The Power of First

Who are the most successful bands in rock ‘n’ roll?

Well, U2 just wrapped up the most profitable tour in music history. They made $736 million in ticket sales. Last year’s other big tour success stories were AC/DC and Bon Jovi.

Over the past decade, eight of the top 20 top-grossing acts had a lead singer that will be in his or her sixties this year.

And 94% of the money earned by the biggest acts in the decade went to bands with lead singers over 40. Not one band had a lead singer in his or her 20s.


Consider this. A recent poll in The Hockey News revealed that the five most popular hockey team logos are from teams who were part of the NHL’s “Original Six” teams from the league’s inception… Chicago, Detroit, Montreal, Toronto, and Boston.

Top-selling soft drink? Coke.

Leading brand of athletic shoes? Nike.

Number one technology brand? Apple.

Top selling ketchup? Heinz.

And the list goes on. Brands that dominate these broad categories are the ones that have been around seemingly forever.

How can a new brand be successful amongst these giants?

The secret is finding a new category to dominate.

Red Bull became the #1 energy drink in the world by establishing an entirely new product category that didn’t previously exist. Why compete with Coke when you don’t have to?

Vibram established themselves as the leader in five-toed shoes by creating a new product category that we had never seen before. Why would you want to take on Nike?

If you want to make a new brand successful in a crowded marketplace, you need to determine what makes your product unique, and use that difference to create a new product category.

Be first. Be original. Be a leader from day one, and stop wasting time, money, and resources trying to take on an established giant.

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The Brand Like A Rock Star Workshop


I am excited to be putting the finishing touches on a Brand Like a Rock Star branding workshop in Winnipeg, Manitoba on Wednesday, November 23.

The workshop is being organized by the Advertising Association of Winnipeg and is open to everyone, members and non-members alike. It should be especially worthwhile for small business owners, marketing and advertising managers, agencies, and media buyers.

During this 1/2 day workshop we will explore:

  • Branding – what it is, what it isn’t, and why it matters in today’s digital world.
  • Small Business Branding – why establishing a strong brand is vital to small businesses.
  • Growing Your Niche – growing a niche market into a mass market without changing what you do.
  • Building Brand Foundations – establishing and embracing your difference.
  • Spreading The Word – social media, advertising, PR, and word-of-mouth.

The event will include breakfast, and the first 100 people to register will receive a free copy of the book Brand Like A Rock Star.

There will also be plenty of time for questions and one-on-one discussion.

Winnipeg Brand Like A Rock Star Workshop

November 23, 2011        7:30am to 11:00am

CanadInn Polo Park – Winnipeg, MB

To register contact the Advertising Assocation of Winnipeg at 204-831-1077 or visit


If you would like to host your own Brand Like A Rock Star Workshop or have me speak to your company, conference, or convention, contact me directly at steve (at)



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Hurricane Irene And The Power of Brand Names


Like many people, I spent much of the past weekend being inundated with media hype over Hurricane Irene.

Why are hurricanes given names?

It’s the same reason Lady Gaga calls her fans Little Monsters… the same reason Jimmy Buffett fans are called Parrotheads and Grateful Dead fans are Deadheads… the same reason millions of fans enlisted in the KISS Army.

By assigning names to things, it is easier to build awareness and to create tribes.

In the case of hurricanes, giving them human names makes them easier to remember and report on, and it increases community preparedness, according to the World Meteorlogical Organization.

Fast food burgers are given names… Big Mac. Whopper. Baconator.

Cars are given names… Mustang. Charger. Corvette.

Names can quickly change perceptions. Very few people ate Chinese Gooseberries until the 1960s, when New Zealand renamed them Kiwifruit after their national bird. Kiwifruit suddenly took off.

Names can quickly establish identities. In 1973, the newly independent citizens of British Honduras embraced the nation’s new name, Belize.

As you work to build a following around your business, product, or movement, think carefully about names.

Are you giving your products interesting names?

Are your names making it easier for people to remember your products?

Are you giving non-human items human names, like hurricanes, in order to transfer human qualities to them?

The name Brand Like a Rock Star was carefully chosen. It is memorable yet simple, and when people hear it for the first time they often think they’ve heard it many times before. You can pre-order Brand Like a Rock Star right now for just $14.95.


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Foo Fighters: Everything Is Part Of Your Brand


Dave Grohl and Foo Fighters have a reputation as a fun-loving and irreverent band, seldom taking themselves too seriously.

