll begin to build trust.

2. Communicate.  Since we started drawing on caves we have told each other stories.  We communicate.  Your customers shouldn’t have to endure automated systems to communicate with you.  It should be easy and painless, like leaving a Twitter message for Frank at Comcast.

3. Act.  Communicating is great, but acting on that communication is even better.  It doesn’t take much to act, even saying “I understand” or “we’re working on it” is a start, and fixing a problem is even better.

4. Be universal.  Soul songs touch us because the are universal emotions.  We all feel love, pain, loneliness, and hurt.  When your brand stops talking about itself and starts talking about universal emotions, it develops soul.   ”Free parking” is not a universal emotion.  Neither is “our people make the difference”.

5. Be soft.  Friends don’t give friends the hard sell.  Friends refer.  Friends share stories.  Talk to your customers like they are your friends, and they just might actually end up being your friends.  This cartoon from the brilliant mind of Hugh McLeod says it all.

Here’s the song with soul… “Kandi” by One EskimO.

Hugh MacLeod, One EskimO 116 Comments

Johnny Cash and Old Spice: Reviving A Brand

If you’re passionate about great bands and great brands, please click here to subscribe to Brand Like A Rock Star by email. You can also join the discussion on Facebook.

You wouldn’t have caught me dead wearing Old Spice when I was coming of age in the 1980′s.  Old Spice was, first of all, “old” simply by name.  Dad wore it.  Today, every cool kid is wearing it.

Likewise with Johnny Cash.  Dad listened to the “man in black”, but nobody was playing his music on their Sony Walkman.  Today, the late Johnny Cash is permanently cool and genuinely missed.

Few musical acts have made a comeback as astonishing and deserving as the one Johnny Cash mounted in the five years before his death. He went from being a forgotten-about archive from the Hall of Fame into a six-time nominee at the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards.

Few brands have staged a comeback as noteworthy as Old Spice.  It went from being a low-value brand from the past into one of the world’s leading men’s grooming products in an exceptionally short period of time.

Why do some brands fade away and others come roaring back?  What do the successful bands and brands that come back to life have in common?

1. Change Your Message

Old Spice changed their marketing message.  They brilliantly adapted their message to the self-deprecating, tongue-in-cheek tone of today’s youth.  Their commercials began to spread virally on the internet spawning websites dedicated entirely to Old Spice commercials.

Johnny Cash changed his message too.  Instead of recording country or gospel songs, he recorded songs originally by hard rock bands like Nine Inch Nails, Soundgarden, U2, Tom Petty, and Danzig.  His series of American Recordings also included his own songs, but the albums focused on speaking the language of the youth of the day.

2. Change Your Partner

Old Spice collaborated with advertising agency Wieden and Kennedy to create advertising that was edgy and in touch with young consumers.  Wieden and Kennedy is best known for their work with Nike, and they’ve also developed many cutting-edge campaigns for Coke, ESPN, and Miller beer.

Johnny Cash collaborated with Rick Rubin to create music that was edgy and in touch with young consumers.  Rick Rubin is a producer famous for starting Def Jam records and working with performers like Beastie Boys, Run DMC, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Metallica.

3. Don’t Give Up

Rebuilding a damaged for forgotten brand is not a quick fix.

Old Spice began their turnaround om 1990 when it was purchased by Proctor and Gamble.  In 1992 they updated the logo and color scheme.  Over the next 15 years they released body washes, body sprays, deoderant sticks, and shaving products. When the new Old Spice became popular, they rereleased the original blend with the slogan “If your grandfather hadn’t worn it, you wouldn’t exist.”

Johnny Cash began working with Rick Rubin in 1994, and won a Grammy for Best Folk Album for “American Recordings”.   It met with plenty of critical acclaim, but it was the subsequent volumes, particular volume IV of the series, that truly cemented Cash as a contemporary icon.  His 2003 version of Nine Inch Nails “Hurt” remains a cross-generational classic.

Here are two videos that illustrate the brands post-turnaround.  The very emotional “Hurt” by Johnny Cash can be viewed here.  Below is the phenomenal “Man Your Man Could Smell Like” from Old Spice.

Beastie Boys, Danzig, Johnny Cash, Metallica, MTV, Nine Inch Nails, Old Spice, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rick Rubin, Run-DMC, Soundgarden, Tom Petty, U2 1,790 Comments

What Your Brand Can Learn From Bob Dylan

If you’re passionate about great bands and great brands, please click here to subscribe to Brand Like A Rock Star by email. You can also join the discussion on Facebook.

