Five Branding Lessons The Rolling Stones Taught Us

In 2016 rock legends Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood and Charlie Watts toured South America. They started in Santiago, Chile and ended their 14-gig tour with a free concert exploding in the unlikeliest of places: Havana, Cuba – a communist country that has had no outside influence for 57 years; no foreign import of goods, no tourism, and very little view to the world beyond their borders. A whole generation probably didn’t know what rock music was, how it sounded, felt or even tasted.

As I watched the documentary unfold from my economy seat on a flight to Bangkok, I thought: Wow. THIS is how you become a legend…

 – ONE –

Brand storytelling sounds overrated. It’s all over Twitter and LinkedIn. Marketers go on and on about it. And still many brands don’t do it. How many businesses approach me with a request to build / rebuild their web content minus the About page, I’ve lost count.

Our personal story is not that important, they say. It’s about the product, not its makers.

This is a fair point. But if this were really the case, why not just patent the business idea and sell it to the competitors? It’s easier to turn a profit this way without the daily stress of building and running a business.

My guess is that we build businesses not just because we want to make money. It’s because we want to create our own success story. And all the best stories have a beginning.

The Stones didn’t have to have a tour so late in their lives. They’re still making money just sitting on their bum. But they wanted to have a story to share, to create a new narrative and to reinforce their legacy in the music industry.

That story became more powerful than their product. That story increased their following by the thousands. And that story bumped up their revenue by 83+M USD.

– TWO –

For what is the use of a marketing campaign if it’s tried, tested and safe? True, risks should be calculated. But one of the joys of running a business is not always knowing whether customers will gravitate towards our idea.

Holding a free concert in a country that has only the slightest idea of your music is an incredibly daring move. In a world saturated with beats from Diplo, Major Lazer and David Guetta, classic rock doesn’t seem to have the best or most timely appeal.

Did the Stones team know if the concert was doable in Havana AND attract AND entertain a crowd? They weren’t sure. The Cuban government hadn’t dealt with an event of this scale since 1959.

Did the concert fall flat? It didn’t. It only further cemented the Rolling Stones brand as ‘the greatest rock-and-roll band in the world’.

In life as in business, fortune favours the brave.

 – THREE –

There’s a very real person behind every sale and it’s important to learn about this person and their motivation for parting with their cash in exchange of what we offer.

As brands get bigger they tend to forget about this person – the customer, and consequently lose that all-important personal touch. Being present in social media is not enough. There has to be human interaction with members of the public, whether it’s with existing or potential customers, or influencers.

During the Rolling Stones America Latina Ole Tour, the band each went out on the streets to interact with locals. They didn’t just shake hands or exchange trivial greetings with those who love their music. They spent afternoons with local artists, craftsmen, musicians, etc.

Jagger made the extra effort to speak Spanish and Portugese at the concerts, which the locals probably didn’t understand but hey, what an amazing effort!

 – FOUR –

No one wants to do business with a bore. Even if your product is insurance or data management or app development, there’s always a way to set yourself apart and paint your own brand of cool.

In the 1960s when British bands started making their way in mainstream America, producers were bent on creating a unique characteristic to the bands.

The Beatles and The Rolling Stones had the same manager at the time they were just gaining momentum. As The Beatles dominated the ‘good boy’ image, the ‘bad boy’ image was reinforced in the branding of The Stones  to get their music just as much deserving attention. This rebellious image worked out for them, immortalised years later with the notorious lips and tongue logo.

 – FIVE –

No brand is too good that the product survives without innovation. The death of Nokia and the Blackberry are prime examples. Ditto with Yahoo! and MSN being the world’s top search engines and MySpace being the trendy social network.

The Rolling Stones began their journey in 1962. In 1994, 32 years on, they became the first major recording artists to broadcast a concert over the internet. Today, 55 years on, they outlive most of their rock contemporaries as they continue to collaborate with new artists, record new covers, produce new projects and create new headlines.

Over the years the band was hounded with controversy and allegations. Through these hard-hitting times they persevered with their music, experimenting with new sounds, techniques and instruments, pushing boundaries with every album release.

It’s now 2017 and youngsters of this generation still play the same Rolling Stones songs their grandparents listened to.

If that’s not great branding, I don’t know what is.

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