Simplifying Branding: The Things That Really Matter

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Branding is one of the foundations of every artist and business. However, you don’t need to spend a ton of time stressing over it, or consuming endless amounts of content on the topic. The only thing that really matters when it comes to branding or building a business, are your customers (or call them fans, or your community), and that you offer them endless amounts of value. That’s it! One of my favorite quotes on branding is by Tim Ferriss, where he said “branding is over delivering one or two values to your 1,000 true fans.” I usually begin every semester in Music Business 101 or Artist Development with branding and storytelling being the foundation to every artist or business. It’s a good brand and stories that lead people to the product or the music. You’ll often hear me mention the CD Baby DIY Musician Podcast quote that “music is the last thing that matters, until people hear it, and then it’s the only thing that matters.” So lead people to the music with brand, stories, and content. That’s your foundation.  

There is endless amounts of content out there on branding, and you can even hire brand strategists for a boatload of money to help build your brand. Nothing against brand strategists, I love them, and even had some amazing ones on the podcast. However, not all of us can afford them. One of my motivations to this post was a recent podcast by Tim Ferriss where he talked about his “3 Critical Rules of Branding,” and one of the things he said that really resonated with me was “forget about branding, focus on what fucking matters, and the rest will take care of itself.” Even though you should spend most of your time focusing on the customers, and what they want (more on this shortly), there are a few things that you should keep in mind when creating the “brand” behind your business. When you look at the most successful companies, artists, or individuals out there, they follow some simple things, and may not be thinking of “branding” when doing so, but thinking of building a business that’s best for their customers.

Here are 6 simple things to consider when building your brand.

1. Narrow Your Focus (Depth not width)
Narrow your focus on the most important aspects of your business - your audience size, what you do, and how you deliver it. This may seems simple, but it’s mind boggling how many people I see violating this simple rule all the time. I lead with target audience (or target market), because this is your most important area to focus on. Am I starting to sound like a broken record yet? Good. It’s that important! One of my favorite things that Tony Robbins says a lot is “Don’t fall in love with your product or service, fall in love with your customer. Then find a way to serve them.” If you haven’t heard my podcast episode with Joe Pulizzi yet, he talks about how after three years his business completely failed, and he ran out of money. He fell in love with his product. What changed his business and turned it into a multi-million dollar company, was when he asked his customers how he can best serve them, and then only focused on that.

The rule of narrowing your focus is also important to when it comes to what you do. You can’t build a business that realistically should be multiple different companies. Not only does this spread you thin, but it also reduces the amount of quality and focus you can give to your customers. It’s ok to be involved in multiple areas down the road, but not in the beginning. When you first start out, you should spend at least 18 months to three years being hyperfocused on doing one thing to serve your audience. If, and only if you’re making money, and you have an audience of at least 500 customers (ideally 1,000), then it’s ok to starting thinking of expansion. Ideally, you’ll have a team on board to be part of the expansion, so it’s not all on you, and you lose focus, because you’re doing too much. An artist that did a great job with this was Halsey. She spent two years only creating content on YouTube and Tumblr, before she ever started touring. Whether intentionally or not, Halsey had a narrowed focus on building her audience and serving that audience with her content.


Speaking of content, narrowing your focus also relates to focusing on the power of ONE medium to deliver your content. Some of the most successful businesses and artists, are focused on building a media company. This goes for companies that Joe Pulizzi mentions in our conversation, such as ESPN, Disney, or Red Bull, to artists such as Taylor Swift, John Mayer, Halsey, to name a few. In the world of content marketing, content can be either video, audio, written, or live events. And there are many different types within each of these categories. Those are the main types of ways to deliver content to your audience. When it comes to musicians, your original music and live shows, are part of your revenue streams. This is how you make money. If you focus on making great music and having a great live show, having one and only one other type of content to consistently deliver to your audience, you’ll be on your way to building a powerful brand. There is a ton of information on content marketing. A good place to start is anything by the “Godfather of Content Marketing,” Joe Pulizzi. Check out our podcast episode. This piece of content can be as simple as a weekly cover, vlog, blog, weekly freestyles, lessons/educational content, or anything else that will offer value to your audience.

2. Become the Leader in your category, or create a new one.
About once a week I listen to the Spotify Viral 50 and Top 50 U.S.Charts. Have you ever noticed that once one or two artists come up with something that’s a little different within a genre, and it takes off, everyone else follows the same style and sound. The ones that are early adopters of this new sound, are usually the leaders in their category, or this new sub-genre. Those are the artists that build lifelong careers. Even when the genre or style goes away, it’s usually the leaders in this new sub-genre or category, that tend to continue to have a career playing and making music. The artists that follow the “trend,” are often the one-hit-wonders, and the ones that are here today and gone tomorrow. Grandmaster Flash was not the founder or even one of the first artists in Hip-Hop, but he was one of the first to become a leader in the category. Becoming a leader in a category or creating a category, doesn’t mean you have to create a completely new genre. It’s just about creating your own authentic sound within an existing genre, and then building 1,000 true fans around that category or sound. Dare to be different.

