What working with independent rock bands taught me about branding

Chris Eichenseer
3 min read

Brands aren’t all that complicated. A lot of things in our lives “look” just like them – including rock bands. 25 years ago we simultaneously started our own record label and design studio to work almost exclusively (at the time) with independent music. Unsurprisingly, it taught us a lot about brand development.

self-belief is non-negotiable

No one will believe in what you’re doing if you don’t. That’s the beginning of everything. Your team, believing or not believing, will ooze from every single thing you do. It can’t be helped. Imagine seeing a band on stage that doesn’t believe in what they do. Their performance will ring hollow. No audience is going to want to be part of that for five seconds. Same is true for brands. Imagine the opposite: dripping with belief and enthusiasm, there is a sense that “something is really going on”, and energy transfers like lightning to the audience. Working with Patagonia for almost a decade, we’ve been part of initiatives that stir so much activity it crashes servers and creates headlines because of how deeply they live into their values.

you must invest

But belief is just the beginning. While it’s true that no one will believe if you don’t, they also don’t have to believe in it just because you do. You have to do a lot more than that. You have to invest. You have to give them something, and not just your product. What is it you're really offering? Is it generous? Is it made to inspire? Is your soul in there? Is it presented to the world like you never take anything for granted? Layered and nuanced for intrigue and adventure? Do you talk up to your audience? Leave them better off than when you found them? Build stories and values around what you’re doing that will spark their deep passions?

put the work in

All of this takes work, week in week out, year over year, and without it, just like a band, you’ll find that no one really cares. They just won’t need you. But do it right, and they will need you more than you can imagine.

TL;DR "Audiences pay attention and can smell bullsh*t a mile away."

the magic

With belief and investment, a great brand or band develops a mythology: a rich story that inspires people to want to be part of their world, a reputation for being authentic and genuine, and a very necessary part of something bigger than themselves. Without belief, you simply won’t have the energy or courage to stick to your values and invest. The results will be thin at best.

Put it all together and this just might be the ultimate lesson that working with bands (and for that matter, artists and cultural institutions) has taught us: audiences pay attention and can smell bullsh*t a mile away.

If you respect that, you can go the distance. Become legendary. And then they will line-up around the block to be in front of your stage – a far cry from tricking them into being there with a sale, a free ticket, a paid influencer, or a funny Super Bowl commercial.