Rock, Retail, and Brand Extensibility

28 Oct 2007|Lee Shupp

The New York Times business section ran an interesting article in the Sunday paper today, entitled “If It’s Retail, Is It Still Rock?” The article describes the steps that many musicians and bands are taking to increase revenue in an era of declining CD sales. It includes a very fun visual overview of various musical marketing ploys, ranging from the Kiss Kasket to a $150 bottle of Bon Jovi cabernet sauvignon. Some of these example are likely to make you laugh out loud.

Smart musicians have realized that they were building brands for a long time now. And all brands face the question of brand extensibility: how far can you extend your brand without losing the brand essence, the emotional center of the brand that makes it so appealing to its core audience?

We are Cheskin would argue that its critical to understand the meaningful experience that your brand provides to its core customers, and to stay true to expressing that experience, no matter how tempting brand extensions may be that are not expressing this core meaning.

Many musicians have not bothered to define the meaningful experience that they co-create with the core audience. Some musicians give it little consideration, and they tend to have weak brands that don’t last very long. Some rely on intuition, and those with strong instincts can do well making brand extension decisions if they can stay true to their instincts in the face of seemingly easy money. More and more musicians are getting smart about branding, and are making increasingly informed decisions about which brand extensions make sense. A great example of the latter is Gwen Stefani, who has parlayed Southern California ska/punk roots into a strong music and fashion brand that is known all over the world. Madonna, of course, has long been a master of her brand, and she has recently left Warner Brothers, her record label for the past 25 years, to sign with Live Nation, a promotion company that offered her a 1.6% stake and control over all aspects of her brand.

Great brands are co-creations of smart marketers and a core audience that responds to the relevance, uniqueness, and authenticity of a brand. Smart marketers give a lot of thought to the experiences that they create, and check in with their core audience often to make sure that these experiences resonate, and lead to stronger brand loyalty and advocacy.

Many musicians, and brand managers, find it easy to succumb to temptation, and add brand extensions that increase revenue incrementally, padding revenue numbers and providing all important growth. This problem is often exacerbated in corporate cultures where brand managers rotate through different jobs and brands; each is motivated to show a short term bump during their stewardship, with nobody in charge of the long term health and well being of the brand until there is a problem. Brands that are extended infinitely go down a slippery slope towards irrelevance, as the extensions muddy, then obscure the power of the original brand. Walk down the toothpaste aisle of your grocery store for a great illustration of the problem. Or drink a bottle of Bon Jovi cabernet savignon and try to figure out what the connection is between the wine you’re drinking and the band, because you may be “Living on a Prayer.” 🙂

It’s hard to stay true to your brand when easy money tempts. And it’s easy to get away with one or two mistakes. But make a bunch of bad decisions, and your brand will die a slow death of a thousand cuts. Relevance, uniqueness, and authenticity are key, and being all things to all people like everyone else is a sure road to disaster. Kinda like Bob Dylan in a Victoria’s Secret commercial…

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