Brand managers should see more live music, particularly if they're looking for new ways to think about connecting with consumers.
A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of seeing an acoustic performance by singer-songwriter Esthero (thanks to Maurice Bernstein and Mimi Lin at Giant Step). Acoustic performances strip away all the production gloss and place the song and/or the musical talent front and center. In her case, Esthero has that elusive “it” factor: Something that's greater than the sum of a distinctive voice, an uncanny ability to engage an audience, and well-written and performed songs. She conjured the magic and intimacy that makes being part of a standing room-only crowd worthwhile.
All of which got me thinking about the concept of a “brand acoustic performance”.
At the core are these questions: Is it possible for a brand to create this kind of magic and intimacy? The artists who forge deep, long-term connections with their audiences are not afraid to reveal themselves, warts and all. But, have you ever heard of a brand being “vulnerable” with its consumers?
How about a brand showing humility or generosity? Esthero talked at length about the artists that inspire her and even brought one onstage to perform a song. Upon hearing the song, we all understood why this woman inspires Esthero. We experienced the power of an unknown (for now) singer who inspires someone who 300 or so people have paid upwards of $30 to see. Not only is it a great recommendation for this up-and-coming artist, but also it puts Esthero’s efforts in context and articulates what she’s reaching for in her work.
Unfortunately, a brand is not a person. It is a vehicle created to exist in a hyper-competitive marketplace and generate returns for its investors. More importantly, a brand is an empty vessel that becomes invested with attributes based on the designs of its managers and the perceptions of its target audiences. While some brands achieve iconic status, they never tried or failed to get a date to the senior prom or were children of divorce. It’s not about whether or not we can relate to a brand, but whether a brand can really relate to us.
That said, there’s no harm in thinking about ways to humanize brands, and the brand acoustic performance might be one path to take. How? For starters:
- Create something enduring. Here’s where it’s important to provide a product or service that solves for a real need. If you haven’t done this yet, repeat step 1 until you get it right.
- Know what your brand’s fan really love about the brand. Provide opportunities for feedback from your key segments. Also, develop loyalty systems that let them know that you appreciate their support and business.
- Find a way for them to experience it all over again. The audience at an acoustic show isn’t interested in remixing or mashing up the artist’s song. What they want is the artist to perform their songs in a fresh way, so they can experience the songs they love, but with different nuances than might have be showcased on the album.
- Don’t overlook the social aspect of it. An important engine for the “magic and intimacy” that I talked about earlier is the fact that it’s a group experience. We are social creatures and, as consumers, we want to experience what we love with others. Harley-Davidson does it in Sturgis, South Dakota every year. Saturn’s “homecomings” in Spring Hill, Tennessee were storied. There’s MacWorld. I’m sure there are other examples, too.
- Find ways to bring your fans "onstage". Doing so further breaks down the wall between artist and audience, brand and consumer. During one song, Esthero grabbed a woman from the audience, brought her onstage, where the woman danced in utter joy with her for the duration of the song. Best believe that this woman went home and is probably STILL telling people about that experience. What’s happening here is not only a brand refreshing what its audience loves—singing its hits—but also enabling a fan to participate in this particular moment of re-creation. It reinforces an already strong bond with the fan, but also that person onstage becomes representative of all of us in the audience. Believe me, we felt that woman’s joy, as well.
Why bother? After all, a brand’s fans already have invited the brand into their homes and lives. Yes, but at the very least, this acknowledges the tendency to take the familiar for granted. While a brand acoustic performance will not be for consumer, it does give the most fervent fans a special experience with the brand.
The artist Esthero brought onstage was Shae Fiol. Her MySpace page is here. The song she sang was "A Woman's Presence". Definitely worth hearing.