Listen to The Boss: What Your Brand Can Learn From Springsteen

I’m known amongst my friends and loved ones as a Bruce Springsteen enthusiast. I remember the first time I heard "Thunder Road." I was in my dorm room at Indiana University and popped his greatest hits CD into my stereo (until then I’d just thought of him as the "Born in the U.S.A." guy). I think I uttered two words; the first one was "Holy."

So when I saw this Ragan.com article about how brands can benefit from being more like Springsteen, it was a no-brainer that I had to blog about it. There are some solid points here about staying current and relevant, and transcending your industry.

1. He’s a thought leader. Read the cover story from the recent Rolling Stone magazine to discover a man who’s well connected with the world around him and not afraid to express a point of view. He has tackled controversial topics throughout his 40-year career, sometimes stirring negative reactions, but he never backs down. He did it again with "American Skin (41 shots)," a song inspired by the 2000 police shooting death of Amadou Diallo. Speculation suggests Springsteen may have been making a statement about the recent shooting of Trayvon Martin.

Thought leaders shouldn’t be shy to share their opinions on issues that matter to their audience. Your employees and the public will respect you for speaking out on struggles they face, or are top of mind.

2. His values define him. In the "Rolling Stone" interview, Springsteen said, "In my music—if it has a purpose beyond dancing and fun and vacuuming your floor to it—I always try to gauge the distance between American reality and the American dream." He began this journey in 1972 when he signed his first record contract with Columbia; it continues today with "Wrecking Ball," his latest album.

There’s no denying that Springsteen’s message and values have been consistent. Brands should follow suit. Messaging should align with your company’s values. That extends internally. If one of your company’s core values is putting employees/associates first, then shouldn’t they be allowed to use social media at work?

3. He’s social. He’s a social animal who enjoys camaraderie and conversation. In an age of social media where the word "community" is fast becoming cliché, Springsteen has sustained an avidly engaged community that keeps expanding. One measure (besides selling more than 120 million albums) is his social media presence. He has 2,179,654 "likes" on Facebook and 157,843 Twitter followers. He is keeping the conversation alive, staying current in a digital age. He’s no Lady Gaga (with 49 million Facebook likes) but he’s definitely in the game.

There are so many ways to engage with employees, customers, and potential customers today that brands have no excuse for burying their heads in the sand.

4. He’s sensory. He may be a biological 62, but watching him perform, I marvel at his 20-something dexterity, strength and flexibility. Whether it’s sliding across the stage on his knees or bending backwards to the floor while holding a floor stand microphone, this guy logs hours in the gym to remain physically relevant. He’s a best case example of how staying fit keeps us young.

Brands like Target leverage the power of sensory in its store designs, which entice and engage shoppers and create a more fulfilling shopping experience.

5. He’s an innovator. A handful of artists transform their music, take risks, and push in new directions. The Beatles morphed in amazing ways over a too-short nine-year span; "I want to hold your hand" sounded nothing like "Day Tripper" which sounded nothing like "A day in the life."

Springsteen is in this pantheon. The rambling lyrical style of "Greetings from Asbury Park" morphed into the tighter pop structure of "Born to Run," which was re-shaped to "Nebraska" starkness and later to the Americana-influenced "We shall overcome: The Seeger sessions." One of the new songs from Wrecking Ball—"Rocky Ground"—features a hip hop interlude, something Springsteen has never done.

The takeaway is simple: Brands must be innovative if they hope to stay relevant.

6. It’s about us, not him. We brought two friends to the concert who had never seen him. I explained how Springsteen feeds off the audience and exists to give each person a gift. "It’s never about him, it’s about you," I said, explaining how Springsteen is passionate about making sure everyone has a good time, gets their money’s worth and leaves happy. When the show was over I said, "Now you’ve been baptized." They grinned and understood.

This is an important reminder for thought leaders. It’s not about your product per se, but delivering what your audience expects and needs—be it an experience or a service. Steve Jobs, for instance, was a master at creating products his fans didn’t even know they needed.

7. He’s more than music. I’m not hung up on awards, but Springsteen was robbed in 2003 when "The Rising" failed to win the Grammy for Best Album (he lost to Norah Jones). Inspired by the Sept. 11 attacks, the inspirational LP Springsteen created helped us heal. It was musical catharsis; it was more than an album. His giving spirit has impacted a range of organizations, from Amnesty International to the Rainforest Foundation Fund to WhyHunger. He endorses a local charity at every concert.

Go beyond what your company makes or does. Companies like Chipotle and Starbucks have given back to their communities, winning the admiration of many.

8. He’s the best kind of brand. Great brands create a feeling, a meaningful personal connection that sticks. We want to associate with that brand because it’s part of who we are, how we view ourselves. That’s why he’s more relevant than ever.
 

Popular Band Doing Away With Album Concept, Continuing Evolution of Music Business Paradigm

The band that brought you such ear-pleasing anthems as "Creep" and "Karma Police" announced this week that it plans to stop making albums, and focus on singles. Interesting concept, and it might prove fruitful. Although, I fear my life would have been far less enjoyable had Born to Run been released as a series of unconnected singles. On the upside, we probably never would have been introduced to Chris Gaines if the album concept hadn’t existed — so I guess it’s a push. At any rate, The New York Times has the story:

So, when Mr. Yorke announced a change of course for the band, saying it planned to stop making full-length records and turn its attention to singles, it sounded like an epitaph for the album, the broken backbone of the record industry’s longtime business model.

“None of us wants to go into that creative hoo-ha of a long-play record again,” Mr. Yorke told the Believer, a literary magazine based in San Francisco. “Not straight off. I mean, it’s just become a real drag. It worked with ‘In Rainbows’ because we had a real fixed idea about where we were going. But we’ve all said that we can’t possibly dive into that again. It’ll kill us.”

Radiohead’s shift to singles reflects a change in music fans’ preferences. Instead of buying whole albums, they now stream or download just the songs they want. That, along with unauthorized copying, has decimated industry revenues.

According to Nielsen SoundScan, U.S. sales of albums, in physical and digital form, fell 14 percent last year, continuing a multiyear decline. While consumers bought more than a billion individual digital tracks in the United States, which accounts for a majority of online sales worldwide, they bought only 65 million digital albums in 2008.

Efforts are under way to try to make albums less of a drag. Apple and the major record companies are reportedly working on projects to include liner notes, lyrics, artwork, music videos and other extras with digital downloads.

They could start by examining Radiohead’s experiment with “In Rainbows.” The band’s publisher, Warner Chappell, reported that more than three million copies of the album were distributed in the first year, in digital and physical formats. Some people paid nothing, but the album still made more money than either of the band’s previous two records, Warner Chappell said. And the marketing buzz from the “pay what you want” model helped drive the CD to the top of the charts.