We’ve made it to the top of the triangle. This post is part 7 of my series on How To Build A Better Brand. We started with Identity, build on our purpose, and established our uniqueness. Then, we took the big creative leap to build a consistent visual identity, created a compelling story, and crafted a great, human conversation. Let’s not blow it now. We’re at the final stage of building a great brand: launch.
Launching is all about introducing your brand or rebranding to the marketplace. By now, you’ve probably discovered that I favor an inside-out approach, and I love examples from music to help bring the point home. First of all, break your launch process into 2 stages. You need to have an internal launch plan and an external launch plan. It’s very important that your internal stakeholders are on board and aligned with your new brand and branding. If they don’t like it, your customers will feel it.
An internal launch is something even Steve Jobs understood.
On several occasions, I had the incredible opportunity to work with legendary Grammy award-winning producer Brendan O’Brien. He took very seriously the importance of an internal launch before promoting an album to the public. When our record was near completion, we hosted an event for our record company to hear the finished music. Then, he made himself available for a listening party with the entire record company and distribution team. Brendan does almost no media or publicity. However, he knows that all of his efforts as a producer can be for naught if the core team isn’t on board with a new project. He’s seen great projects never get off the ground because they weren’t presented to the internal team in the right way. The same is true for your company and brand. A rebranding can be a huge stimulus to internal culture revitalization. Communicate your values and mission statement to your organization. Share “the why” of what into your brand development, messaging and story. Explain the significance of your logo and color choices. Your employees can’t be good brand ambassadors if they’re kept in the dark about the branding process.
With that accomplished, it’s time to present your brand to the market. I’m a big fan of an approach that builds anticipation. With Third Day, this was sometimes frustrating. Why did we have to turn in the record so soon? Why did it have to take so long to bring the music to the marketplace? The answer was that it allowed our marketing team, publicity, and radio departments time to build demand and interest. It's important. It also allowed us, the band, to pre-sell the record on tours, which gave us a huge head-start on "street week," building momentum for the new release. We always benefited from a carefully planned launch that maximized impact.
Don’t go through all the work of a branding or rebranding exercise and simply “throw it against the wall.” It’s hard to be patient, especially if you’re proud (and you should be) of your brand. As is my tendency, I’d like to highlight some more recent musical examples to highlight my point. I find albums to be great, relatable examples of little brands unto themselves.
U2 is my all-time favorite band. So, if you think I'm criticizing the band here, you don't know me very well. I’ve had the opportunity to meet Bono on multiple occasions, and he is an incredible artist, humanitarian and visionary. Where I unashamedly call myself a marketer, Bono is a self-proclaimed salesman. He can sell a song. He can sell an idea. He changes hearts and minds. His work with the One Campaign is a great testimony to his salesmanship as he’s elevated the discussion of fighting extreme poverty from "right and left" to "right and wrong." The launch of U2’s newest record, Songs of Innocence, was a bit of a marketing miss. Rather than a typical album build-up, the album was released as a surprise to the world. For a short season, this was done as an iTunes exclusive, where the song magically appeared on every iPhone in the world. There was a huge backlash to their strategy, which felt to me like a bunch of whining. I mean, the album was free! And, It’s U2! But, that’s not what I want to talk about. (We also won't discuss that Apple now finds itself on the opposite side of the privacy argument!) More people heard the music than ever would have otherwise. U2’s business acumen is also unparalleled. They struck a really good deal with Apple. They made more money than they would have from traditional album royalties. Everyone was talking about it. Even the backlash against the album appearing in people’s iTunes playlist served as great publicity (IMO), and brought attention to the release.
This is my criticism of the launch; Because there was no build-up, because it just happened, the album really never got legs. It was a quick burn in the media cycle, and really never established the kind of brand affinity we’ve come to expect from their releases. Subsequently, the following tour didn’t feel like the “must-attend” show that the previous tour, U2 360 was, shattering revenue records. If the album had been set up the way a typical release was, I think the “surprise” of the album being free and easily accessible would have been better received. The free album could have been better cast as a way to delight their fans (which it was!) instead of a privacy intrusion. It was a great and worthy experiment. However, coupled with Beyonce’s “surprise” album, from which I can tell you no songs, there's a compelling case for the importance of setting up a great launch.
In contrast, let’s take a lesson from my marketing hero, Taylor Swift. As Forbes Magazine highlighted, her 1989 release was a “master class in marketing,” and it is still paying dividends as she is currently working her 7th single from the project. Her first single, Shake It Off, debuted as a #1 Billboard song a month before the album was available for purchase. She set it up beautifully with hints of an announcement, an appearance on late night television to push a yahoo chat where the single was announced. She didn’t wait for press coverage. She created her own exclusive content. She immediately released the music video and made the single available for purchase. In the days leading up to the album release, she had 5 different fan listening parties at her 5 different homes! She included her fans in her music video. She brought her project, her 1989 brand, to her fans. She did more work to launch the album than most artists do to promote it once it is released. My contention is that her launch planted the seeds that yielded not only the crop of the successful tour, radio single success, and album sales, but even the Grammy win for Album of the Year.
I could go on and on about her marketing genius with this project. However, I’ll cut to the chase. She intentionally launched her project. You need to do the same with your brand. You’ve done so much work to get to this stage. Make your brand launch memorable. Have a party. Invite your customers. Invite media. Invite influencers. Serve them cookies. Create a hashtag. Make it an event. The dividends of an investment in a great launch can be felt for years to come.