Great music and a reputation as a live phenomenon are a start, but your artist brand is important to cementing your place in the hearts and minds of your fans
When you hear slogans like “Finger lickin’ good,” “Just do it,” and “Eat fresh,” can you immediately picture the logo, the company, and the associated products? This is branding in action, and big businesses invest untold millions on it because they know it can mean success and longevity for their products. Developing your artist brand is an important step in your music marketing plan and in the ongoing development of your music career.
In the music industry, many major acts have mastered the art of artist branding. The Rolling Stones have the unmistakable lips, the Misfits have their skull, Kiss has the lightning-style “s,” and the Grateful Dead has their skeleton and roses and dancing bears, etc. When you see these symbols and band logos, you are reminded not only of the artist, but also the albums, the songs, the shows, the style of music, and the unique wardrobes – all of which add further to each artist’s brand identity. These symbols and band logos represent everything these artists are in the mind of their audience, and can serve as a badge of identity for the fans. But artist branding goes a lot deeper than a band logo or a symbol.
Why is artist branding such an important element in determining an band’s long-term success? Because in an abbreviated and unique way, it captures their essence and provides followers with an identity to embrace, deepening the identification of each fan to their favorite band – and brand.
A mark made by a hot iron
The word “brand” comes from Old English, meaning fire or flame. By the 1550’s its meaning had changed to an “identifying mark made by a hot iron,” and by 1827 it was broadened to include “a particular make of goods.”
According to entrepreneur.com, today branding is “the marketing practice of creating a name, symbol, or design that identifies and differentiates a product from other products.” These are clear concepts: you need a way to tell the world that something belongs to you or came from you.
Rewind for a moment and think about your favorite mainstream artists, from any era: Elvis, Madonna, The Beatles, Chuck Berry, Beyoncé, Prince, Taylor Swift, Eminem. They have all created an artist brand image that resonates with their audience.
If your style, message, and reputation is consistent with a particular consumer’s taste, you might be able to deepen the fan/band/brand relationship through consumer brand loyalty. Brand loyalty is a business concept where a consumer becomes so enthralled with your brand that he or she will continue to purchase your brand over and over again and won’t consider another brand offering a similar product. These people are loyal, long-term customers, often willing to spend a little more on the brand they’ve chosen.
This is the customer who goes to Starbucks so consistently that the barista knows to start blending the mocha frappuccino at 8:09 every morning so it’s ready at 8:11 when the customer walks in the door. In the music world, it’s the Dave Matthews’ fan who went to every single show when she got her driver’s license and still follows the band around each summer to half a dozen gigs, noting which songs the band played and in what order so she can post it on her DMB blog.
The bottom line for any band is that a loyal customer (fan) is more valuable to a business (your band is a business!) than a one-time buyer who will not be coming back for another show, album, mp3, t-shirt, etc.
Creating your artist brand
How do you go about starting to create your own brand? Let’s not forget, it starts with a lot of hard work. First, you need a product (songs, a live show) that establishes you as something consumers want to hear and see. Then, in an effort to establish a reputation, not only do you need to perform constantly and refine your craft, you need to simultaneously determine what it is that people are reacting positively to and use that to identify, establish, and refine your artist brand.
It begins with an identity and an understanding of what makes you different from other bands or artists of the same genre of music. In other words, who are you as an artist, and why are you unique? What is your message? Weezer differentiates itself from other alternative rock bands by offering a geeky look and comedic lyrics over grungy guitars; Girl Talk gives you a bass-throbbing, infectious mash-up party on a CD; and The Flaming Lips are going to be weird, no matter who they’re collaborating with.
Who are you, and what makes you unique? Start with your elevator pitch. If you’re having trouble zeroing in on what that is, study other successful artists you may be like, and make a list of what makes them unique to their audience. Jason Mraz wears his trademark hat while spinning his heartfelt story-songs and Keith Urban portrays an image of laid-back country boy who can shred on guitar and melt ladies’ hearts. Hone your qualities down to a quick list of attributes that describe you and work from there.
Once you pin down your identity, make sure you stay consistent. Your artist brand should be apparent at every exposure that you have to the public. Band logos and slogans are not as useful if they are not used repeatedly. And even if you get sick of announcing the name of your new release night after night, it’s that very repetition that will help establish your brand identity in the minds of your audience. You know a shoe or a shirt or a hat is made by Nike when it’s got their swoosh because they use it consistently. Coordinate the look of your website, press kit, merchandise, and social media to match so that they are all readily identifiable to your artist brand.
Even if you aren’t splashing your logo over everything you produce or wear, your products and your image should deliver a consistent message and ooze your unique identity. Gwen Stefani’s wardrobe matches No Doubt’s “pop punk with a splash of ska” branding. She does not need the words “No Doubt” branded across her t-shirt in order for her artist brand to be identified with her.
Sustaining your artist brand for the long haul
Sustaining your artist brand means consistently protecting and promoting it in all your music marketing efforts. Every single exposure you have with the public is an opportunity to promote your brand, so make sure you are constantly promoting the reputation you’re striving to achieve with the public. Justin Bieber, love him or hate him, always has his brand (music, tours, movie, videos, merch lines, and even his forays into being a “bad boy”) presented in a consistent way, making it much easier for fans to stay loyal to his many products.
If you’re a punk rocker, be a punk rocker at every contact you have with the public – on your album covers, in your video blogs, Facebook posts, anti-establishment rants, wardrobe, etc. If you are a socially conscious hip hop artist, do the same thing with your key messages, music, videos, etc. Develop your identity and spread it everywhere you can.
Creating your artist brand is not something that will happen overnight. Major corporations work for years to sculpt their brand’s identity and reputation into the most tightly defined version it can be. And while an indie artist does not have the financial resources or manpower that mega-brands such as Nike, Pepsi, or Subway have, the fundamental concepts that the big companies use are the same that your band can use: fans will purchase your music, merch, and tickets if they perceive added value to your band/brand because it resonates with them and is different (and therefore better) than other bands/brands in the same genre.
As you build your positive reputation, you build what’s termed brand equity. Brand equity is additional value attributable to your product or service due to your brand’s reputation. This is why you can go to the grocery store and buy a two-liter bottle of generic cola (generics are a sort of “anti-brand”) for 79¢, but Coke costs $1.29. Coke has additional value due to its brand equity.
Similarly, your artist brand equity is directly correlated with your reputation. If you have a reputation for putting on an incredible live show, have quality merch, and your music is superior, then you can charge more for shows, CDs, and tickets.
But just developing a good reputation is seldom enough to keep your brand in the limelight. Your brand equity is garnered over time by building a positive reputation with the public. Remember, every “best new artist” winner selected at any annual music award is years into refining and hammering home their artist brand. So stick with it, refine it, and be consistent.
Keith Hatschek is a regular contributor to Disc Makers Echoes blog and directs the Music Management Program at University of the Pacific. He’s also written two music industry books, How to Get a Job in the Music Industry and The Golden Moment: Recording Secrets from the Pros.
Dana Myers is a practicing attorney in Stockton, CA, who advises artists on various legal and copyright matters. She also teaches an introductory music industry course at the University of the Pacific, called Music, Entertainment in U.S. Society, which provides students with a basic understanding of how the music business operates.
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