It appears there’s a bit of a (pardon the pun) Tidal wave bearing down on the music industry these days and everyone is scrambling for the lifeline that is Taylor Swift. From the star-studded launch of Jay Z’s $56 million dollar music-streaming acquisition Tidal, to the legislative debate over radio royalties, to the rumors swirling about the next iteration of Beats Music – one constant is the near ubiquitous presence of Taylor Swift. Given her stance that consumers should pay for music artistry (as outlined in her WSJ op-ed), it isn’t surprising that she’s a part of the story. However, I would argue her large, loyal fan base is more important than her outspoken position on paying for music in making her such a central figure in the ongoing discussion of the future of music.
As a brand, Taylor Swift has the numbers, or in other words, the household penetration. Her “Swifties,” are over 56 million strong on Twitter alone and have proved willing to spend money on her products (1989 is currently 2015’s top-selling album). Whatever music streaming service or services she blesses stand to receive both the benefit of the number of potential subscribers she brings to the table as well as what I assume these service providers have determined is a disproportionate willingness to continue to spend money on Taylor-blessed goods & services. Her negotiating power lies in the undisputable fact that very few other artists have amassed the size and strength of Taylor’s following.
So how did she do, at 25 years of age, what brand managers spend lifetimes trying to achieve? I think it boils down to a pretty simple recipe that can offer a fair amount of wisdom to those of us who love to build brands:
1.) Taylor expands her reach thoughtfully through an evolution of her core. I believe the major difference between a brand and just a product is that a brand stands for something and acts upon this platform so that consumers who also believe can use an association with the brand to project something about themselves. Even as a casual fan of Taylor Swift’s music, I admire her willingness to put herself on display so publicly and so honestly. She readily paints a vivid (and holistic) picture of what her brand stands for through song lyrics, social media and her every day behavior. However, she doesn’t let this lead to being content with just her existing audience (or worse, growing stale). With her 1989 album she led her own evolution from Country to Pop – bringing along her loyal fans by sticking to the catchy, personal music she does best, while expanding her brand to a whole new audience that wasn’t engaged in the Country genre. Just as people grow and evolve without changing the core of who they are, brands should also strive to increase the pool of their potential consumer base through purposeful evolution.
2.) Taylor’s brand stays top-of-mind by being inclusive. One of my top three brand building bibles, Byron Sharp’s How Brands Grow, showcases (among other things) the science behind how brands grow by winning the battle for mass attention, not the love of a specific consumer target. Taylor has very successfully cultivated a coalition of other brands (commercial and celebrity) that help keep her name top-of-mind to a broader audience than just those who already love her. I would venture to say that those who know of Taylor Swift vastly outnumber those who do not, which whether or not they like her, positively contributes to her brand awareness and subsequently to brand growth.
3.) Taylor understands the impact of exceeding expectations on driving advocacy. If something is expected, it is inherently unremarkable (which in today’s day and age, means not worthy of a social media mention). I believe Taylor’s single greatest brand building effort to date was 2014’s Swiftmas, an elaborate mining of her fans’ social media profiles that led to the delivery of personalized Christmas presents. For those of us who struggle to find meaningful gifts for people we know, it is almost mind-blowing to see the reaction of her fans (all documented on social media) to gifts she bought for them based on things they’d posted online. Even though technology has made it seem like we are really friends with celebrities, it is still truly remarkable to see a celebrity you love actually care about you in such a personal way. Through this execution, Taylor fed her current consumers with inherently shareable content that they gladly posted to their own networks. Between the content Taylor posted, the content her fans created, and the media coverage, the impressions were just as impressive as a traditional TV campaign.
Only time will tell if Taylor crowns a streaming service and convinces enough of her fans to pay for it, but in the meantime, we can all use the lessons she’s demonstrated to make sure our brands continue to grow.