In the past ten years, Taylor Swift has gone from a little-known country singer in cowboy boots to a global pop star whose latest album, '1989', is touted as helping keep the music industry afloat. But how has she done it? How has she made sure that every time you change your car radio, she’s playing?
Sure, she’s got catchy song lyrics that stick in your brain and a clothing style that causes envy (she was named People Magazine’s best dressed celebrity after all). But it’s more than that. It’s that Taylor has been able to build a brand around her name and sell it to an international audience. It’s people’s connection with her brand and the curiosity around it that allowed her 1989 album to sell 1.287 million copies in its first week and break countless records. Any company’s marketing team would be envious of those numbers.
Here’s what Taylor Swift does to market herself, and what your team can do to grow your own success.
1. Be relatable
Taylor Swift is incredibly authentic and relatable in her social media presence. While a lot of other celebrities end up exclusively tweeting pictures of themselves in fashion shoots or promoting products, Taylor tends to give brief insights into her life. Many of these posts are things that her audience relates to, like texts with friends. In a recent Twitter post, she shared a conversation with friend and fellow singer, Ed Sheeran.
In other posts, she vocalizes those everyday thoughts and frustrations we all have. For example, on trying to open a package of scissors, she says:
That tweet alone has received over 47,000 retweets and 42,000 favorites. The thing about Taylor’s posts is that you can imagine having similarly quirky conversations with friends or you’ve experienced the same scissor frustrations. These tweets make Taylor more relatable, like a normal person with normal friends, just like the people buying her albums. This accessibility makes her seem friendly, and approachable, which allows her to build trust with her fan base.
Lessons for marketing teams: I’m not recommending that marketing teams throw away their whole content calendar and start posting about their Law and Order binge watching. What marketers should do, however, is make sure that their content shows that they understand their customers: what they like, what they need to know, and what they struggle with. By posting content that’s relevant to people’s daily lives, you’ll win their trust as a source and their business as a brand.
For example, take a look at REI. They’re a company that sells outdoor gear and aims to share their enthusiasm for the outdoors. They don’t just post about their newest products; they also have content in a variety of formats that help you take advantage of the outdoors. The following post is a great example:
With this post, outdoorsy people (REI’s target audience) realize that REI understands how difficult it can be to get loved ones into the outdoors. It appears as if REI can relate to the problem, and like a friend, is offering their help.
While brands might have a harder time than Taylor Swift to show customers that they’re just like them, it’s definitely possible. You just have to show your target audience that you understand and relate to their issues, then offer content in one format or another that helps them solve these problems. Helpful advice will make your audience trust you and will turn them into a repeat customer.
2. Give them a reason to follow you on social media
Taylor announced her latest album’s name, release date, and the first single ‘Shake It Off’ through a Yahoo Live Streaming event. However, before the steaming event was formally announced, she started giving hints about the big event on social media. The first was an Instagram post of her hitting the 18th floor button in an elevator, captioned ‘So here’s your first clue.’ The second clue was a picture of her phone’s home screen at 5:00 with a polaroid camera.
While this was clue number three:
She finally put it all together for her fans with this tweet:
So the 18th day, at 5:00 PM, on Yahoo... As her album was released, the polaroid camera from clue #2 made sense as a nod to the album’s cover art. For her loyal social media followers, these hints were a reward for following her, and the cryptic nature of her messages not only generated buzz and kept people guessing, but it also kept people coming back to see what the next hint might be.
Lessons for marketing teams: As previously discussed, you want to provide your audience with content that proves that you understand their needs, but you should mix this up with content that rewards them for following you. Netflix is a great example of this as their CEO, Reed Hastings, occasionally posts his company’s financial information on Facebook. You might remember his most famous post which caused the SEC to talk about social media posting regulations:
If you give your followers information that gives them an insider advantage, they’ll not only keep following you, but they’ll also come back often to ensure they haven’t missed anything. They’ll be sure to pay attention to the posts you spend so much time putting out there.
3. Reward fan loyalty
We’re used to seeing celebrities visit sick patients in hospitals or help grant Make a Wish Foundation wishes. While Taylor does that, she also goes above and beyond for her fans. In the lead up to the 1989 launch, Taylor created a series of events called Secret Sessions where she scoured the internet for her most loyal social media fans and invited 89 of them to each of her homes. There she made them cookies, played her newest songs before their release, and took pictures with each of her fans. She posted a recap with a CTA to get involved in her SwiftStakes, a chance to meet Taylor, on YouTube.
