Marketing strategy tips every startup employee should learn from Taylor Swift
Taylor Swift is one of the most popular musicians of all time, and for good reason. The singer/songwriter knows a thing or two about getting her name out there and appearing in all the right places. She’s had her share of controversies too, but they typically just make her more famous and successful. Analyzing her career so far, there’s a lot to learn from Ms. Swift when it comes to marketing.
Respect tradition but go against the grain
In the past, music was released via the long album release cycle. This meant slowly releasing single after single, promoting it on talk shows whenever you can, and eventually releasing the whole album. When music labels controlled the conversation through personal relationships, this was all but the only way to release an album.
Now, though, this method has fallen out of favour. The new trend, popularized by Beyonce, is to drop a whole album at once – often by surprise. Many bands and singers took to this idea, making it the de facto trend for album releases in the new world of social media when individual singers often have more followers and relationships than whole record labels. Bucking the trend, though, Taylor Swift still uses the long album release cycle. When the whole music world moved to surprise albums, Swift’s teasing of a new single here and another new single there seems all the more tantalizing. And it’s working: Swift’s albums regularly break chart and sales records, selling millions of copies in the first month after the whole album is finally released.
Marketing strategy takeaway: if you’re willing to buck the trend, you could garner a lot of attention and high purchase intent.
Collaborate on your own terms
Taylor Swift’s entire career has been a series of collaborations. What started with a songwriting coach to help put her thoughts into words moved into various musical collaborations. Not only did this raise her profile immensely, it also made her a star-maker. One classic example is 2012’s “Everything has Changed” in collaboration with Ed Sheeran. While Sheeran was successful in his own right in the UK, the collaboration catapulted him to international recognition and provided Swift with a chart topping hit.
Swift’s further collaborations happened both on stage and backstage. During her musical shift from country to pop, for example, she collaborated with famed songwriter and producer Max Martin, who has worked with major acts like Robyn, the Backstreet Boys, and Celine Dion. And she collaborated with Panic! At the Disco’s Brandon Urie for one of her latest singles, ME, helping it to reach huge popularity with teen girls that love Panic!.
Marketing strategy takeaway: Strategic collaborations increase your brand reach in ways that you could never do alone.
Taylor Swift is famous for inviting fans into her life, both on social media and IRL (in-real-life). The singer invited hundreds of fans to her house for cookies and dancing as a lead-up event for her then-forthcoming album 1989. It was a clever way to tell the story of her album, which is about her life so far (she was born in 1989), and a unique way to keep her community engaged.
Far from only being used for marketing purposes, though, Swift has a history of engaging with fans on a very authentic level. She even spent valentine’s day with one fan who didn’t have a date. The pair made cookies and hung out with Swift’s cat, who makes frequent appearances on the star’s social media.
Marketing strategy takeaway: If you engage with your community authentically you garner more attention than marketing ploys.
Tell authentic stories
Every single one of Taylor Swift’s songs is a story. Sometimes they are about falling in love, others about heartbreak, and others still about friendship or other topics. But they are all about the human experience from Swift’s perspective. Not everyone agrees with Swift’s lyrics, least of all the people the songs are about in the case of heartbreak songs, but every song is put together in classic story format.
Because the stories are so tied to Swift’s own life – but written deep in metaphor and illustrative example to make the subject of the song slightly hidden – the media goes crazy trying to figure out who the song is about. In this way, Swift owns the narrative of her songs and ensures they are talked about. People may be debating who the song about or whether it’s an accurate representation of what really happened… but they are still talking about the song.
Marketing strategy takeaway: Create twists and turns in your stories that spark debate – that way no matter what side someone is on, the conversation is about you.
Stand your ground
Initially someone who spoke in generalities about being a good person, Taylor Swift became more vocal lately. The singer sent shockwaves in local politics, for instance, when she posted on her Instagram in support of LGBTQ+ equality. In the same post, she offered a political opinion against a candidate for Tennessee government that held anti-LGBTQ+ views (Tennessee is Swift’s home state). In another example, one of her newest singles You Need to Calm Down, Swift takes aim at homophobia and online bullying, featuring RuPaul and a myriad of other LGBTQ+ names and icons in her video.
While some deride Swift’s pro-LGBTQ+ and feminist comments and opportunistic – especially considering her very public feuds with other female singers – she is still taking action in a way that resonates with many of her fans. And, again, she is employing a key strategy in business storytelling. She creates controversy and debate so that the conversation remains firmly centred on her and her music.
Marketing strategy takeaway: Taking a stance can be a huge source of community goodwill, free marketing, and profits.
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