Music: The Most Powerful Branding Tool In The World

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.

Music is the most powerful branding tool in the world.

It is a secret gateway into your subconscious mind.

Use music the right way, and you bypass the analytical left brain and enter directly into the mysterious free-thinking right brain, where your message (advertising or otherwise) can be absorbed without the nasty interference of logic. 

You can buy the world a Coke.
Your bologna does have a first name, and it is O-S-C-A-R.
Ba-da-ba-ba-da… I am lovin’ it.

The music wouldn’t lie to you.
The power of music is clearly evident in this video.  There is no way your logical left brain would allow you to behave this freely, but your right brain likes to dance, play, sing, and experiment.  Your right brain doesn’t care what you are supposed to do, it just does.

Music has entered this man’s right brain, and put his left brain to sleep.  The world needs more people like this guy, don’t you think?

Uncategorized 1,516 Comments

The Beach Boys: Great Brands Sell Escapes, Not Products

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.


Our minds have a wonderful way of dreaming worlds into existence.  We look back at our teenage years and the songs we listened to, and it seems like the world was so much nicer then.  The music was so much better.  Life was so much simpler.

We know better, logically.  When The Beach Boys recorded their first single, “Surfin’”, 49 years ago, the cold war had world tensions cranked high.  Kennedy and Khrushchev met that year in Vienna and disagreed strongly on many issues, fueling US policy on preventing the spread of communism is Asia through a demonstration of their force in the small nation of Vietnam.  In North America, the Communists ruled Cuba and bragged openly about the failed Bay of Pigs invasion.  Race riots in Alabama resulted in martial law.  The US Civil Rights Act was still three years away.  Life as a Black person in the USA wasn’t exactly easy.

Only in our memory was 1961 actually a nicer, better, simpler time.  That’s the beauty of our minds.  We remember things the way we want to remember them.  We remember the good times, and forget about the bad.

The Beach Boys, 50 years later, are discussing a major reunion.  Troubled chief songwriter and de factor leader Brian Wilson hasn’t been a consistent contributing member of the band since the early 80′s, and he’s apparently on-board for a reunion with Mike Love and Al Jardine, the last surviving original members.

The Beach Boys should go on tour.  They should celebrate their 50th year with a spectacular show that brings to life all of the amazing music they made.  There are few bands that so eloquently captured a time and place in music the way The Beach Boys did.

What The Beach Boys shouldn’t do is make a new album and  go on tour playing their new songs. The fans who pay their hard-earned money to see The Beach Boys in concert are buying an escape, not just a performance.  They are buying a temporary escape to their youth, where they can feel 17 again for a few hours.  If The Beach Boys play new music, the escape is over.

That’s what great brands do.  They are an escape, and allow you to be something you aspire to be.

If I drive a Jeep, I am escaping to somewhere off the beaten path.  I am paying extra to be able to explore the world away from the office drones and followers.

If I wear APO Jeans, I’m escaping to a world where things are custom made just for me, and I’m telling the world that what everyone else wears isn’t good enough.

If I buy my groceries at Whole Foods, I am escaping to a place where I can make a contribution to my own health and the health of the planet.  The extra money I am paying allows me to shop with a sense of purpose.

Will that Jeep ever go off-road?  Very few actually do.
Do I need jeans with silk pockets and diamond studs?  Definitely not.
Does shopping at Whole Foods actually make a difference?  Sure, but unless we all do it the difference is very, very small and mainly in our own mind.

Hopefully next summer fans of The Beach Boys will be able to blissfully escape to their youth for a few hours and enjoy the band as they remember them.  That’s the gift they can give to their fans by playing hit after hit, night after night, and leaving the new music to the new bands.

Beach Boys fans should also check out this earlier postabout how the obvious mistakes left in the hit song “Barbara Ann” provide an example of how Rock Star brands are authentic, not perfect.

1961, APO Jeans, Beach Boys, Brian Wilson, Jeep, Whole Foods 177 Comments

Get A Little Help From Your Friends: A Business Lesson From Ringo Starr

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.

He’s the Beatle that gets the least respect.

Ringo Starr wasn’t often heard singing on Beatles classics, save for a select few like “Yellow Submarine” and “With A Little Help From My Friends”.  While he had a few hits on his own, his post-Beatles solo career never created lasting classics like Paul’s “Band On The Run”, John’s “Imagine”, or George’s “What Is Life”.