She followed this up with Swiftmas, where she picked out another set of loyal social media fans, stalked their profiles, got to understand their tastes, and sent them personalized Hanukkah and Christmas presents. Her personally wrapping each present and the reaction of these fans was all captured on camera.
While it’s definitely a clever marketing tactic, the recipients feel that it’s genuine, that she’s grateful for their support, and that she loves them for all the success they’ve given her. This apparent mutual respect has allowed her to gain a solid base of followers called Swifties.
Lessons for marketing teams: It’s simple. Find your biggest fans and reward them. The people you single out are already big supporters, so anything you do to recognize them will be appreciated. But there’s more to it than knowing you’ve now got a lifetime customer on your hands. This group will then become a community of brand advocates.
Let’s use Taylor as an example – the fans she sent presents to posted videos of their reactions online. In sharing their experiences and personalized gifts, these fans showed the rest of the world how much Taylor cares about her fans, which further ignites her fan base’s brand loyalty. If you’re able to reach even a couple of loyal brand advocates, they’ll go on to share their experiences, which magnifies your effort. Start small and think big!
4. Make sure communication is a two-way street
Beyond sounding like your average 20-something in social media posts, Taylor stays accessible by keeping the lines of communication open with her fans. She asks them questions, with the most notable example being when she asked for their help on how to use Tumblr.
Tumblr’s actually a goldmine of interactions between her and her fans. She’s always finding interesting things they’ve done, and commenting on them. Sometimes, when girls send her messages about their breakups, she responds and gives them advice on how to handle it. The thing about Taylor Swift is that she doesn’t use her social media to only promote her latest endeavors, but to promote her fans and her friends’ successes as well. Her social media account isn’t just about her, but about the people who are important to her -- including her fans.
Lessons for marketing teams: Marketing is a little bit like dating – you can’t just expect people to come up and start talking to you. You have to start the conversation and social media’s a great way to do that. Sure, it’s a fantastic way to promote your products, but you should also use social media as an opportunity to ask your customers for feedback, retweet their stuff, answer their questions, and address their issues. Give your audience a voice. You’ll not only be a more accessible brand, but you’ll be building an opportunity to develop brand ambassadors.
JetBlue airlines is famous for being great at this two-way communication. They not only have a response time of ten minutes for most tweets, they go above and beyond to make sure they’re answering their customers’ questions. For example, in one situation, a gentleman asked a question about standby. Not only did they respond via Twitter and have a full and pleasant conversation, but JetBlue’s team also studied his social media profile so they knew what he looked like and tracked him down in the terminal to make sure all of his questions had been answered. He then became a brand advocate, tweeting about how awesome JetBlue’s customer service is.
Keeping the lines of communication open on social media will not only allow you to understand your company’s public perception, but will give your brand a chance to find some really solid brand advocates. Embrace it.
5. Build solid brand partnerships
When Taylor was getting a lot of bad press about dating too many men, she stopped dating and spent her free time with friends. She’s now known for being best friends with people like Lena Dunham and Lorde, celebrities who are praised for being strong feminists. This started to change public perception of who she was; media stopped portraying her as a boy-crazy girl and instead portrayed her as everyone’s best friend. By building relationships with highly respected people, she was able to change her image.
Beyond having strong relationships with highly respected young celebrities, she also built relationships with some of the top brands, including Diet Coke and Target. With her last several album launches, Target exclusively sold extended versions of her albums. This was a smart move for Target, as her biggest fans would want the extra songs and buy from them, and a great move for Taylor who would have big companies help advertise her newest album launch. This was the TV commercial Target ran preceding the latest album release:
Lessons for marketing teams: There are so many reasons companies should build brand relationships. As we saw with Taylor and her friends, the company you keep reflects on you. As a result, strategic partnership may be able to shift how you’re positioned in the market. IBM seems to be banking on this with their recent partnership with Apple. While IBM has an outdated image, it has useful data analytics capabilities. By partnering with Apple – who while being on the cutting edge of cool needs those analytics capabilities – IBM will be able to update its brand image as being on the cutting edge of technology.
By working with companies that have similar goals and values, you’ll also be able to broaden your brand exposure to a previously established fan base and activate people who are already more interested in your work because you’re working with a company that they believe in.
In building brand partnerships, you’ll have more than just a different brand position and audience, though. When partnering with other companies, you might also have a competitive advantage. For example, take a look at the 2014 brand partnership between Uber and Spotify, where you can now connect the two apps and have your favorite Spotify playlist on during your Uber ride. This personalized experience puts Uber above their competitor Lyft, while it puts Spotify above Pandora where you can’t build out playlists.