First, a huge thank you to everyone who has downloaded and shared my new e-book “Three Chords in Thirty Years: How AC/DC Built The Model For Brand Consistency”.   Thank you!!!! Response has been amazing and I am honored.  Please share it with others who are passionate about how great rock ‘n roll and building rock star brands.  If you haven’t already done so, you can grab a copy of the free e-book right here.


You either love him or hate him.  There is very little middle ground when it comes to Bob Dylan.

Even Dylan himself has admitted over the years that he’s more than a little perplexed about how he became a rock star.  He is, in the technical sense, a poor singer.  He wouldn’t have lasted very long on American Idol, yet he is one of the greatest rock stars in history!

How can your brand can be stronger by taking a few lessons from the career of Bob Dylan?

1. Sing anthems, not songs.  “The Times They Are A-Changing” certainly is an anthem.  So is “Blowing In The Wind” and “Hurricane” and “Like A Rolling Stone”.  Anthems are songs that – figuratively – make you stand up, remove your hat, and pay attention.

2. Embrace social change.  Dylan has been brilliant at recognizing movements and tapping into them.  He has done it honestly and without an overt interest in financial gain from them.  Women’s rights, racial equality, the war in Vietnam… Bob Dylan has embraced social change.

3. Create your own mountain.  Becoming a rock star brand is going to be tough, but it is going to be nearly impossible if you set out to conquer someone else’s mountain.  If your brand is going to take on Crest, you are in for a long battle with Proctor & Gamble.  Bob Dylan didn’t try become the next Elvis Presley.  Instead, he became the only and the very best Bob Dylan.

4. Sing from the heart.  Dylan has always recorded songs from his heart, or songs written by others that spoke to his heart.  It takes great courage to put yourself on the line like that, but that’s what great artists do.  Putting your personal feelings, fears, and opinions out in public is dangerous, because inevitably someone will dislike your feelings, fears, and opinions.  But while they may alientate some people, they will be strongly embraced by many others.  Those are your fans. Forget about everybody else.

5. Forget about the money.  Bob Dylan has never made music explicitly for profit.  Even when he was a rising performer on the folk scene at age 20, Dylan said “I just want to keep on singing and writing songs like I am doing now. I just want to get along. I don’t think about making a million dollars. If I had a lot of money what would I do?”   When you stop trying to make money and please the masses, you give yourself the chance to create art that will truly make you rich.

Bob Dylan 987 Comments

Rocking The Great Wall

If you’re passionate about great bands and great brands, please click here to subscribe to Brand Like A Rock Star by email. You can also join the discussion on Facebook.

One trait of rock star brands is finding new territory to own.

Pepsi shocked the cola wars in the 1972 when they became the first foreign product to be legally marketed in the USSR.  They did well in Russia until the Cold War ended end the game changed.

Chrysler was the first North American manufacturer to build minivans, and for two decades retained market leadership with their Dodge Caravan.

A relatively unknown band from small town Ontario is doing exactly that, becoming legitimate rock stars in China, where passion for Western brands is immense and access to them is severely limited.

Hollerado hasn’t just toured in China, they’ve made opening up this new territory a centerpiece to their business plan.  Their website ( exists in Chinese (  They’ve turned their tour of China into a pilot for a  travel TV show that you can watch on their website.  And in a stroke of simple marketing brilliance, they’ve recorded two songs entirely in Mandarin.

The People’s Republic just happens to be the largest country in the world, with 1.3 billion people and 19% of the world’s population.  Yet their exposure to Western rock music isn’t deep.  When Hollerado toured China, they compared it to what North America was like in the 1950′s as a generation of young people discovered an entirely new and controversial kind of music.

That’s finding new territory, and staking a solid claim to it.

Your brands new territory doesn’t have to involve a transoceanic flight.  Finding new territory means exploring new ways to tell your story to a new group of people who are eager to hear it.

For example, a laundry and dry cleaning business might consider marketing to athletes for clean their sports equipment.  It takes special skill and equipment to wash football gear and hockey equipment.  That’s opening up new territory.

It could be as simple as a local pizza place marketing to corporate meetings during the day, when demand for their delivery is extremely low.  That’s opening up new territory.