Their unusual name is taken from the name given to UFO’s spotted by Allied fighters in World War II. Dave loves to make jokes on stage. The band does a triangle solo to demonstrate the rock ‘n’ roll power of the triangle.

So Foo Fighters fans wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the band as a 52-page rider done up like a coloring book. The coloring book rider goes out to everyone who hires the band to play a concert.

What branding relevance is there to this?

They could have easily written a rider in legalese just like every other band does. But they didn’t, because Foo Fighters aren’t every other band. They are different, and they use every opportunity they can to prove it. A coloring book rider reflects that difference.

Brands are not logos, color schemes, or positioning statements. Brands are emotions. Brands are experienced, not proclaimed. And they are experienced at every level, not just in a corporate boardroom and not simply in your advertising.

Ever read the manifesto on the side of your drink cup at Chipotle?

 Have a look at the windshield of the Jeep Wrangler. The first image has a sillhouette of the iconic Jeep grill above the mirror. The second image is another sillhouette, this one of a Jeep climbing rocks. It is extremely tiny, hidden in the bottom corner of the windshield of the new 2012 Jeep Wrangler.

 Foo Fighters use their cool concert rider. Chipotle uses cups. Jeep uses the windshield.

Do you use every aspect of your brand to accurately reflect your unique identity?


Chipotle, Foo Fighters, Jeep, Uncategorized 616 Comments

Steve Jobs: Replacing Apple’s Lead Singer


Steve Jobs has a history of stunning the world, but this time around it wasn’t a new tablet computer or smart phone that helped him do it. It was instead the shocking announcement that he was stepping down as CEO of the world’s most successful company.

Few business leaders cast as long a shadow as Steve Jobs. He is the human face of Apple. His status is cult-like. While Apple will no doubt carry on, it won’t be easy to replace a leader who is so deeply connected to the brand.

Could The Rolling Stones replace Mick Jagger? They wouldn’t even try.

U2 would never play a show again if Bono left.

The Who couldn’t replace Roger Daltry, even though I wouldn’t put it past them to try (based on their history of replacing mortally departed drummers and bassists).

In fact, when you think about it, remarkably few big-name bands have replaced high profile lead singers at the peak of their career and continued on with any measurable success.

Van Halen managed to successfully replace David Lee Roth with Sammy Hagar, but they’ve never been the same since Hagar’s first departure.

AC/DC did it when Bon Scott died and they recruited Brian Johnson, although Scott wasn’t a tremendously high profile frontman.

Alice in Chains appears to have pulled it off, replacing Layne Staley with William DuVall, and recording a successful comeback album in 2010.

Classic rock bands like Styx, Journey, Foreigner, and others continue to tour with new lead singers but each band is a shell of its former self.  Judas Priest tried and failed. So did Iron Maiden.

So will the new Apple be able to pull off a lead singer change the way Van Halen, AC/DC, and Alice in Chains did?  Or do they risk falling into the abyss of once-great classic rock bands who relentless pursue faded glory?

You can order the new book Brand Like a Rock Star now by clicking the link below. If you’re on the fence, download a chapter for free and sample it first.


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When Bad Things Happen To Your Brand


Sometimes things go wrong, and brands get damaged.

Sometimes you have a late-night Thanksgiving car accident and your entire personal and professional life unravels before your eyes.

What bad things happen, brands need to rebuild.

For a brand like Nike Golf, once so aligned with Tiger Woods, that presents a daunting challenge.  And I like how they’ve handled it. Over the past few months, Nike Golf has been running an ad for their “Method” putter, showcasing the technology behind the club. It is a series of behind-the-scenes shots with pro golfers working together with Nike to create the perfect putter. One of the golfers just happens to be Tiger Woods.

He isn’t the centerpeice of the commercial. This isn’t a commercial about Tiger Woods. This is just a commercial about golf club technology that happens to include Tiger. It is a gentle reintegration of Tiger into the Nike brand.  The subtlty of the move is entirely calculated. Nike is being very cautious, because the Tiger Woods brand is dangerous – both because of his personal troubles and his shaky golf ever since the scandal hit.

Plenty of rock stars have bottom out, only to rise again.

For Carlos Santana and Johnny Cash, their comebacks were linked to collaborations with a fresh new generation of musicians. Santana recorded Supernatural with help from Rob Thomas, Everlast, Eric Clapton, Dave Matthews, and others. Johnny Cash teamed up with producer Rick Rubin and recorded his own interpretations of songs by Nine Inch Nails, Soundgarden, Depeche Mode, and U2.