You’ll hear me mention 1,000 true fans a lot. This comes from the famous article by Kevin Kelly. It takes 1,000 true fans to build a business. Check out the article here:

3. Consistency
Once you’ve narrowed your focused and have a clear vision of who your ideal customer is, how your business serves them, how you deliver your content to them, and how you’re going to be different, it’s time to be consistent...with EVERYTHING. Be consistent in your messaging, frequency of delivering content, and the quality of your product or service. The quickest way to lose a customer is to be inconsistent. Start with something that is manageable and realistic for you. If you have the time and discipline to do a daily vlog or a daily rhyme, that’s ok. However, it doesn’t need to be that frequent. The least amount of consistency with your content should be once a week. If it’s a podcast, vlog, blog, covers, or whatever your thing is that makes you uniquely you and authentic, deliver that to your audience at least once a week. As much as I would love to deliver my podcast 5 days a week, realistic for me is once a week, every Thursday there is a new episode. Be consistent with the frequency and the time. Pick the same day every week to deliver to your audience, so they know to expect it on that day. Be consistent with your content, product or service, message you put out in the world, posting on social media, your visuals (more on that shortly). Be consistent about everything.

4. Quality
Deliver the best quality product or service, and content you can. The big problem here though is waiting till it’s perfect. It’s never going to be perfect, but it should continually get better and better with time. What’s best is to launch your product and fine tune it as you go, but fine tune it based on what your customers wants are. Not what you want it to be. We launched the podcast with an episode with one of my best friends, Greg Rollett. He talked about the book “Ready, Fire, Aim,” and about how people get stuck forever in “aim” and never get to launch their business. What’s better is to get ready as quickly as possible, and then “fire” or launch your business. Facebook was terrible when it first launched. Today, it’s the most popular social media platform in the world. As Einstein said “insanity is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result.” This applies to waiting forever to launch your product, but then never changing anything once you launch. Get your product out into the world, and make small adjustments every day or every week. Over a period of one year plus, a tiny adjustment every week, will seem like a massive improvement when you compare your product after one year to where you started.

Launch your product and get it out into the world, now! However, don’t just let it stay in it’s original form. You should always focus on improving your product or service, and deliver the best quality to your customers that you can. Dave Grohl one said, all it takes to “make it” in the music business is “having great songs, and a killer live show. That’s it!” Constantly work on your craft, and work towards your 10,000 hours of master, and way beyond. What are you waiting for? If you had to launch your product in the next 30 days, what would you do to be ready? Launch in 30 days. The world is more forgiving and supportive than you think.

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5. Visuals
Add some kind of visual component to enhance your “brand” or business. This can be images on your Instagram or Facebook feed, or videos of behind the scenes, or both. Especially include great visuals on your website. With today’s technology, it’s incredibly easy to create great quality photos and videos. It can be as simple as buying the best quality phone you can afford, and start there. Same as with quality, don’t wait to be perfect, get started now and start fine tuning your brand as you go. People love seeing the progression of a brand. Plus seeing a brand grow not just in number of followers or income, but also the look and feel of the brand, that’s where the stories come from. Once you get started, start figuring out filters or setting that you feel are a good fit with your authentic style. As your business starts to grow, you can upgrade your photo/video gear, and even hire a photographer once a month to take a ton of current photos. You can usually get an entire month’s worth of visual content from one good photoshoot. As you start putting out videos and photos, pay attention to what your audience engages with the most. Don’t fall in love with specific photos. Pay attention with what your audience engages with the most. Use the best visuals you can, make sure they’re consistent with your brand, be creative, be authentic, and listen to your audience.

6. Collaboration
The fastest way to grow your business and build your audience is collaborating with others. You’ll often hear people talk about building a relationship with influencers, and creating value for them to get them to collaborate with you down the road. I completely agree that this is extremely important. However, while you’re building a relationship with influencers in your community, you can start collaborating with others that are at your level today. When you collaborate with others, you have the potential to reach and convert a new audience. It’s not necessarily 1 + 1 = 2. The thought here is, if you have 100 followers, and the person you collaborate with has 100 followers, hopefully you can convert 10% of them to check out your music, product, or service. Once they come to your page, and you can convert another 10% into true fans, that’s a win.

Usually you see artists collaborating in Hip-Hop, EDM, Pop, singer-songwriters when they co-write, YouTube stars, or the jamband world.  However, all genres and businesses benefit from collaborating with influencers, and their peers. The best collaborations happen when you don’t focus on YOU, but how can you serve and add value to the person you’re collaborating with. When you collaborate, be genuine, be authentic, and focus on putting out the best quality product or service for BOTH of your audiences. This kind of approach creates a successful collaboration that benefits everyone, the collaborators, and their audiences. Also, it builds lifelong friendships and partnerships. And if you’re into studying about health, in the blue zones of happiness, they talk about how community will actually help you live longer too. It doesn’t get any better than that. Play nice with others.

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Closing thoughts: 
Along with all of these rules to branding, don’t forget to be patient. It’s not going to happen overnight. Patience is the most important thing here. When you’re playing the long game, you’ll be well on your way to building a successful career, and a powerful brand. Knowing that, focus on what really matters - your customers aka your fans aka your community. Build some friendships, and remember to have fun.

Related Content:
1. "How to Tell Your Story on Social Media" by Katherine Forbes
2. Interview with Brand Strategist & Marketing Expert, Jasmine Star