While rock star brands always remain focused on their core business, opening up new territories that never compromise the core values of the brand is brilliant.

The UK has recognized the demand and recently organized a mission to bring rock bands to China.  The British Council’s BritPop brought two acts to the country for shows in Shanghai and Beijing.

China, Hollerado 110 Comments

The Importance of Being First

If you’re passionate about great bands and great brands, please click here to subscribe to Brand Like A Rock Star by email. You can also join the discussion on Facebook.


Tonight I became someone I never thought I would be.  I was the old guy at the back of the stadium watching my kids groove to a band that has it’s greatest appeal to a generation younger than me.

I took my two boys and a friend of theirs to see Canadian punk act Billy Talent.  No question - this band rocks.  They are tight and powerful and sound great.  You can hear shades of The Sex Pistols and Ramones and Nirvana all mixed in with a fresh approach.

As we were leaving the show, my son’s friend thanked me for bringing him and said “that was so cool… my first concert.”

Remember your first time?

The first time the lights dimmed, the crowd roared, and a power chord shook the rafters?

The feeling of uncertainty and excitment and nervousness over what was about to happen?

The awe-inspiring sense that you were in the same room as your idol?

No matter how legendary or how much of passing fad your first concert was, you always hold a special place in your heart for the band.  I have a friend who sheepishly admits that she loves The Bay City Rollers because that was her first show.  Another friend always inspires jealousy in me when he brags about seeing a little-known reggae singer named Bob Marley at his first concert.

Mine?  It was a Canadian band from the 80′s called Platinum Blonde. A few weeks ago I saw them perform a reunion show and it was like that magical first concert all over again.

There’s something special about being first.

Brands that are first often win the long-term battles.  Ries & Trout spent a lot of time discussing the idea of being first in a product category as key to a brand’s chances of success.

Coke may be the #1 cola overall, but Pepsi dominates many regions where it was first, such as the Caribbean and Canada’s east coast provinces.

Sony created the first Walkman, and for the better part of two decades they owned the market for portable personal audio players… until Apple came along.

When you are launching a new brand, the fastest road to success is to find a new product category – one where there is nobody to compete with you – and claim the territory.

Being first is pretty powerful.

What was your first concert?  Does the band hold a special place in your heart to this day?

Apple, Bay City Rollers, Billy Talent, Bob Marley, Coke, Pepsi, Platinum Blonde, Sony 210 Comments

Building A Tribe With Jack Johnson

If you’re passionate about great bands and great brands, please click here to subscribe to Brand Like A Rock Star by email. You can also join the discussion on Facebook.


So many brands do so many cool things, and then they are forgotten.  With a focus on the future, we often forget to remind people of what’s we’ve accomplished in the past.

Brands that build tribes know better.  Jack Johnson is a brand focused on building a tribe, and a big part of building a tribe is about sharing your story and celebrating your accomplishments together.

Jack has a new album and is set to head out on tour this summer in Europe and North America.  While it would be easy for Jack Johnson to be focused entirely on the new album, single, and tour, he never forgets to remind people of what he has done in the past.

Being environmentally aware, Jack knows he can never fail to be accountable to his fans.  His website includes a link to a report card from his 2008 tour that details all of the great causes that were supported by his tour.

There is a section on his website dedicated to profiling how his record company, Brushfire Records, is a leader in environmental responsibility.

The “offset report” details the efforts taken to minimize the environmental impact of the tour. 

And the website also includes a featured community group section that rotates between various non-profit groups that do positive work in their communities.

It is all there, front and center, on his website.  It isn’t buried.  This stuff takes up every bit as much space as the promotional material for his new album. 

Why bother?

Because Jack Johnson realizes that promoting his brand is just as important as promoting his new project.  He is building fans for the long-term, people who buy into what he stands for and not just his new hit song.  Jack Johnson is building a tribe around his brand.

Tribes engage people and build communities.  Brands that build tribes are hard to beat.

How does a brand go about building a tribe… a cult brand?

1. Share stories - Use stories to strengthen the bond between tribe members.  Jack Johnson shares stories about his record company and his tour to identify with his tribe members.

2. Be the example –  By standing up as an example through reducing his carbon footprint and making the world greener, Jack Johson walks the walk.  That builds trust and confidence.  Jack offers himself up as a passionate leader who is the real thing.

