The Rolling Stones will stream the last performance of their One More Shot tour tomorrow night via Pay-Per-View. Conservatively estimated to be their 41st tour, not counting endless small or local shows like the practice gigs they played in Paris as prep for this go-around, the band has been playing together for 50 years.
Jagger says he wanted to call the tour “F— Off, We’re 50,” which is a wonderful summary of the Rolling Stones’ approach to branding. While endless bands and consumer brands of all shapes busily chase the latest glib advice on how to connect with the marketplace…and fail…this band has defied today’s Conventional Wisdom and built a reliable, sustainable, and profitable franchise.
I think every marketer could learn from their approach, so consider these branding secrets of the Rolling Stones:
Be consistent. Let’s face it, the Stones haven’t written a new song since Brown Sugar debuted in 1971. They’ve penned endless variations on Keith Richards’ trademark bluesy riff, and many of them rock totally, but they’re anything but experimental artists. They’re the anti-innovators, choosing instead to stick to what they do best, and delivering a reasonably consistent product, year after year. This contradicts the painful medicine doled out by McKinsey or business school pundits who argue for innovation and disruptive change. The Stones’ branding strategy is to be the best at who and what they are, and then stick with it forever. And it works.
Limit exposure. The Stones have spent the last five years out of the public’s eye, calling it one of their many “sabbaticals.” So we have no idea what coffee Mick has been drinking, or who Charlie Watts voted for in the last election. And that’s OK. The Conventional Wisdom, as told to and by brand marketers these days, is that consumers hunger for incessant content, and that there are complicated rules that must be followed in order to provide it properly. It sure seems like the Rolling Stones are happy to talk when they have something to say, and otherwise leave it at that. Perhaps that’s why their fans listen when they do?
Go deep, not broad. I don’t think I’ve ever met a ‘sort of’ Stones fan. People are either into them or they’re not, and the former are not only serious but they’re serious evangelists. Lady Gaga has 32 million followers on Twitter. The Stones have less than a quarter million, which doesn’t even qualify for the top 1000 brand names on the social platform. Their 11 million “likes” on Facebook seem more in keeping with what you’d expect from such a hallowed name, but there’s little to no conversation going on…just lots of sharing. Have you been told about this marketing concept called lifetime customer value? I think the Stones have it, and “like” doesn’t begin to describe how their customers feel about (or what they do with) the brand.
Sell. The Rolling Stones are unrepentant capitalists, and their product consistency, limited exposure and deep support mean that they can afford to aggressively market stuff to people — yes, actually ask for the sale — and their fans/consumers are happy to oblige. Their latest go-around includes: GRRR!, a compilation album (one of many) and commemorative package; massive (and expensive) arena shows; the Pay Per View show; and an upcoming documentary (also one of many) called Crossfire Hurricane, which you can be sure will be a pricey DVD sometime soon. Where’s all that free content that they’re supposed to be propagating into the social universe so they’ll somehow get paid for it by someone sometime later on? The Stones prefer to ask for the sale now…and they get it.
Tomorrow night’s TV concert may not reveal anything new about the Stones, but it will reaffirm some secrets of successful branding that should challenge the way you think about your marketing.
If you’re not interested, you can wait for the “F— Off, We’re 60” Tour. My bet is that their approach will survive long after we’ve forgotten most of our latest tricks and assumptions.