But Santana and Cash hadn’t commited the kind of social crimes that Tiger Woods did.

Maybe a better comparison is Chris Brown, who is still rebuilding his career after assaulting then-girlfriend Rihanna in 2009. Brown was carefully reintroduced at a Michael Jackson tribute, where he performed an emotional version of “Man In The Mirror” that left many people feeling like the singer deserved another chance.  But then in March controversy arose again when Brown was accused of becoming violent in his dressing room after a Good Morning America interview that probed into the Rihanna affair and the restraining order against him. It remains to be seen if the career of the very talented Chris Brown can be rebuilt.

What can a brand in trouble learn from Tiger Woods, Chris Brown, Santana, and Johnny Cash?

* Take it slowly. Don’t try to conquer the world right away.

* Don’t make it about you. Instead, be humble. Tiger is doing that with the new Nike ads. Chris Brown did it with the Michael Jackson tribute.

* Find a few friends who can lend you credibility. Santana and Johnny Cash did that with tremendous results.

* In the end, being honest and straightforward will win you a lot of friends. Just ask Hugh Grant, who famously quipped “I did a bad thing, and there you have it” on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, shortly after Grant was arrested with a prostitute. Hugh’s career would have probably suffered a great deal more had he not been so forthcoming.

Chapter Thirteen of Brand Like a Rock Star is all about reviving brands that have been left for dead. What can your business learn from Johnny Cash and Old Spice? Find out when you pre-order the book now.


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A Rock Star PR Move By Abercrombie and Fitch


Sometimes the fastest way to definitively establish what your brand is about is to compare it to another brand.

Home Depot’s “more doing” approach helps define Lowes’ “let’s build something together” brand identity. Coke’s heritage helps define Pepsi’s new generation. The frustrations of Windows users help define Apple’s intuitive nature.

There was a classic example this week that demonstrates how you can define your brand through the identity of others.

Abercrombie and Fitch had a problem. One of the stars of “Jersey Shore“, Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino, was wearing their clothes on the tv show. The problem is that A&F see their brand as diametrically opposed to the values of The Situation.

So they issued a public appeal to The Situation asking him not to wear their clothes on the show. They went so far as to offer him cash to not wear A&F clothing.


In one single press release, Abercrombie and Fitch were able to reinforce what their brand is all about by position themselves against Jersey Shore.  They clearly stated that the show goes against their brand’s “aspirational nature”.  Abercrombie and Fitch told the world, through PR, that they stand for a set of values very different from the gym-tan-laundry lifestyle led by the characters on “Jersey Shore”.

The move got massive press for Abercrombie and Fitch, and they didn’t have to pay a cent to do it. The story was everywhere this week.

All they did was publicly contrasted themselves against a brand with the opposite set of values.

Your fast food restaurant could position itself for adults by promoting that it serves beer and wine, or it could advertise that it doesn’t have toys with the meals.

Your local grocery store could position itself against the big chains by issuing a press release with a city-wide challenge for people to try go one week buying only groceries sourced within 100 miles of your city in order to support local businesses.

It takes guts to take a stand like that, but quite often it works. Do you have the courage to try it? You will probably alienate some people, as A&F did with their brilliant PR move. But as Roy Williams pointed out in The Secret Formulas of The Wizard of Ads, “the risk of insult is the price of clarity”. If you intend to carve a powerful position with clarity, you’re going to inevitably insult a few people along the way.

Defining yourself against your enemies and taking bold PR moves are both covered in the new book Brand Like a Rock Star, available right now. If you’re uncertain about buying, download Chapter One free first right here… and then take the leap.


Apple, Coke, Home Depot, Lowe's, Pepsi, Windows Vista, Wizard of Ads 136 Comments

For Those About To Drink, AC/DC Salutes You


The boys in AC/DC are a template for rock ‘n’ roll consistency, rocking through nearly forty years with hardly a change in their signature sound.

Australia’s Warburn Estate will release four AC/DC themed wines this week, including “Back in Black” Shiraz, “You Shook Me All Night Long” Moscato, “Highway To Hell” Cabernet Sauvignon, and “Hells Bells” Sauvignon Blanc.

On one hand, the demographic fit is perfect. The AC/DC audience has grown older. Their beer-swilling young fans of 1979 are today’s wine drinking movers, shakers, and power brokers.

