Since I was fifteen, I have always had an affinity for the loud, abrasive sounds of rock ‘n’ roll. From the guttural lyrics of James Hetfield accented by the sharp, percussive dynamics of the machine that is Metallica, to the passionately confusing lyrics of Bono stirring amongst the ethereal sea that is U2, I often get lost in the art that is rock ‘n’ roll music. But the art doesn’t just stop with the music production and songwriting. There are also branding lessons that have become embedded in my mind. From consistency to experimentation, and from illustration to video production, there are a million examples of effective branding that can be learned from my childhood heroes.
For the next several Fridays, I’m going to unveil a branding tip, based on examples from the world of rock ‘n’ roll, which can then be applied to our own businesses and creative pursuits.
Tip 1: It’s okay to experiment, but stay true to the core of who you are.
Metallica built an empire out of heavy metal music. Each album became progressively faster, louder and their fan base grew as they went on. After three albums, tragedy struck their ranks, killing long time bassist Cliff Burton. It would seem from the fans’ perspective that their beloved band would never be the same and that they would forever be chasing the ghost of Cliff Burton. Their rise in fame would culminate in their 1991 self-titled release, “Metallica” or unofficially known, “The Black Album.”
After several years of constant touring and excessive living, it was time to dismantle the speed metal machine, experiment with new sounds, and essentially attempt to rebuild an entirely new brand. Instead of changing a few things over a long period of time, everything changed, seemingly all at once. Songs became shorter, as did hair. Solos became more blues-oriented, or non-existent as is the case in “St. Anger.” The simple CD artwork of the past was replaced with lavish booklets filled with artsy photos by longtime U2 photographer, Anton Corbijn, along with controversial macro-photography by Andres Serrano. Even the Metallica logo was changed from their sharp-pointed logo to something a little less dangerous.
All of these changes, combined with the Napster trial, would create a fan backlash that would eventually take a decade to recover from.
In 2008, Metallica returned with “Death Magnetic,” a CD full of rip-roaring tracks that felt and sounded exactly like they should. Their artwork even featured their original sharp-pointed, dangerous logo. A throwback to the past and a message to the fans that they were back and ready to rock.
Thanks for the music history lesson. So what?
So, what can we as business owners and artists learn from Metallica? First, it’s okay to experiment and change things. In fact, if we don’t change or try new things, we get stale, rusty or disenfranchised with what we do. But in order to be effective in our experiments, we must first identify our core brand, because that is ultimately what fans and customers identify with.
Is your brand built around a logo or an image? Stay true to that logo or image. That doesn’t mean that you never update or change that logo or image, but what you are responsible for is staying true to what that logo or image stands for in the minds and habits of your customers.
Is your identity built around a story? Get creative in how you tell that story, but never forget to tell the story.
Are you building a brand around a service or known for providing a top-notch product? Experiment in finding new products and offering other services, but never forget what the demand is for.
Too much change all at once can be defeating. However, change implemented strategically over a period of time allows customers and fans to adapt and realize that change is good, healthy and absolutely essential to success of a business.