As it does with almost every other industry, marketing plays a pivotal role in the success of popular music. Behind all of the glitz, glamour, art, and excess that defines the narrative of many successful musicians lies a successful marketing strategy that allowed them to reach their audience.
From the mass commercialism of the Spice Girls’ ‘Girl Power’ movement in the nineties to the grassroots fan engagement used by burgeoning bands during the MySpace era, a wide variety of marketing tactics have been used by artists and labels throughout the storied history of pop music.
While the influence of marketing practices on the music industry is undeniable, this is not a one-way street. Indeed, a closer glance into the careers of many successful artists will reveal an array of profound lessons that can be applied to the world of marketing.
Below, we’ll cover some of the key marketing lessons to be learned from the world of music.
Play to Your Audience
The music industry is filled with stories of bands who achieved seemingly overnight success by capturing the hearts and minds of a specific target audience.
The Sex Pistols are a notable example of a band who were able to use their image to cultivate a relationship with fans that went far beyond the music itself. With their angst, outlandish style, and provocative, anti-monarchy sloganeering, the Sex Pistols established themselves as the face and trendsetters for a section of disenfranchised, politically-frustrated teenagers in Britain.
By demonstrating a consistent message throughout their music, fashion, and interviews, the Sex Pistols were able to cultivate a distinctive, emotive brand that remains iconic to this day.
While, on the surface, the bubblegum pop stylings of the Spice Girls may be the polar opposite of Johnny Rotten and co, the British girl band were just as successful as the Pistols in catering for their audience. With their inescapable ‘Girl Power’ messaging and their mass advertisement across numerous global brands, the Spice Girls captured the imagination of young girls around the world to become one of the biggest bands of the nineties.
So, what do the exploits of a vitriolic punk band and an outlandish pop group have to do with your marketing strategy? No matter what industry you’re in, defining your target audience is a vital component of successful marketing.
By establishing your target demographic, you can produce campaigns that cater directly to the type of people who’d be interested in your product or service. While the Sex Pistol’s strategy of sailing down the Thames and yelling profanities at the Queen proved popular with their audience, a substantially different approach is likely to be required if you’re promoting the products of a bank or a clothes shop!
Whether you’re launching a new product or marketing online content, defining your audience is key to the success of your strategy.
Change With the Times
Evolving with the times is essential to longevity in the worlds of pop music and marketing. Take a look at any music scene from the past, and you’ll find a list of bands and artists who saw their popularity evaporate in the wake of changing trends.
In the ever-changing world of pop music, it’s David Bowie who has proven himself to be the undisputed king of reinvention. From the androgynous glam rock aesthetic at the start of the seventies, to the industrial Berlin-inspired albums at the end of the decade, the chameleonic rocker has an unrivalled ability to shift with the tectonic plates of pop culture.
The adaptability that Bowie demonstrated throughout his career is even more important in the world of marketing. While stagnation is undoubtedly a bad thing in music, the consequences of standing still can be even more severe for your business. Whereas an ageing rock band might still be able to appease nostalgic fans with a greatest hits tour, failure to adapt your marketing strategy can see your customers drop you faster than a record label disposes of a one-hit-wonder.
The importance of remaining at the cutting edge of industry trends is even more apparent in the world of digital marketing. While there may be certain tried and tested traits of traditional marketing that remain effective across the decades, the constant evolution of technologies and algorithms means that the path to a successful digital marketing campaign can change in the blink of an eye.
By keeping up-to-date with the latest developments in the marketing sphere, you’ll ensure your company maintains its relevance for years to come. In the same way that Bowie was greeted as a pioneer by younger New Romantic bands in the ‘80s when many of his contemporaries were considered over the hill, a forward-looking marketing strategy is key to ensuring your company remains at the forefront of your industry.
Content is King
The world of music is filled with infamous smoke and mirrors of stories of bands who were hyped beyond belief, only to receive a scathing public backlash upon the release of their substandard debut album.
From the endless subpar grunge bands touted as the ‘Next Nirvana’ to the ridiculed post Britpop bands who came and went at the turn of the century, a quick glance at the music industry will reveal a slew of cautionary tales where initial good marketing has backfired dramatically.
While many artists and labels have proven themselves to be experts at generating hype, this early fanfare will only bring long-lasting success if the music is up to scratch. When bands like Suede and The Strokes were lauded as the saviours of Indie before they’d even released a record, it was the strength of the songs on their excellent debut albums that turned potential fans from sceptics to devotees.
While a good marketing strategy is key to getting your company noticed, it won’t mean a thing unless the product you’re offering is up-to-scratch. Although a snappy advertising campaign may turn a few heads, people will soon lose interest if your company’s product or service falls below expectations. Similarly, while a well-optimised content plan may bring viewers to your site, you’ll soon see these visitors leave in their droves unless your content offers genuine value.
Just like in music, providing customer value is the only way to ensure your marketing campaigns maintain their success. A well-executed marketing strategy can become counter-productive unless you have the product, service, or content to back it up.
By attracting interest but failing to meet expectations, you create a negative brand image and leave frustrated customers feeling like John Lydon when he bitterly said: “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated”.
The ability to work well with others plays a pivotal role in the success of marketers and musicians alike. The illustrious history of popular music is filled with musicians who wrote their best work when collaborating with someone else. From Morrissey and Johnny Marr’s songwriting alliance in the Smiths to John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s prolific body of work in The Beatles, these artists’ greatest achievements were defined by their ability to coexist with another songwriter.
David Bowie took this notion one step further by collaborating with a variety of esteemed musicians. Whether he was taking influence in the studio from the likes of Tony Visconti and Brian Eno on his own work or producing solo records by Iggy Pop or Lou Reed, there were countless instances throughout the Thin White Duke’s career where he engaged in collaborations that served to elevate both himself and the artist in question.
If working well with others is key to success in music, then it’s even more pivotal in the marketing industry. With media exposure key to the success of any marketing strategy, it’s vital that you communicate effectively with journalists and media outlets to build mutually beneficial relationships.
Building strong relations with PR and media companies enables you to work together on campaigns that show your company in the best possible light, while providing media outlets with the newsworthy stories they crave!
The need for strong collaborative skills is even greater in the world of digital marketing, where a successful strategy incorporates a variety of different processes. With everything from PR, outreach, content writing, and SEO essential to a successful online campaign, the performance of your digital marketing strategy can hinge on your ability to work well with professionals in other departments.
In the same way Bowie thrived when working with other artists (let’s not mention his appalling duet with Mick Jagger for ‘Dancing in the Streets’!), your marketing strategy will only reach its full potential when you embrace collaboration.
The industries of music and marketing are more intertwined than you might think. While there are endless examples of brilliant marketing throughout the history of music, there are equally as many pearls of wisdom that marketers can find by looking at the careers of certain artists.
Whether it’s Bowie’s restless reinvention or the Spice Girls' all-consuming commercialism, the flamboyant world of pop music can teach us many things about the art of brand promotion.