On the other hand, there is the issue of brand compatibility. Even if the audience is older and more inclined to be sipping wine instead of chugging beer on a Saturday night, that doesn’t mean they will turn to AC/DC as their sommelier.

My guess is that AC/DC fans seeking fine wine will turn to a brand with a reputation for fine wine, not Angus Young. I predict that the collection of AC/DC wines will be nothing more than a novelty item that might get talked about at a dinner party.

Then again, maybe that’s the goal. If so, is there anything wrong with that?

AC/DC’s legendary consistency is the focus of Chapter One of Brand Like a Rock Star. You can download that chapter absolutely free here, and then buy the entire book here.


AC/DC 150 Comments

Hype vs. Anticipation: How False Expectations Kill Brands


“Steve Jones knows a thing or two. Listen and take notes.”

That’s what Gene Simmons of KISS said about Brand Like a Rock Star. Alice Cooper called it “the insight of a rock ‘n’ roll veteran.

Quite often people ask me if those quotes are real. Of course they are. Gene and Alice were kind enough to read what I wrote and give it four thumbs up, and I’m extremely grateful. Besides, it would be unethical and illegal for me to fabricate quotes like that.

It was important for me to seek out endorsements that created anticipation for the book, not hype.

Anticipation is the pleasurable expectation of something to come in the future.

Hype is the exaggeration of something’s importance in order to get publicity.

Had Gene Simmons said “Steve’s book is better than anything Ries and Trout ever wrote”, I would have been flattered, but I couldn’t have used an endorsement like that. Ries and Trout set the standard for marketing books, and it would be insane for me to raise expectations to that level. That’s just hype.

Smart advertising avoids hype. Smart advertising creates anticipation. It has a magical way of making you feel like that product might actually be better than the ads portray it to be. Smart advertising uses honesty and frames the message in reality.

Axl Rose blew it with the Guns ‘N Roses album Chinese Democracy. It was quite a decent album, for the record. But nearly 20 years of hype about the album created expectations that could never be lived up to.

Hype is created by using unsubstantiated claims of greatness. It is normally full of cliches like “best ever” and “one time only” and “never before seen”. Hype works when you don’t care if you ever see the customer again. It works if you are competing entirely on price and price alone. But in terms of building a long-term viable brand, it most often fails.

“Death by hype” is the title of Chapter Ten of Brand Like a Rock Star. In it, we look at the Segway, the Star Wars trilogy, and five tricks you can learn from watching Steve Jobs build anticpation for Apple products. You can order the book here for just $14.95. I’m pretty sure you’ll like it.


Alice Cooper, Apple, Axl Rose, Gene Simmons, Guns N' Roses, Ries and Trout, Segway, Star Wars, Steve Jobs 1,698 Comments

Rock Star Brands & New Fans


Four years ago, The Police wrapped up one of the most successful reunion tours with a final show in New York City. When I first heard “Every Breath You Take” by The Police, I was only thirteen. What a fantastic piece of music. So understated. So haunting. It was a great way to be introduced to the band.

A slightly older friend of mine was less enthralled. He was a long-time fan of The Police, and he was hoping to hear something more like “Roxanne”. The ballad that I loved so much didn’t connect with him in quite the same way, although he still enjoyed the song and the band.

The point is that every day, someone is experiencing your brand for the first time.

Right now, someone is tasting their first sip of Coke, a brand that turned 125 years old this year.

Right now, someone is ordering their first Starbucks coffee, a young 40 year-old brand.

Right now, someone is driving their first Ford, and they’ve been around for 108 years.

To put it into deeper historical perspective, right now someone is dining for the first time at Stifskeller St. Peter in Salzburg, Austria. It opened in 803 A.D. and has been serving food for 1208 years.

Is your brand built so that newcomers feel welcome? Is it easy to understand with clear instructions-for-use? Do you make newbies feel part of the tribe instantly? Are you able to balance your old fans with the new ones?

Rock star brands are always inviting new people to join the tribe, without ever alienating those early adopters who have loved them all along.

Chapter Seven of Brand Like a Rock Star is about how rock star brands build intentional “entry points” to welcome in new fans without alienating old ones. Order your copy now at


cover of the book Brand Like a Rock Star

Brand Like a Rock Star arrives at retail locations October 1, 2011.

Brand Like A Rock Star, Coke, Ford, Starbucks, The Police 1,606 Comments