PEOPLE FREQUENTLY LABOR UNDER THE MISCONCEPTION THAT A BRAND IS A LOGO
Or a brand is a font.
Or a brand is a color or a slogan.
As you probably know, a brand is none of the above.
A brand, ultimately, is how you want people to feel about your business.
Recently, I had the opportunity to again witness the power of a potent brand in action–a brand that has neither a logo nor a font, nor a color nor a slogan.
The brand is a man.
This man has built an iconic, world-class brand following of devotees who will go to great lengths to buy what he is selling.
HAVING A PARTY ON ISLAND TIME
I recently spent four days at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.
If you’ve never heard of Jazz Fest (sponsored in part by the iconic petroleum brand, Shell), it’s often recognized as the finest music festival in the nation.
Held at the New Orleans racetrack over two long weekends, the festival totals 7 days, 8 hours a day, of 10 stages going full bore with some of the finest music anywhere–jazz, rock, funk, hip-hop, folk, zydeco, gospel and blues, as well as derivatives thereof. (For example, one of the acts that’s been playing for 20 years is a band offering a wild fusion of jazz, rock and klezmer music.)
The festival’s main stage (brought to you by the iconic luxury automobile brand, Acura) features the biggest artists, and always offers a major, headlining act at the end of the day.
The second Saturday’s headliner was Jimmy Buffett–a man who is the living embodiment of persona-based brand.
On most days, early in the day, it’s fairly easy to move around the crowd in front of the Acura stage.
But when Jimmy plays, it’s a different story.
THE PARROTHEADS BEGIN CROWDING THE STAGE EARLY IN THE DAY
Even though Jimmy doesn’t go on until 5:25pm, his tribe is already gathering by noon.
By 4:25 pm, when the famed New Orleans pianist, songwriter and music producer Allen Toussaint is performing his set, it’s difficult to move through the crowd that is jamming the acreage in front of the stage.
The Parrotheads are out in full tribal force, carrying their battle flags from places like Key West, the Bahamas, and the Virgin Islands. Rainbow streamers, windsocks and beach balls abound.
While the crowd is not there to see Allen Toussaint per se, they have no problem with him–especially when he plays his song, “I Wanna Hang With Jimmy Buffett.”
By the time Jimmy takes the stage an hour later, this end of the racetrack is a veritable Caribbean sea of humanity. Easily, there must be 30,000 people jammed into this section of the infield.
When Jimmy finally comes to the stage, the noise is joyfully deafening.
THE MAN ARRIVES IN FULL BRAND DRESS…
For Jimmy, that means cargo shorts and a T-shirt, bare feet, a Saints cap in obeisance to the local gods of the Superdome, and a pair of aviator shades. (Note the aviator shades, please. These will surface again.)
Jimmy, of course, plays his hits. And it is clearly evident why he named an album of his greatest hits, Songs You Know By Heart. A huge portion of the crowd is singing along. (In a live album from years ago, Jimmy jokingly admonishes a crowd in Atlanta, saying, “It’s not nice when you beat Jimmy to the words of his own song.”)
But when the anthem comes, it’s truly something to see. 30,000-plus people standing on their feet, joyfully singing along to “Margaritaville.”
And when the chorus comes along, after Jimmy sings the line, “Looking for my lost shaker of salt,” it’s crazy.
A sea of people, none of whom have been instructed in any way to do this, points 30,000 index fingers into the air and yells, “Salt! Salt! Salt!”
That’s not in the song, friends. It’s something these crowds simply began doing on their own.
From the pit in front of the enormous stage to the line of porta-potties a football-field away at the back of the fairgrounds, to see 30,000 people in joy and synchronicity just spontaneously erupt in fun is quite a sight.
ALL BECAUSE OF A WELL-CRAFTED BRAND THAT HAPPENED ALMOST BY ACCIDENT
Jimmy used to play country music. A native of Mobile, he began his career in Nashville. Then he made a trip to Key West in the early ’70s. That changed things. The blend of island and country music he plays is often called “gulf & western.”
Once upon a time, a friend of mine was going on at an open mic night in the south. Jimmy was coming off the stage. My friend says he told Jimmy, “You really have to stop playing all this island stuff. That’s not what people want to hear. They want Donovan.”
Good thing Jimmy had confidence in his brand direction.
Because the Donovan-free Jimmy Buffett brand now earns him an estimated $100 million per year.
And yet, when you think of Jimmy Buffet, you don’t think of a logo, a font, a color or a slogan.
The Jimmy Buffett brand is a kicked back island lifestyle.
It’s a place in the sun where most people never get to go.
It’s a momentary escape, especially for people who work in high-pressure jobs. (There is a high incidence of ER doctors and nurses in Jimmy’s following.)
GRANTED, THE BRAND HAS EXPANDED SOME
There are now some more traditionally packaged aspects to the brand.
The chain of Margaritaville restaurants and the Anheuser-Busch-brewed Land Shark Lager are examples of more traditionally branded efforts as brand is commonly understood.
And recently, Jimmy launched a line of Margaritaville sunglasses. (Remember those aviator shades from earlier?)
If you aspire to the Jimmy Buffett lifestyle, you may not be able to pilot your own Grumman Albatross from St. Bart’s to St. Kitts, but you can plunk down a 140 bucks for the same pilot’s sunglasses that Jimmy wears in his show.
But long before the beer and the restaurants and the sunglasses, there was just Jimmy–a businessman who understood his brand, wasn’t afraid to commit, wasn’t afraid his brand wasn’t for everyone, wasn’t afraid he wouldn’t win the Donovan fans.
KNOW THYSELF, KNOW THINE BRAND
As a footnote to all this, consider my friend who told Jimmy to stop singing “all this island stuff.”
He happened to be singing at the time himself. He did not continue his career as a singer. He is now a character actor in Hollywood.
And he’s quite happy to be a Hollywood brand.
He’s a big, dangerous looking guy who’s been shot, stabbed, killed, incarcerated, and performed all manner of evil deeds in front of the camera.
He is a go-to guy when you need a villain.
He will likely retire on his network TV residuals. He did a stint as a villain in one of the biggest hour-long drama sensations in recent history
Yet he has neither a logo, a color, a font or a slogan.Nor is he afraid he won’t get the romantic lead.
He is just a man who enjoys his pigeon hole.
Folks, don’t have a brand.
BE your brand.
And don’t worry about the Donovan fans.