As Rock an Roll Guru Joe Heuer points out on his website, it was 21 years ago today that “Ringo Starr and his All-Starr Band” kicked off their first tour.  That first show in Dallas featured Ringo along with Dr. John, Levon Helm & Rick Danko from The Band, Nils Lofgren & Clarence Clemons from The E Street Band, and Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh.  Variations of the “All-Starr Band” over the years have included Burton Cummings, Todd Rundgren, John Entwistle (The Who), Jack Bruce (Cream), Roger Hodgson (Supertramp), Colin Hay (Men At Work), Richard Marx, Billy Squire, Gary Wright, Edgar Winter, and Rick Derringer.  This summer, the 10th “All-Starr Band” is on the road.

Here are three brilliant lessons that businesses and brands can learn from Ringo Starr.

1. Share the glory.  Great things happen when nobody cares who gets the credit.  When all of these fantastic musicians share the stage (literally), amazing music happens.  Nobody lets ego ruin the show.  Nobody cares who gets the credit.  It is a labor of love.

2. Surround yourself with people better than you.  Not that any of these people are “better” in the technical sense than Ringo Starr, but many of them are bigger individual names that could draw a significant audience on their own.  Ringo is wise to surround himself with great people who can help make him look even better.  Far too often we are afraid of hiring the best and brightest for fear that they will take our job, but the reality is that hiring the best and brightest almost always makes you look brilliant.

3. The sum is greater than the parts.  The best parts of an All-Starr Band concert are the inevitable jam sessions, impromptu guest appearances, and unexpected surprises.  All of these musicians playing together seriously beats any one of them playing on their own.

Are you willing to share the glory with those around you?

Do you hire the most brilliant people, even if they are better than you?

Do you create teams that far exceed the capabilities of any one individual?

Those are definitely three hallmarks of successful businesses today.

Ringo Starr 527 Comments

Marketing Lessons From The Grateful Dead: A New Book By David Meerman Scott

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.

It is nice to know that I’m not alone in the crazy notion that business can learn a lot from rock ‘n roll!

Renowned author and speaker David Meerman Scott is releasing a new book co-authored with Brian Halligan called “Marketing Lessons From The Grateful Dead”, and if you’re a fan of the discussions on this blog there’s a very good chance you’ll enjoy the book.

David’s new book will detail how the band broke nearly every rule of the music industry along the route to success.  Through their database, they pioneered social media long before the internet.  Through tapers, they created file sharing decades before Napster and iTunes.  Without knowing it, the Grateful Dead created and refined techniques that are being successfuly employed by businesses across all fields today.

David tells us that the new book will be illustrated with rich photographs of the band from throughout the years along with vibrant original artwork inspired by the band.

You can learn more by following David’s blog at or by joining the fan site on Facebook at

I haven’t read the new book yet, but I’m eager to.  I’m a fan of David’s previous books and I am absolutely confident that this new venture will be equally engaging.  Check it out!

David Meerman Scott, Grateful Dead 200 Comments

Paul McCartney and the Multisensory 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.

Despite being nearly a hometown boy, he had never once played the venue.  Lesser names had done it.  He had played other places in town, both on his own and with his bands, but this would be the first time he had ever performed in this famous place.

Paul McCartney’s Sunday night headlining performance at Hyde Park in London was a spectacular multisensory experience.

You can see U2 play almost anywhere, but seeing them play in Dublin, Ireland, would be incredible.  Bob Marley music sounds fantastic anytime, but hearing it while doing next-to-nothing on a beach in the Caribbean makes the music sound so much better.  Springsteen concerts always leave me wanting more, but seeing him play at Meadowlands in Jersey – or even Madison Square Garden – now that would be truly wild!

The air was as thick as Guinness for the McCartney show.  Far behind the massive stage, dusk twinkled with jets lined up on approach to runway 27 at Heathrow.  The conflicting yet enticing smells of Jamaican jerk chicken, sushi, fish and chips, and Chinese food filled the air from the food vendors.

We found a place on the grass to savor our food, sitting on a lawn that was planted 474 years ago when Henry VIII turned the area into a deer park and private hunting ground.  It would be 101 years later when the park became public property.

Then the music started.  The band rocked.  Paul was his playful self, goofy at times, serious at others, and always humbled by the crowd’s enthusiastic reaction.  When fireworks exploded in synch to “Live and Let Die”, the hauntingly low London clouds only served to enhance the show.

Talk about a multisensory experience!  Sound, sight, smell, taste, and touch.

So many brands stop at sound and sight, and think no further.

What does your brand smell like?  What does it taste like, even if it isn’t food?  What is it like to experience our brand in a 360 degree environment?

