Building The Perfect Tribe

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Much has been written recently about the need for brands to embrace social media in order to build tribes or communities around their brand.

That’s a lesson rock ‘n roll taught us decades ago.

Long before social networking, file sharing, and e-mail, bands like Queen, The Grateful Dead, Kiss, Jimmy Buffett and many others created massive followings of fans.  Through sign-up inserts in records and sign-up forms at concerts, they were able to develop huge fan clubs.  Learning as they went along, they began to realize that they could instantly sell-out concert dates in cities where they had plenty of fan club members.  They also saw that if they gave their fan club members little extras, they could create even more loyalty at very little cost.

How were these bands able to create such loyal tribes around their brand?

1. Create passion.  It is nearly impossible to build a true tribe around brands that don’t inspire passion.  Fortunately for rock ‘n roll bands, music itself inspires passion.  Sports teams naturally inspire passion.  It isn’t as easy for other brands, but it is very possible.  How do you create passion?  See point #2.

2. Be remarkable.  Give people something to talk about.  You can’t build a tribe around average, ordinary products.  But you can build a wildly successful tribe around daily products that do extraordinary remarkable things.  Dyson vacuum cleaners are a perfect example.  Make a remarkable vacuum cleaner, and even household chores become the foundation for a tribe.


3. Tribes need a leader.  A fan club of people who like tropical-themed beach music would fall flat, but a group of people devoted to the music and lifestyle of Jimmy Buffett became the incredibly powerful “Parrotheads” organization.  If not for Jimmy, there would be no Parrotheads.  Without a leader, there is no tribe.

4.  Two-way communication is vital.  If you think you can set up a Facebook fan site for your brand and walk away, you’re wrong.  Your fans want to communicate with you, and have you communicate back to them.  Show them that you care.  Talk to them.  Hear their complaints and accept their praise.  Thank them.  Treat them like friends, since that’s what Facebook is supposed to be about.

5.  Allow them to contribute.  Brands are defined by what customers think and feel about a product.  Your fans are the people who will establish what your brand means.  If you let them contribute, you’ll be opening your eyes to new opportunities you may have never imagined.  Lego is a great example of a company that invites its fans to design new products and guide the brand into the future.

Trivia question: what musical act has the biggest fan club?  According to the Guinness Book of World Records, it is South Korean boy band TVXQ with 800,000 screaming young fans officially registered in their fan club.  Go figure… these guys have more fans in their fan club than the Grateful Dead.  The world indeed is sometimes so cruel.

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Scratch ‘n KISS

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Last night I saw a TV commercial for Dr. Pepper featuring KISS and their song “Calling Dr. Love”.  If any other band did that, it would be considered a complete sell-out.  But this sort of thing doesn’t seem to bother KISS fans, who celebrate the fact that KISS has always been about the merchandising and money.

They were on every school lunch box in the late 70′s.  Their action figures were a must-have.  Kids raced to collect the KISS comic books and trading cards.  An arcade wasn’t complete without a KISS pinball machine.

And it gets better (or worse, depending on your perspective)…

* In 2001 the KISS Kasket went on sale for $4500 and allowed hard core fans to celebrate their love for the band into the hereafter decorated in KISS logos.

* The next year the KISS condoms hit the market, giving you a new way to protect your “love gun”.

* In 2006 the KISS Coffeehouse opened in Myrtle Beach, SC featuring specialty coffees along with KISS brand mugs and merchandise.

* If smelling more like Gene Simmons is your thing, you can look into the KISS Him / KISS Her line of shampoos, colognes, and body washes.

* You can kiss your debts goodbye if you bank with FirstUSA and have your own KISS Visa.

* And today, news that KISS has entered the lottery game.  The new KISS scratch and win cards go on sale this summer in New Mexico.

Why isn’t all of this seen by their fans as selling out?  How can the band retain any rock ‘n roll credibility when they so eagerly endorse nearly any piece of merchadise?

1.  KISS is the rock ‘n roll version of NASCAR.  They have been able to turn selling out into part of their art form.  Fans expect new and bizarre ways to interact with the band, and no matter how kitschy it gets they continue to soak it up.  Entire books have been written about how KISS built commerce into their brand.

2.  KISS itself existed as a sort-of cartoon version of rock ‘n roll.  For many years the band never even had a human identity. They were masked creatures with alter egos and until the early 80′s were never seen without their make up.