As Uber and Spotify showcase, when you’re building partnerships, it doesn’t necessarily have to be in the same industry. When considering brand partnerships, you should instead look at companies that share your values, have a solid fan base, and will help you differentiate yourself in the market. It’s all about moving your brand in the right direction and finding the companies that will help you do it.
6. Make product launches a true event
The release of 1989 was a layered event. First Taylor teased the Yahoo Live Streaming Event with the aforementioned social media posts. At the streaming event, she not only announced the upcoming album’s name and release date, but she also debuted the ‘Shake It Off’ music video. For the next several weeks, she hosted ‘Secret Sessions.’ Then, as the launch date got closer, she posted her track names and snippets of song lyrics on social media. During this time period, Target and Coke started releasing commercials with special footage of Taylor and snippets of new songs that promoted both their relationships with her and her album launch. Of course, there were the usual press tours and performances when the album was actually launched.
Her album coming out would have been enough of an event in itself, just ask Beyonce’s team. But Taylor made it into a several month-long event, something that kept people guessing and made the pinnacle – the album release – something people had really built up to and were engaged in.
Lessons for marketing teams: When new products are launched, some teams just send out press releases, put up a couple of social media posts, and develop a commercial. But there’s so much more you can do with it. Get creative with your product launches. Make it an event. Generate buzz beyond the normal PR rounds. Add urgency and scarcity to get people to act.
Apple is of course the shining star of product launches. They don’t just put out a press release about the newest iPhone. They have an event, and go so far as closing their online Apple store so that everyone pays attention to the big news. They create artificial scarcity by limiting the number of iPhones produced for the official product launch so that people run to pre-order. They make a big deal out of their product launches, which causes people to pay attention. So make a big deal out of yours. Think about how to get brand ambassadors involved. Hint about features. Let the news come out a little at a time. Go above and beyond and make it an event, and not just a post on your social feeds.
7. Keep your brand story consistent
From the age of 16 when Taylor Swift released her first album, she’s been writing about ex-boyfriends and being in love. Especially with the release of her fourth album, 'Red,' when she was hit hard by the media who made her out to be a boy-crazy, vindictive ex-girlfriend. While this would have been enough to cause a lot of artists to change their song lyrics, she didn’t. As she recently said in the following video, “The most important thing for me is maintaining artistic integrity. This means that as a songwriter I still continue to write about my life. I could very well water it down.”
While she could very well write about hanging out at celebrity after parties or her cats, she has a solid understanding of her fan base and what makes them tick; she understands that they connect with her because these songs resonate with their lives. She’s not going to change that, and is going to stick by what has always made her successful. And with '1989' we’ve seen her do just that. She stuck to her founding principles, her brand. She’s as consistent as she’s ever been.
Lessons for marketing teams: Marketers need to understand the importance of consistency. When your company talks about the same values and messages repeatedly, your audience begins to associate your company with certain characteristics and puts trust in your brand. Therefore, when you know what resonates with your audience and why they’re loyal to your company, you shouldn’t change; you need to keep that part of your messaging consistent. Companies like Ford, Apple, and Nike, have all proven that. Despite being around for decades, you know their stories, their slogans, and why they’re beloved brands. They’ve lived the test of time and proved that sticking to founding stories and values keeps people coming back.
This isn’t to say that your company can’t evolve and change directions. It’s just that you have to keep your values/messages at the front of that evolution. Taylor’s transition from country to pop is a perfect example of this. Her songs are essentially the same -- lyrics about the trials and tribulations of love -- but she’s changed the packaging with different instruments. Even as Taylor evolved into a pop star, she’s kept the same underlying story and values which have helped people to understand and stick through her brand’s change. This consistency has helped her reach a larger audience and has made her more successful than ever. So it’s simple: once you know your brand’s story, stick to its foundation.
Whether or not Taylor’s music is your cup of tea, you have to admit: she’s a brilliant marketer. She’s been able to build a loyal fanbase not only through consistency and relatability, but also through rewarding fan loyalty. She gives people a reason to follow her on social media and makes sure that the conversations there are a two-way street. She’s built strategic brand partnerships and has sophisticated product launches. Altogether, it’s a beautiful, intricate marketing plan fitting of a Fortune 100 company. Luckily, we can all learn from it.
What other celebrities are marketing themselves well? Let me know in the comments!