Some brands get it.  Starbucks has worked hard to make the mundane chore of getting a coffee into a multisensory experience.

Great brands are 360 degree experience, even in their marketing.  They can send their unique smell directly into your brain through an ad.  That’s magic.

Bob Marley, Bruce Springsteen, Hyde Park, London, Paul McCartney, Starbucks, U2 1,548 Comments

Talking To Your Audience

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 young singer had only been on stage for two songs when she stopped for the first time to talk to the 30,000 fans who came out to see her.

“Thank you so much for coming to my concert tonight,” she said with a touch of humility that came across as genuine even from the massive stage.

The audience roared.

She continued. “Could it be that, after only two songs, I’ve fallen in love with you?”

The roar grew even louder.

“I do love you”.  She smiled, and leaned forward from the stage as if she was about to fall into the arms of her fans.

“I love you like I love sparkly dresses.”  The music began, and Taylor Swift launched into another one of her hit songs.  That was the scene Saturday night at the Cavendish Beach Music Festival in Prince Edward Island, Canada.

Corny?  Sure.  But watching Taylor Swift in action teaches us a few vital lessons about how to build a solid brand and a lasting connection with your customers and fans.  She didn’t become the biggest-selling artist in the history of digital downloads without doing a few things right.

1. Honesty.  Customers today can see through traditional advertising BS.  They can smell a fake.  Honesty wins.  Brands that communicate honestly with their customers are far more likely to turn those average customers into raving fans.  Taylor Swift knows about honesty, and has developed a reputation for writing songs that reflect her life.  And it seems to be working. ”The more personal my songs were, the more closely people could relate to them,” she told the UK’s “Daily Mail“.

2.  Speak Their Language.  Taylor Swift’s biggest fans are young females and the parents of those same girls, who appreciate the clean image that Swift lives up to.  So when Taylor says things like “I love you like I love sparkly dresses”, she’s speaking the language of her fans.  When she writes songs about boys who mistreated her, she’s speaking the language of her fans.  Do you know your fans well enough to speak to them about things they care about in words that they would use themselves?  Are you brave enough, like Taylor Swift is, to talk about things like sparkly dresses?

3. Involve Yourself In Their Causes. In the same manner as speaking the language of their customers, great brands know about the causes their customers care about and they get invovled in them. Taylor Swift has immersed herself in campaigns to protect young children from on-line predators and to combat internet sex crimes.

4. Live Up To The Image.  That seems to be so very hard for some brands.  BP spent years working on an environmentally conscious image makeover before becoming the world’s environmental scapegoat with the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.  Taylor Swift has so far done a masterful job of living up to her image.  She has never been accused of not being the clean-living person she presents herself as, and that further endears her to the fans (and parents) who love her.

Taylor Swift is easy to criticize for being fluff.  She’s an easy target thanks to her lack of “edge”.  She is, however, incredibly talented.  Even the New York Times called her “one of pop’s finest songwriters” who is “more in touch with her inner-life than most adults”.  Not bad for a kid who has yet to turn 21.

The girl with Ms. Swift and me in the picture above is my neighbor’s 10 year-old daughter at her very first concert.  She was pretty excited to meet her idol in person.

Taylor Swift 118 Comments

The Grateful Dead’s Last Show: 15 Years Ago

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.


It was a warm July night at Soldier Field in Chicago.  The tour had been a long one, even by their standards.  They had already played 47 shows in the five months since February, when they set out from Salt Lake City.  They definitely needed a rest.

Nobody predicted The Grateful Dead would rest forever, and it is hard to believe that 15 years have drifted by since that night.

The final show of the 1995 tour wasn’t supposed to be the last show ever, but a month later Jerry Garcia fell to a heart attack and the remaining members decided to disband the band that changed how music is heard.

How did The Grateful Dead change music?  These four ways are just a few examples of the many.

1.  The Dead invented file sharing, long before Napster or ill-fated music industry lawsuits.  The Grateful Dead didn’t just invite fans to record their shows, they encouraged it.  All they asked was that the music get shared amongst them at no charge.

2.  The Dead invented social networking, decades before MySpace and Facebook.  They asked for contact info from their fans, and from the ground up built music’s most loyal fan club.  Their communication was two-way.  If you were a Dead fan, you were family.

3.  The Dead created the concept of losing control.  They gave up control over their fan club, and let the fans themselves spread the gospel of the band.  The fan club evolved beyond anyone’s expectations into The Deadheads, something it could have never become if it remained a puppet of the record company.