3.  The whole thing is a game, and KISS fans get it.  Those who don’t like KISS just don’t get it.  Much like Jimmy Buffett fans get his act, KISS fans get the KISS act.  Being part of an inside joke is part of the fun for the fans.  In many ways, KISS is that joke being played on the music industry, conservative parents, and others who just don’t “get it”.

Now crack open a Dr. Pepper and soak up a “little” KISS…

Dr. Pepper, Jimmy Buffett, KISS, NASCAR 280 Comments

A Little Help From Your Friends: Brand Partnerships

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One of the hottest songs this summer is “Airplanes” by B.O.B featuring Haley Williams (from rock band Paramore) and Eminem. Punch around the radio dial in almost any city in North America, and the odds are pretty good that you’ll hear it.

B.o.B. is Bobby Ray Simmons, a hip hop artist who has become of the 2010′s big success stories.  But like most hip hop artists, his big hits involve more than just his own music.  His previous hit, the #1 “Nothin’ On You” featured help from popular producer/writer Bruno Mars.

B.o.B. isn’t alone in seeking partnerships.  Here is what this week’s chart looks like on the Billboard Hot 100:

#1. California Gurls – Katy Perry featuring Snoop Dogg
#2. OMG – Usher featuring
#3. Airplanes – B.o.B. featuring Haley Williams and Eminem
#4. Billionaire – Travis McCoy featuring Bruno Mars
#7. Break Your Heart – Taio Cruz featuring Ludacris

Exactly half of the week’s top 10 songs are collaborations!

Does your brand seek out these kinds of worthwhile partnerships?

Smart brands partner with those who can add to their brand experience. Haley Williams brings something to “Airplanes” that B.o.B. couldn’t.  Likewise, Snoop Dogg adds something entirely unique to “California Gurls” and Luda does the same for “Break Your Heart”.

Sometimes these partnerships are natural relationships and other times they are paid relationships such as Coke and the World Cup, where one partner (Coke) has paid the other (World Cup) for the alliance.

Yet 90% of brand alliances don’t work.  Why?  Martin Lindstrom suggests three reasons in his book “BRAND sense“.
1. There isn’t equal value for the brands in the relationship… one gets more out of it than the other.
2. The brand values don’t match each other… one brand is edgy, the other conservative, or one targets children and the other adults.

3. The relationship strategy doesn’t connect with consumers… it just doesn’t make sense to the person on the street.

When they do work, brand partnerships work very well.  McDonalds and Dreamworks have established numerous successful partnerships to promote Dreamworks’ animated movies, including the recent Shrek sequel “Shrek Forever After”.  LegoLand California and Volvo have worked together to create a driving school for kids at the LegoLand park and to profile the LegoLand theme park to adults planning family vacations via the Volvo dealership network.

If you examine a partnership opportunity and find that there is equal benefit, mutual brand values, and an easy match for the customer to grasp, you might just have a #1 hit on your hands.

B.o.B, Bruno Mars, Coke, Eminem, Haley Williams, Katy Perry, Ludacris, Snoop Dogg, Taio Cruz, 222 Comments

Go Your Own Way: Rock Star Brands Are Unique

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Last night on “60 Minutes” they spent some time with undersea explorer Bob Ballard.  He’s the man who led the 1986 expedition that found the world’s most famous shipwreck, The Titanic.  Reporter Lara Logan asked Bob how he was able to find the elusive shipwreck, when three expeditions just prior to his failed to locate it.  His answer was simple: because he thought out of the box.

Instead of looking for a ship on the bottom of the ocean floor, Ballard’s team looked for something much larger.  They hunted only for a debris field that they knew would have naturally happened when undersea currents interacted with the sinking ship.  Once they found the debris field, Ballard said it was easy to find the ship itself.  The debris was like a path directly to the sunken beast.

Bob Ballard is a rock star explorer because he does things his own way.  That’s what rock stars do. 


U2 created their own unique sound in the early 1980′s, and by the time they hit us with “The Joshua Tree” in the spring of 1987 they were well on their way to being the world’s biggest rock band.  A year later another English group, The Escape Club, were lauded as “the next U2″ by critics.  While “Wild Wild West” went to the top of the charts, the band never went anywhere.

Bob Dylan gave us an entirely new sound when he sang his poetry in the early 60′s.   For Donovan, being called “the next Bob Dylan” was as big a curse as he could ask for.  Even though Donovan had his share of memorable music and stardom, his legacy is far behind Mr. Zimmerman’s.


