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Five Marketing Lessons From Taylor Swift, Brand Savant

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Say what you will about her music, persona, or awards-show grooving... Taylor Swift is a marketing genius. From product launches and rebrands to borrowed equity and social media domination, the playbook of the 25-year-old recording artist reads like a Strategy 101 textbook.

Legions of loyal fans believe she is approachable, sincere, and authentic. The media willingly spreads that message. Celebrities clamor to be part of her posse, eager to capitalize on a Swiftian halo effect.

She is an ideal example of the power of earned media and social reach. Her label may toss cash at paid ads, but by and large Swift grinds out her coverage the old fashioned way: She earns it. And, because of that, she reaps insane ROI through the message amplification of others.

Below are five lessons from this country-turned-pop star that you can apply to your brand.

1. Be willing to reinvent yourself


Good brands never stand still: They adapt to changing environments, retelling their story in ways that keep pace with the expectations of their market.

Swift's early country hits were rooted in boy-crazy romance, enabling her to connect with her tween and teen fans. But when that narrative turned negative (she's dumped, clingy, pathetic), Swift flipped the script and released the song (and video) "Blank Space" on her crossover-to-pop album "1989."

Swift shunned victim status, positioning herself as the dumper, not the dumpee—which allowed an aging fan base to reinterpret her brand. Swift embraced the negative and laughed at herself, and she was rewarded with a No. 1 hit.

Takeaway: Keep your ear to the ground as your company ages. If the narrative goes astray, reset and look for creative ways to shake it off (couldn't resist...).

2. Lead the conversation

Many brands are circumspect—too circumspect—about taking an unambiguous position. The fear of alienating a small subset of their market often trumps making a stand that may impress a greater number.

When Swift released an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal criticizing Spotify for its role in devaluing music, she risked irritating the fans she shared with the streaming service. But she did it anyway, attracting mad props from other musicians and re-igniting a national dialogue about the significance of paying for art.

She framed it expertly, not pleading poverty but emphasizing the worth of music to the world—worth that should be adequately rewarded. And if the record sales of "1989" are any indication, those impressed far outweighed those offended.

And, really, can you name another pop star able to smack down a billion dollar multinational like Apple and cause it to back down?

Takeaway: As a brand, don't be afraid to articulate what you stand for. The customers you lose probably weren't loyal to begin with; the ones who remain (and those you attract) will be that much more devoted.

3. Own your channels through branded content

Don't wait for the world to figure out what you're about.

Taylor Swift owns her messaging because she regularly pushes out unique and quality multi-channel content. Whether it's op-eds like the one in WSJ, or sharing cat photos on Instagram, Swift tells the world what she's about.

Takeaway: Meet your audience where they are. Create content. Engage on social. Be ever-present.

4. Humanize your brand

People like to talk to people—and the best brands make personal connections with their audiences. Southwest is successful because of its wacky workers. People associate Apple with its CEO. Stitchfix sends me recommendations from my "personal shopper Amy." Those companies are no longer amorphous entities. They're personalities.

Swift has a leg up in this department since she is, well, a human. But that's not what humanizes her brand. She accomplishes that by sharing herself with her fans and authentically connecting on social and in person. "Taylor Swift buys fans Christmas presents—and wraps them herself!" "Taylor Swift Skypes with sick fan!" "Taylor Swift gives girl $90 for Chipotle!" And all that would backfire, except... it's true, and it's authentic.

Takeaway: Humanize your brand to establish a true personal connection with your consumers. They'll reward you with understanding and loyalty. It's a lot harder for me to quit Stitchfix when I'm worried about offending Amy...

5. 'Think different'

Apple's old slogan is as true today as it was in 1997. Why? Because "different" gets noticed. "Same" is just noise.

When Swift was a struggling young artist, she looked for ways to distinctively market herself. She didn't wait for her market to come to her; she went to them, whether it was delivering cookies to DJs who spun her records or performing a flash concert in a departure lounge at the JFK Airport.

Takeaway: Look for opportunities to be where your competitors aren't. Don't restrict yourself to industry tradeshows—you're all selling the same thing. Look for chances to be the only one of your stripe.