4.  The Dead made every interaction special.  Every show was unique.  Every night the set list, and even the sound and texture of the songs themselves, changed.  Every interaction between the band (the BRAND) and the fans (the CUSTOMERS) was something artistic and special.

The practices of The Grateful Dead over 30 years ago form the perfect template for brands today.  With the knowledge of The Grateful Dead and the technology of today, there is no reason why your brand cannot create a passionate and loyal tribe.

I’ve been fortunate enough to see many of the biggest stars in rock: The Stones, Elton John, Springsteen, Pearl Jam, Paul McCartney, AC/DC, KISS, Jimmy Buffett, Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, Fleetwood Mac, and many many others.  One of my great regrets will be never having seen The Grateful Dead in concert… even just once.

Here’s the set list from the very last Grateful Dead concert:

Set 1:
Touch of Grey
Little Red Rooster
Lazy River Road
When I Paint My Masterpiece
Childhood’s End
Cumberland Blues
Promised Land
Set 2:
Shakedown Street
Samson & Delilah
So Many Roads
Samba In The Rain
Corrina > Drums > Space > Unbroken Chain
Sugar Magnolia
Black Muddy River
Box of Rain

Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia 280 Comments

BP and Michael Jackson: Can Damaged Brands Survive?

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.

Last week marked the one year anniversary of the death of Michael Jackson.  I happened to be in London, England when the occasion passed, and it was prominently discussed on British media.  One comment made on the radio reminded us that even though Michael Jackson’s star has been restored in death, his reputation in his later years was deeply troubled.  The allegations of child abuse leveled against him would not go away, and his bizarre behaviour only fueled them.  The radio host wisely noted that only dying could really save Michael Jackson’s reputation.  It is oddly true that since his death the world has spent very little time talking about the troubles that plagued him.

Later that same day I was walking in Trafalgar Square where an exhibit was advertised at the National Gallery. It was sponsored by British Petroleum and the company’s green “BP” logo was prominently displayed.

Like Michael Jackson, death might be the only saviour for BP’s reputation at this point.  The Gulf of Mexico oil spill has damaged the company’s reputation so badly that they cannot put their logo on anything without inviting scorn.  Their logo on the advertising invites criticism that BP would spend money sponsoring an art exhibit at a time when they should be devoting every penny towards fixing their mistake in the Gulf.  It doesn’t make the company look community-minded, as it was surely intended to.

Can the BP brand survive?  Those in the know seem to think BP is financially strong enough to survive the mess, although it is hard to imagine filling up at a BP station in the future.  Even if the company survives, most agree that CEO Tony Hayward won’t.  And when this is all over there’s no chance any of them will be forgiven the way the world forgave Michael Jackson.  Sometimes, the brand is simply damaged beyond repair.

BP, Michael Jackson 185 Comments

Avoiding The Brand Extension Trap

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 temptation is strong.  You’ve worked hard to build a brand that stands for something, and you’ve been successful.  Now you have a new product.  You know how much effort and expense goes into building a new brand, so you decide to release the new product under your existing brand name.

Most of the time, that’s a recipe for failure.

It won’t happen with musician Adam Young, who’s band Owl City had a #1 hit last summer with the catchy song “Fireflies”.  In a few weeks Adam’s new album will come out, but it won’t be by Owl City.

Why not?  Owl City has already had a #1 hit.  Fans and radio programmers would instantly recognize the name and give the song a chance to be heard.

Adam knows better, and explained his rationale to Billboard Magazine. ”It was clear early on that it needed to be separate from Owl City,” Young says. “Overall, this piece is disconnected enough to be its own thing.”

So instead of a second album from Owl City, the world will be hearing the debut of Sky Sailing – an entirely new musical act focused not on new-wave synth sounds but instead on acoustic singer-songwriter material.

Brand extension failures are legendary.  TippingSprung releases an annual list of the best of the worst, and in the past has noted Burger King’s failed menswear line and cologne, Hooter’s now-defunct airline, and Kellogg’s disasterous experiment with hip-hop clothing.

Sometimes brand extension works.  When the connection is logical and simple, it can be successful.  TippingSprung notes Iam’s pet insurance, Starbucks coffee liqueur, and the Tide To Go stain removal pen as great examples of smart brand extension.

Take the advice of Adam Young’s manager Steve Burksy.  “If one artist puts out five different CDs with five totally different sounds under one name, it would be utterly confusing to people,” Bursky says.  If your company makes five different products with five completely different purposes, don’t put the same name on them.

adam young, burger king, hooters, Iam's, kellogg's, Owl City, Starbucks, steve burksy, tide 246 Comments