It is one of the biggest challenges facing both rock bands and great brands: how do you maintain your cool vibe as you grow and become more mainstream?
Trader Joe’s, for the uninitiated, is a cool and quirky grocery chain famous for low-cost and high-quality food. Over 80% of their stock is private-label. Their stores have a homey neighborhood feel and their staff exudes a fun and easy-going nature. But over the past decade, the company has expanded from a few stores in the southwestern US to over 360 stores in 29 states across America. The LA Times recently documented the challenges Trader Joe’s faces as they attempt to grow and modernize while still preserving the classic elements of their stores that their customers love so much.
Nirvana fought the same battle following the unexpected massive success of their debut album Nevermind. Nirvana had to please two sets of fans; their hard-core original alternative fans who loved the band’s underground sound, and a new (and very large) set of fans who discovered the band because of their commercial success. How did they turn the follow-up, In Utero, into a success in the eyes of both groups?
1. They created an album that included elements to please both sides of the spectrum. Kurt Cobain promised that the album would go to more extremes, containing raw material that was even more raw than Nevermind and pop material that was even poppier than Nevermind. Cobain was sending the message that the band would do what it wanted to do, not what a record company or the fans wanted them to do.
2. Nirvana included the song “Rape Me” on the album, which forced retailers like Walmart and K-Mart to take a stand and refuse to sell the album. MTV also asked the band not to sing “Rape Me” at their awards show. Having push-back from Walmart, K-Mart, and MTV was ideal for the band’s alternative image.
3. Unlike most bands, Nirvana didn’t release any radio singles from In Utero. The record company sent advance copies of the song “Heart-Shaped Box” to college, alternative, and rock radio stations, but intentionally didn’t target Top 40 radio stations. By leaving mainstream commercial radio stations out of the the loop, they demonstrated to their fans that they were not neccesarily interested in reaching those fans.
The album In Utero went on to sell over four million copies in the US and 10 million worldwide, and was named by Rolling Stone magazine as one of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
The new book Brand Like A Rock Star uses lessons from rock ‘n’ roll to help make your business more successful. From Nirvana to AC/DC, U2, Bob Marley, KISS, and many others, you’ll learn actionable ways to put the core marketing strategies of rock legends to work to build your brand. You can buy the book now right here and either download the Kindle version or have it delivered by tomorrow. If you’d like to read Chapter One first, download it here. And don’t forget to grab a free ebook, the Musical Companion, to take you deeper into the music profiled in the book.
Here’s Nirvana giving the establishment the middle finger after being told they couldn’t play “Rape Me” at the MTV Video Music Awards.