Credit: torbakhopper, used under Creative Commons License

3 Marketing Masterclasses from Taylor Swift

Lawrence Judd
Jan 25, 2019 · 5 min read

I like to say that I was born in the wrong decade, musically speaking.

I have vivid memories of my school friends sitting in raptures whilst listening to Shaggy (did anyone find out if it was actually him, by the way?), Britney and the Spice Girls. Me, on the other hand? I wore out my mother’s copy of The Police’s Outlandos D’Amour. One of the first things I remember buying with my own money was a DVD copy of Queen’s Live at Wembley performance from 1986. I went to see Mötley Crüe on their farewell tour, supported by Alice Cooper.

Yet, despite all that — Taylor Swift rocks my world.

I’m not alone, either. Her latest album, Reputation, was the best-selling album of 2017. As of the beginning of 2016, she’d sold over 40 million albums worldwide and had over 130 million single sales. Since moving to Spotify, she’s listened to by over 23 million people per month and was the 4th most-streamed female artist last year.

When it comes to providing a product that people love to consume, she’s doing extraordinarily well — and that’s no fluke. Here are 3 marketing masterclasses that I believe any organization can apply, no matter what industry you’re in:

1. Find your superfans, and surprise them.

Taylor is notorious for finding the people that are obsessed with her (in a good way) and making them feel like royalty with no warning whatsoever. Just to give you a snapshot, she has:

  • Delivered personalized, hand-wrapped Christmas — or “Swiftmas” — gifts to mega-fans that she’s interacted with on Instagram.
  • Flown to Ohio just to attend one fan’s bridal shower.
  • Invited fans to a “secret event”, which was actually the filming of the video for Shake It Off.

In any business, you’re going to have a small subset of customers who are incredibly valuable to you as individuals. Their individual spend with you may be many times greater than the average customer, and they’re also likely to be the most evangelical about who you are and what you do. It’s worth having some form of loyalty/rewards programme if you can, but see if you can go out of your way to surprise your superfans every so often.

This is a real exercise in knowing your consumer. In the same way that over-personalisation can backfire when your customer doesn’t feel the same connection with you that you do with them, you need to pick and choose surprises that are appropriate for each individual customer.

2. Make your consumers “feel” (even if it’s a bit messy).

Try and explain why you love music so much. Why you find certain songs utterly euphoric, and why others overwhelm you with sadness.

It gets messy, very quickly.

In this sense, Taylor Swift’s product already has the upper hand over yours. It’s designed to make you feel. But the overarching lesson to learn from most of Taylor’s music is the authenticity of emotion. She (and many other successful artists before her) writes about real emotions. Ones that real people feel. She acknowledges that life is messy, that humans are complex, and that is a huge factor in what has propelled her to megastardom.

“People are people and sometimes we change our minds.” ~ Taylor Swift, Breathe

What she specialises in is capturing the “micro-moments” as well as the macro-moments of human emotions. This is the difference between something you like, and something that you feel was made just for you.

Translating this into marketing practice is primarily about consumer segmentation. Understanding the rich tapestry of your consumer’s life, and gently pointing out to them that you know what they’re going through.

If your segmentation is still rather broad, you can highlight specific aspects of your product with clever copywriting. One of my favourite brands of recent times is Method, who specialise in eco-friendly cleaning products. On their clementine-scented all-purpose cleaner, it’s written:

as the zesty kid sister to the orange, our sweet clementine often feels that she’s not taken seriously. we think serious is overrated anyway.

For middle-class parents who’s youngest daughter is called Clementine, this is bound to at least elicit a smile.

3. Don’t be afraid to respond to critics.

“…but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” ~ Benjamin Franklin

I’d like to add a third certainty — criticism.

How you respond to criticism is always your choice. You can:

  • Ignore it, and walk away.
  • Apologise, and walk away.
  • Change what you do (walking away optional).
  • Tell them they’re wrong, and jog quickly away.
  • Use their criticism to make a tonne of money, and stand firm.

In the music video for Look What You Made Me Do, Taylor references how people have criticised her in virtually every frame. Snakes, Julius Caesar quotes, representations of how the media have portrayed her love life — it’s a Where’s Wally of people who’ve criticised her.

Her response? She releases a chart-topping album. In one scene of the Look What You Made Me Do music video, she’s lying in a bathtub with $10,000,000-worth of diamonds. Actual diamonds, that are worth $10 million.

She doesn’t care what you say, because she’s capable of turning it into a bathtub of diamonds.

(Eminem used a similar tactic with his 2018 self-resurrection album Kamikaze, which became the biggest-selling hip hop album of the year. Admittedly, he was a little more aggressive in his responses to critics — but… it is Eminem.)

Knowing how to respond to unreasonably negative press in a way that generates value for your other customers is, again, an exercise in knowing your customer. For many, seeing that a business is willing to stick to its core values and defend its staff is enough to engender a sense of loyalty. For others, a good measure of sarcasm may echo what your other customers feel when they see the review. One bar in Dublin even created a new cocktail in honour of one food critic who left them a poor review.

Have you ever taken marketing inspiration from a completely unrelated industry to yours? I’d love to hear it, if so.

Lawrence Judd

Written by

CMO/Marketer, spaniel owner, scotch drinker, bookworm.

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