A Balancing Act: The Importance of Cultural Ideology in Improving Brand Performance

Charlie Toller, Music Lead at Prism Sport + Entertainment

Our music lead, Charlie Toller comments on why it’s more important than ever for brands to stand for something.

Charlie Toller

When developing the ‘Think Different’ campaign in 1997 Steve Jobs made the point that ‘marketing is about values’. Product benefits are not what brands should focus on when delivering their message. Brands should communicate what they stand for, their ideological point of view. In today’s increasingly convoluted marketplace, we’re seeing news ways of brands expressing themselves through new technology and cross-platform. It’s therefore more important than ever to stand for something, and this couldn’t be truer in music culture. Where better to demonstrate your values than through the most human of artforms, the medium that makes us feel most alive? This is a ‘money can’t buy’ ideological alignment, and a sense of belonging is important to people.

Artists have some of the strongest ideological ties with consumers; their personal brands resonate incredibly powerfully. This is why many people buy vinyl now, even though more than half don’t own a vinyl player. Putting the vinyl on display in their homes because it’s a form of self-expression says something about them. The same can be said for someone wearing a Ramones t-shirt. The band didn’t do much, but it represents something to people. Bob Marley made some killer music, but he and his music stood for something far greater. When people talk about music as an under-monetised asset, this is what they’re getting at. Tapping into this sense of belonging and kinship is gold dust. Brands need to be able navigate these corridors of authenticity properly, and the best way to do that is to take the time to plan, to truly understand it and – most importantly, actually – to ‘be authentic’ in the first instance. There’s time and money to be saved in the long run.

Jim Stengel, Cait Lamberton and Ken Favaro highlight the considerations for marketers when building a brand, and how short-term approach is often not sustainable. In a survey they ran at Cannes Lions asking senior marketing executives what their greatest challenge was, more than twice as many voted for ‘managing the tension between brand and performance marketing’. Short term gains in music are hard to come by, especially if a brand is new to it or hasn’t quite made it work before. We do a large amount of data collection and consumer sampling often successfully against ambitious KPIs, but delivering this as part of a brand experience that doesn’t undermine the message is tricky. So, to fully understand brand love we need to be able to measure it. The most common ways to do this are through surveys, social listening, customer retention, brand advocacy (UGC) and emotional metrics. 

As we start to flesh out new music opportunities the following are worth considering 

1. Segmentation: we need to break down audiences to tailor our marketing strategy, addressing specific needs and behaviours that exist within a given community of fans.

2. Affinity: we can look at whether customers or fans positively associate the brand with a specific aspect of music culture eg. talent or media platform.

3. Relevance: we work to understand the role that the brand plays in the fan journey and how important it is.

4. Authenticity: how real is the brand and do fans really buy into its association?

5. Longevity: where does the brand go next? How can it evolve its position in music culture to grow brand equity and a long-term competitive advantage?

I’ve previously commented on the profound opportunity that data can offer to the music industry. One of the best ways to describe this is the notion that we’re starting to be able to bring these two different objectives (performance and love) closer together. Brands that evaluate their impact in music in new ways will become more accurate and efficient, and the fact that this efficiency also carries the added benefit of driving value for the music industry also is very exciting.

If we accept that brands can’t afford not to stand for something, then we must also acknowledge that it’s a false economy to be inconsistent or sit on the fence. As we acknowledge that music influences all aspects of society, we must also accept brands need to have an identity in music culture – and to not is simply bad business.

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