Why Does Brand Strategy Matter for Musicians? Part One of a Two Part Case Study on the role of Brand Strategy in the success of pop-electronic music phenomenon, Marshmello.
A word thrown around a lot in the design world is Strategy. In long conversations about it with clients and colleagues I've found that many people understand the word to have different meanings. This can be colored by industry vertical and years of business experience, but I'm often surprised at how varied the answers can be. I'm even more surprised by how many artists, record label owners, and night club promoters don't understand how it's relevant to the music industry.
So, what is strategy?
Well, concisely defined, strategy is defining the game you're playing, establishing the rules of engagement, and what actions you will take to win.
So why does strategy matter for musicians?
Well, for most musicians, the "strategy" goes something like this; write great songs, play shows, get signed to a label, shoot music video, book stadium tour, success. But the thing is, thats not a strategy. In fact, those are actually just loosely defined milestones along an outdated career path model that went away when Napster disrupted the recording industry.
How Are You Going To Get There?
A real strategy defines who your fans are, understanding what matters most to them, where they spend time, and how they consume content. It determines how you're going to get in front of them, the voice you'll use when communicating with them, the way you'll present yourself, and knowing how those things align with the audience's needs. A strategy means knowing your goals and having a way to measure their success. A strategy is for the long game, and should supersede any plan for an album release, tour, music video, etc.
Put On Your Helmets, We're Going For a Ride!
So, what might that look like in execution? A great example most will be familiar with today is Marshmello. Taking a cue from Deadmau5, former Trap artist Dotcom donned a helmet, rebranded to a character rather than a person and has risen to enormous fame, far eclipsing his former heights. Why was this model so successful?
There are a number of factors that played into this success. The obvious is that he was already a skilled producer and had industry connections he was able to leverage. While these certainly played a factor, there are two main keys we will explore in this case study.
First, he has a fully developed brand identity, complete with iconic helmet and text logo. We'll explore this in further depth in Part Two, but there are a few important details worth mentioning up front. His brand is cartoonish, fun, energetic, and highly appealing to young people. Already well entangled with the youthful crowd accompanying electronic dance music, one challenge was maintaining relevance in a "what have you done for me lately" music market. How to future-proof an artist when the average customer is obsessed with the newest thing?
One of the savviest moves his brand strategy included was licensing his likeness to the video game Fortnite by Epic Games. This was brilliant for two reasons, the second of which we'll explore in Part Two. The main reason is that sough after ambrosia to musical artists EXPOSURE!
An extremely hot property with the youth (an impressive 350M registered users as of Aug 2020), this online Battle Royale-style game includes various dance moves characters use to celebrate victory over or taunt opponents, etc. The game's popularity has led to a phenomenon of young people performing these dance moves in the streets, at school, on YouTube, TikTok, etc.
Hmmm, young people who probably like electronic music based on their gaming preference, being inspired to dance in real life...
In case you didn't see where this is going- a musician with a cartoon brand has put himself as a playable character into a video game with over 350 MILLION users, 62.7% of which are 18-24, who collectively spend 3.3 billion hours in-game. Well, presumably the remaining 37.3% of the audience skews UNDER 18-24, meaning you're building future fans at the same time. Talk about making sure your brand is where your target customer is spending time. On top of this, he also arranged a virtual concert for his fans in-game, an innovative way to engage his existing fanbase and attract new fans simultaneously.
Watch this French kid go crazy at Marshmello's virtual concert!
Allowing your fans to wear your face to play a favorite game, then wear it to your "show" without ever logging out of the system they spend countless hours in already. Building extreme brand loyalty while delivering value directly to your target customer.
Now THAT is an excellent content marketing strategy! We'll further explore the implications of this deal in Part Two.
Results speak for themselves as he's currently racking up 50 Million YouTube subscribers, 45.4 Million streams on Spotify in 2019, and a reported net worth of over $40M USD, making him officially the worlds richest DJ in 2020.
Now, obviously it took many steps to be in a position to be able to ink a deal like this, but with the changes in the world brought on by covid, there is no better time than now for musicians to develop content marketing strategies that can help expose their music to the right audience to build REAL fans. Platforms like YouTube, Instagram, Twitch allow artists to connect with new fans everywhere, show their personality, and perform their craft live to an international audience, while also offering new avenues for them to engage with fans, generate revenue and express their creativity.
Now more than ever it's important for Musicians/Artists to ensure their music is being exposed to the right audience- lockdowns have crushed live music, but it won't last forever. The savvy artist is using this time to connect with fans in new markets, establish key relationships with promoters, labels, and collaborators, developing new revenue streams online, and positioning themselves to be ready to explode when the floodgates open and live music returns. Minor investments in content creation NOW can pay HUGE dividends in audience retention and engagement down the road.
Having all the platforms available is one thing, knowing how to connect the dots so the pieces combined lead to results is quite another. Developing a content marketing strategy can help musicians, label owners, and promoters alike help attract the right fans without wasting thousands of dollars wasted on poorly targeted ad spend, as well as fast-track developing super-fans who buy your music/merch, attend your shows, and promote your brand for you! So, how does one set out to achieve that?
See you in Part Two to discuss the role of Identity Design in the overall Brand Strategy that led to this level of success.