Rock star brands speak in their own voice and do things their own way.  Southwest Airlines wasn’t just another airline.  They were the low-cost airline and everything they did, from inception until today, has contributed to that identity as the low-cost airline.

Instead of becoming another competitor in a crowded category (airlines), rock stars find an entirely new product category (discount airlines) and instantly establish leadership.

The lesson for your brand: stop trying to be the next of something.  Instead, focus on being something entirely new… something entirely you.

Bob Ballard, Bob Dylan, Donovan, Escape Club, Southwest Airlines, U2 201 Comments

Paul McCartney: Your Brand In Context

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Last weekend I saw the Steve Miller Band live in concert.  It was a great show!  Steve Miller is an exceptional musician with an incredible body of work.  The show moved along quickly from the opening notes of “Threshold/Jet Airliner” to an acoustic sing-along of “The Joker” to a version of “Serenade” that made me wonder why it doesn’t rank among Steve’s biggest hits.  No doubt Steve Miller put on a memorable concert.

Unfortunately an arena just wasn’t the right context to fully showcase Steve Miller in his best light. Steve Miller would have been phenomenal to see in an outdoor venue on a warm summer night. I can imagine sitting back on the grass with a cold drink enjoying “Dance, Dance Dance” and “Swingtown” in an entirely new way.   I can even picture myself soaking up Steve Miller in a really cool old theater with acoustics that bring each note to life.  But in the depth of a hockey rink, some of the magic was inevitably lost.

On the other hand, in two weeks I will be seeing Paul McCartney live in Hyde Park in London, England.  Could there be a better place to see Paul McCartney than one of London’s most famous outdoor concert venues?

Where would you rather see Jimmy Buffett this summer… at the air-conditioned MGM Grand Arena in Las Vegas or playing acoustic guitar with friends in Key West on a humid summer night?  No doubt that Buffett goes over better on Duval Street.

Everything has a time and a place. Great brands are at their best in the right context.

Beer’s best context is served ice cold, on a warm day, with friends, doing something fun or relaxing after hard work.

A BMW is best experienced on a winding road like the Pacific Coast Highway in Big Sur, weaving around tight turns with ease.  Or on a highway like the Autobahn, where the speed limit is only limited by the capability of your car.  On the other hand, a Jeep’s best context is off road, top down, on a sunny day.

A Breitling is best showcased on the arm of a pilot ready to bravely guide his aircraft through the skies.

It may seem simple, but the idea of your brand’s context can dictate a lot of other things.  Great brands have a keen understanding of their product and how to best showcase and image it.  When you have that depth of clarity it can determine what medium you use to advertise, the colors and shapes you use in your visual materials, the type of people you hire to represent your brand on the street, and the type of brands you partner with promotionally.

Here’s an example of brand context from the makers of the Canadian beer “Moosehead” and their “outer self” campaign.  They know their beer’s context is the outdoors, fishing and grilling with friends.  These commercials accomplish exactly that.

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Steve Miller: Make The Most of Your Connections

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Steve Miller was blessed with two very unique relationships early in life.  His dad, George, was a doctor by day and amateur recording engineer in his spare time.  George was close friends with a man named Les Paul, who just happened to be the pioneer behind the electric guitar and multi-track recording.  Les Paul became young Steve Miller’s godfather, and when Steve was five Les taught him a few chords on the guitar. Les Paul would have a tremendous impact on the young guitar player. A few years later, Steve’s father was asked to help record an album by blues musician T-Bone Walker, one of the first blues musicians to wail away on the electric guitar. Watching his dad at work in the studio, Steve was deeply influenced by yet another musical legend.

We all have people that come in and out of our lives, seemingly for no reason at all.  But often there is a reason.  These apparently random interactions often contain the information, intelligence, or encouragement you need to take the next step in your evolution.

Greatness never happens in a vacuum.  Greatness, in music and in business, comes from partnerships, relationships, the sharing of ideas, learning of lessons, and the skill to build upon the successes of others.

Watch for your Les Pauls and your T-Bone Walkers.  They are out there.  When they walk into your life, be aware of their presence and what they have to share with you.  And as crazy as it may seem, you have something to offer them as well.

This weekend I am looking forward to seeing the Steve Miller Band in concert.  I’m pretty certain I’ll get to sing along to “Take The Money & Run”.

Les Paul, Steve Miller, T-Bone Walker 164 Comments