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Katie L. Fetting is a digital marketer who specializes in creative strategy. With over a decade of experience in marketing, journalism, and the entertainment business, she helps build brands via attention-getting content strategies and unique brand positioning.

Twitter: @KatieLFetting

LinkedIn: Katie L. Fetting

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  • by EM Wed Jul 1, 2015 via web

    Yeah, see... when you say "her label may toss cash at paid ads" you mean they spend millions of dollars on placing, promotion, and networking. Oh and when she was 16 and her parents pumped over 100k towards her 1st promotional campaign (which is HUGE for an unknown artist - major record labels don't hand over that much), that might have helped her radio play as well. You see she might have been delivering cookies but her parents were delivering cold-hard-cash.

  • by Tom Smith Wed Jul 1, 2015 via web

    I heard Taylor interviewed on NPR. She, and her marketing team, are very impressive. She's real, she's reliable and she's responsive. I look forward to following the evolution of her career.

  • by RC Wed Jul 1, 2015 via web

    There are some good points but regarding her stand against apple there was opportunity missed about the press she is getting caller herself a hypocrite b/c she makes this stand for music but does the same thing she accusing apple of with photographers she works with. On her end this could been avoided if whoever wrote or proofread her open letter choose the words more carefully

  • by Kelly Kranz Wed Jul 1, 2015 via web

    Taylor Swift is the perfect example of a brand ambassador. Not to mention I am a huge fan of her work.

    I follow her on instagram and she presents herself as a normal person with cats and friends. She gives her fans an inside look at her life which just exemplifies her brand even more.

    In our personal businesses we can learn a lot from Swift. Change is OK. Standing for what you believe in is OK.

    But most of all- be transparent. Don't hide the culture of your brand. Let the people in- let them see you are more than a business- you are humans!

    Target audiences for any business are more likely to do business with you if they can see behind the iron curtain and relate to you- human to human.

    In my own personal brand I share cat photos on a regular basis. I'm a marketer but I don't hide the fact that I own two wonderful cats and a diva dog. My followers appreciate this and share their animal stories with me in return. I'm not a robot, I'm a human :)

    That's what it is all about. Go Taylor!

  • by Tobias Wed Jul 1, 2015 via web

    As a Swiftie, I can say for sure that paid advertising/promotions have nothing to do with my interest in her music and concerts. A million dollars of paid ads in traditional outlets couldn't buy what her Christmas Gift clips on YouTube generated. Check them out, it is pretty amazing - the 2014 version has 17 million views. Or look at her crashing Gena's bridal shower (2.6 million views). She likes to say to her fans "I'm stalking you" and she backs that up (her audience can sniff faux-authenticity a mile away).

    Other artists out there are doing this kind of thing too, e.g. Maroon 5's recent crash-playing at weddings, yet in their case they didn't come across quite as genuine - there's been lashback that they were staged/faked. Taylor's fans really feel her interest, it never comes across as staged or over-produced. No amount of billboards or ads in Rolling Stone could remotely create the buzz and audience loyalty that she's created. IMO, the #4 point above is the most powerful one. And her parents could have spent 10 times as much early - if the talent and the personality weren't there it would have been wasted.

  • by Venita Tue Aug 11, 2015 via web

    Hey Katie, I really enjoyed reading your article and I would have never thought to use Taylor Swift as an example of successful brand marketing. After reading your article, I was amazed at how true that is about brand marketing in relation to Ms. Swift. I really like the part especially about reinventing yourself in order to keep up with the ever-changing market as I completely agree with you and certainly, humanizing your brand doesn't hurt either and definitely builds more trust. I wrote a piece around your article and would love to have your feedback, Thank-You! blog.bizcravemarketing.com/want-to-be-a-marketing-genius-be-like-taylor-swift

  • by Tolulope Adeyemi Thu Mar 24, 2016 via web

    Fantastic content @KatieLFetting. I thoroughly enjoyed it regardless of what those butt-hurt haters who gave it a 3-star rating combined may think. Keep it up.

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