I grew up in a small town in western Nebraska that glorified two things: Sports, and Religion. Sometimes sports was the religion. I didn’t associate with either of those as a teenager, and high school became increasingly difficult when every group became engulfed by these two hobbies. Add this to the fact that the only radio stations in town played country and oldies, and you’ll see a very unamused and extremely bored teenager looking for some sort of escape.
The beginning of that escape came as soon as I flipped to MTV and saw the music video premiere of Blink 182’s “What’s My Age Again?” I was in a trance the entire time. It wasn’t just the music or the lyrics. It was the attitude in the music video. The nudity, the tattoos, the piercings, the humor. It was so raw and so different than what other rock bands at the time were releasing. It felt rebellious. I immediately needed to pierce my lip and find more of this kind of music to insert into my veins. Blink 182 was my gateway drug to punk rock.
The closest record store selling anything outside of the mainstream was about 3 hours away, so I would force my parents to add a quick detour there every trip we took to the city. I would spend every penny I saved on punk rock zines, t-shirts and compilation albums put out by labels like Fat Wreck, Epitaph, and Nitro. Each magazine and compilation introduced me to new bands, and nothing else at the time could possibly matter to me as much as those belongings.
Fast-forward 17 years later and I’m implementing lessons that these bands taught me to help our clients build better brands. It’s my belief that punk bands were the connoisseurs of great branding.
Before I continue, let’s clarify two things. For the sake of this writing:
- “Punk bands” can be anyone from Sex Pistols to more mainstream bands like Blink 182. We can talk until we’re blue in the face about where Blink 182 fits in now, but in the
90’sand early 2000s they were putting out some of the best punk music this Nebraska boy could find.
- Branding is not just the logo or the colors of a company. Branding is the feeling, emotion, and personality associated with a company or product.
Now let’s see what The Misfits taught me about building a brand.
Creating A Personality For Your Brand
Whether you realized it or not, brands have personalities just like people do. And consumers choose whether or not they want to be around them based on those personalities.
Like I stated above, I was struggling as a teenager to identify with anything on mainstream radio. At the time, the top rock bands were Smash Mouth, 3 Doors Down, Lifehouse, and Bon Jovi. I associated with punk bands so quickly because their personalities were in-line with the kind of personalities I wanted to be associated with. It’s the reason that Blink 182 music video sucked me in so quickly and changed my identity. I viewed myself as this raw, in-your-face, fuck-the-rules rebel adolescent, so I was drawn to personalities like Sid Vicious…but stuck in a sea of Bon Jovi’s. When you feel connected to a brand’s personality, you start to view them as a friend or an ally. The punk scene created a massive group of allies with their personality, and successful brands are constantly launching into stardom by perfecting this rule.
Look at skin care. What does the facial scrub company Frank Body have that Neutrogena doesn’t? Spend 10 seconds on their Instagram account and you’ll immediately get it. The Australian-based beauty brand launched in 2013 with only $10,000 and ended 2017 with over $20 million in annual revenue. It’s arguably not the best product on the market, nor is it the cheapest. But everything from their website and social media to their packaging and emails are filled with personality that their core audience identifies with. Without great branding, you’d need millions of dollars to compete with emotionless robot brands like Neutrogena. With great branding, $10,000 seems to do the trick.
What’s In A Name?
Before ever hearing a song from them, I was pretty certain that I was going to enjoy the Pittsburgh punk band Anti-Flag. They entered my life after
Your name is your first opportunity to showcase your personality, character and market positioning. Use it to draw the line in the sand that pulls your core audience closer and pushes the other people away. Chad the high school star quarterback wasn’t going to see the name Anti-Flag and buy their record on a hunch. Davey the adolescent punk kid, however, would.
Know Your Why
Simon Sinek is an author and popular Ted Talks speaker who helps companies understand the importance of their why. In short, he teaches that most companies seem to only focus on talking about what they do or how they do it, neglecting the most important piece of why they do it. Not the financial reasoning, but the deeper meaning tied to the importance of your company. He suggests that people (not just consumers, but employees too) love companies that believe in what they believe. If you lead with your why you’ll gain fans that share your beliefs and support your journey year after year.
I decided at a pretty young age that I wasn’t going to get into drugs or alcohol. I saw what heavy drug use and alcoholism could lead to, and I knew that it wasn’t the path I wanted to take. What I didn’t know was that this lifestyle had a name…until I was introduced to the band AFI and read that their singer was straight edge; meaning he refrained from using alcohol, tobacco, and recreational drugs. Suddenly, I had a band that believed what I believed, and I’ve supported them with my paychecks for over 17 years.
To see this in action within a company, look at outdoor apparel brand Patagonia. Founded in 1973, Patagonia’s 2017 annual revenue hit around $750 million. They actually do have a superior product than a lot of other options in the market, but what made them a giant worthy of those numbers has more to do with their beliefs. Patagonia positioned themselves as the environmentally-conscious outdoor brand. Their mission statement says it all: Our mission is to build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.
To them, it’s not just branding mumbo-jumbo that we see when brands try to take sides on popular controversies. They recently asked their audience not to buy their products during Black Friday to address the issue of consumerism, which drove brand loyalty through the roof from consumers that share their beliefs.
Use Tension To Draw A Line In The Sand
From brand strategist Jasmine Bina: “I define brand tension as a sense of discomfort that pushes target customers to convert, and non-targets to walk away.” This isn’t the kind of tension you cause when you inadvertently put out a racist ad. It’s the tension that you create in someone’s mind as they’re deciding whether or not they can sit at your table. Tension forces you to decide who your target audience is, and it narrows the focus on everything you do directly onto them. Too often in our work, we hear clients mention the fear of excluding anybody…that they want everyone to feel welcome and included. Our answer every time is, “If you’re trying to speak to everybody, you’ll end up speaking to nobody.” Consumers rely on brands to help them define who we are. Without brands to help them define themselves, we would have a massive identity crisis on our hands.
Punk rock was built on tension, created by groups of people that grew apart from the world of rock ‘n roll and disco dancing. Since its origins, every generation of punk bands has used tension to push records, sling merchandise, and spread their ideologies. They’re constantly drawing a line in the sand and asking for their fans to pick a side. From veganism and animal rights to anarchy or socialism, punk rock has always forced its consumers to choose a side and carry the flag. There is no punk rock without tension, and there are no great brands without discomfort.