3.  Facilitate introductions – Give people a place to interact and introduce themselves to each other.  Jack Johnson does that on his website, offering a place for his fans to have their voice heard.  He also offers his fans the chance to volunteer at his concerts to encourage environmental responsibility.

4. Set goals and celebrate accomplishments – Jack Johnson sets tangible goals for carbon emissions and charity donations.  His website celebrates the accomplishments as they go.  Like Kennedy setting a goal to land a man on the moon and return him to earth, great brands set real goals and party like mad when they reach them.

5.  Listen carefully- There are a wealth of ways that a fan can express an opinion.  There is no doubt that the people who manage Jack Johnson’s brand are monitoring this feedback carefully.  Spend some time on Jack Johnson’s website and you’ll get a sense that you are a part of something special.

Jack Johnson 1,540 Comments

Malcolm McLaren and the 360 Brand

If you’re passionate about great bands and great brands, please click here to subscribe to Brand Like A Rock Star by email. You can also join the discussion on Facebook.



We lost a brand-building legend when Malcolm McLaren passed away.

Malcolm was first a clothing designer, and wanted the influential band New York Dolls to wear his clothes on stage.  However, the band was close to breaking up. So he became their manager, got them into rehab, and kept them together long enough to see his clothes grace the stage.

Later, when Malcolm met a young John Lydon with bright green hair wearing a Pink Floyd shirt on which he had written “I hate”, Malcolm renamed him Johnny Rotten and hired him to be the lead singer of a new band he was creating.  That band, The Sex Pistols, recorded a song called “God Save The Queen”.  In order to get the band’s music heard, he put them on a barge and sailed along the Thames River to play the song outside the British House of Parliament.  The police raided the boat, arrested Malcolm, and his band enjoyed massive press coverage.

The Sex Pistols weren’t simply about music.  In fact, they only recorded one album together before breaking up, yet still managed to secure a place in the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame for the influence they had over the punk movement.  In the years after their debut album, hundreds of punk bands emerged from the UK inspired by the Pistols.

What did Malcolm McLaren understand about building a brand?

1.  A great brand isn’t one dimensional.  In 1977, Malcolm famously stated that “Christ, if people bought the records for the music, this thing would have died a death long ago.”  The Sex Pistols were as much about look, message, attitude, reputation, and legend as they were about music.  Everything the band did and said became part of their brand.

2.  Great brands market to masks, not reality.  They market to people’s aspirations.  Jimmy Buffett sells office drones a beach-bum escape.  Harley-Davidson sells CEO’s the idea that they are hard core rebels.  The Sex Pistols sold the working-class youth a revolution against the Queen, the government, and the established order.

3.  PR is the new advertising.  McLaren was a master of manipulating the media, making audacious statements that made for excellent quotes, and creating stunts that got wild attention.  He was keenly aware that PR was critical to the band’s success.

4.  To be loved by someone, you need to be hated by someone else.  Superman is nothing if there is no Lex Luther.  Batman is pointless without The Joker.  The Sex Pistols mattered because so many people… parents, government officials, school officials, the upper crust of society… hated them.  Without that hate, the band’s purpose evaporates.

5.  The legend matters.  After the band broke up, McLaren kept the legend alive with claims of his role in their success. The legal wranglings between the band and McLaren contributed to the legend.  Even in 2006, when inducted into the Rock ’n Roll Hall of Fame, the band refused to attend the ceremony, calling the Hall of Fame a “piss stain”.  Much like how the legend of Paul Revere was raised by Longfellow’s poem, the legend of the Sex Pistols has been kept alive, and grown, up by the antics of Malcolm McLaren.

Malcolm McLaren was visionary in his understanding of branding.  There’s a lot to be learned from McLaren and the Sex Pistols, and I’m not saying that simply because the guitarist and I share the same name.

Here’s a clip of Malcolm talking about his permanent coolness and his role of “sleeping with the media”.

… and to inject a little anarchy in your cubicle, here’s “God Save The Queen” by the Sex Pistols.

Uncategorized 150 Comments

The Story Trumps The Song

If you’re passionate about great bands and great brands, please click here to subscribe to Brand Like A Rock Star by email. You can also join the discussion on Facebook.

Your song matters.

But your story matters more.

Take Erykah Badu’s new song “Window Seat”.  A decent song, but not one that would likely gain the world’s attention.  After all, Badu has been an eccentric fringe artist for her entire career, not a mainstream singer who you would normally read about in USA Today.

But Erykah has made “Window Seat” into a compelling story by creating a video in which she sheds all of her clothes on a symbolic walk through Dealey Plaza, eventually collapsing naked on the same spot where John F. Kennedy was assasinated in 1963.  The very public nudity was a big story, and now a charge of disorderly conduct and a $500 fine is making the story even more compelling.

The video, not the song, is the story.

Have you determined your brand’s story?  Do you tell it passionately?

Visit the website of Dyson vacuum cleaners and you can read about how James Dyson was turned down by every major vacuum manufacturer when he presented his designs.  He went on to build his own company, sue the big guys, and become a billionaire.

The story of two college dropouts selling pints of home-made ice cream from the back of their VW microbus makes up a large part of the Ben and Jerry’s brand.  They take advantage of every opportunity to tell that compelling story.

The fresh crisp water of the Rocky Mountains became core to the story of Coors beer.  Today Coors Light remains one of the top 5 best selling beers in America.  Does brewing your beer with water from the Rocky Mountains of Boulder, Colorado make for a better beer than brewing with Boston tap water does?  Who knows, but it makes for a great story for Coors.

What’s your brand’s story?

Maybe you have a challenge story about taking on the big guys like James Dyson.  You could be the little auto repair shop that beats the national chain… you can relate to the average person’s desire to take on the big powers-that-be.

Maybe you have a creativity story like Coors using Rocky Mountain water.  You could be the wing place that uses a secret sauce that nobody can copy… you can relate to the average person’s desire to be unique in a cookie-cutter world.

Maybe you have a connection story like Ben and Jerry starting a business that reflected their hippie culture values of late-1960′s Vermont.  You could be the accountant that used to work for the government doing tax audits… you can relate to how the average person gets screwed.

Your brand has a story.  It is in there somewhere.  Look for it.  Tell it.  Make it an essential part of your brand identity. Give your customers a story they can identify with and, better yet, tell their friends.

Need help telling your story?  Read “Made To Stick” by Dan and Chip Heath.

Now, here’s a look at the video that is giving Erykah Badu a story to tell…

Ben and Jerry, Coors Light, Erykah Badu, James Dyson 146 Comments

The Smartest Branding Advice a Rock Star Can Give

If you’re passionate about great bands and great brands, please click here to subscribe to Brand Like A Rock Star by email. You can also join the discussion on Facebook.


The smartest branding advice ever given by a rock star came from Bjorn Ulvaeus of ABBA when he described why the band would never get back together and appear on stage.

“We would like people to remember us as we were. Young, exuberant, full of energy and ambition. I remember Robert Plant saying Led Zeppelin were a cover band now because they cover all their own stuff. I think that hit the nail on the head.”

So many bands, and brands, neglect this incredibly important concept.

By virtue of your success, you occupy mental “real estate” in the mind of your customers. That mental real estate is extremely limited space (think Manhattan), and you are lucky to have it!    Once you are fortunate to establish a place in the mind of the customer, you need to not only respect it… you need to worship it.

Yet so many brands want to defy it.  They want to be more than what their fans see them as.  So they extend their brand line, push out new products that don’t match up to their core values, and eventually fade away into obscurity.

* If you are able to convince a significant number of people in your community that your business is the one to call for in-house computer repairs, think about shutting down your brick and mortar location.  Put all of your energy into putting more technicians in cars on the streets visiting customers.

* If your are able to convince a significant number of people in your community that your store is the best place to get high end shoes, drop all low-end shoes from your inventory. Stop having sales.  Raise prices, raise service levels, and make shopping in your store a true experience.

* If you are able to convince a significant number of people in your community that your restaurant is the best place for breakfast, consider either serving breakfast 24 hours a day (and NOTHING else) or closing up at 11am.  But for the love of ABBA don’t start marketing your dinner menu.

How can your brand be more like ABBA?

1. Find out what your customers think you are. Research them, engage them in dialogue, and understand what piece of mental real estate you’ve managed to carve out.

2. Build your strategy around that mental real estate, and focus on demonstrating to more and more people how great that real estate is.

3. Resist the urge to buy up other pieces of mental real estate!  It seldom pays off.

4. Be grateful that you own any mental real estate at all.  It is hard to come by.

5. Be Swedish, if at all possible.

ABBA 147 Comments