Marketing Bootcamp

What a DJ and a Rapping Cowboy Can Teach You About Branding

What a DJ and a Rapping Cowboy Can Teach You About Branding
Image credit: Bryan Frank | Flickr

Like entertainers, entrepreneurs are performers too -- our office just looks a little different. And like us, entertainers are entrepreneurs. Their industry is incredibly cutthroat, volatile and unpredictable. I’m sure you can relate.

While 50 percent of small businesses may fail in the first year and 95 percent fail within the first five years, that’s a walk in the park compared to the music industry.

According to Vinny Ribas, CEO of Nashville-based artist management firm Indie Connect, the success rate of the musician is much worse than the business owner. This is evidenced by the fact that Nashville is what he calls a "five year town,” meaning that’s how long it takes to begin to build relationships and trust in the music industry.

On any given night, 300 to 400 musicians are performing live in Nashville. How do you compete in that market? If you’re smart, you don’t. Instead, you create something so one of a kind and compelling that you're competing in a “market of one.”

Related: Some Lessons About Branding Distilled From the Life of an Old-School Moonshiner

In my interview with Ribas, I learned that how you make it big in business is exactly the same way you make it big in the music industry.

“The key to success at the highest level is that you must bring something different," he says. "Do this and you have a huge advantage.”

The epitome of different would have to be rapping cowboy Troy Coleman, aka Cowboy Troy, who invented “hick-hop” (country rap) music. There's also Tripp Lee, aka DJ Sinister, who doesn’t just spin regular dance tracks but mixes country music with hip hop beats.

In an incredibly homogenous genre, they made names for themselves by standing out in a sea of sameness. Take a page out of their playbook, because just like the entertainment industry, you’re either different or you’re invisible in your industry too.

A lot of experts throw around the buzzwords “niching” and “best practices.” When it comes to positioning your brand, ditch these tired old buzzwords. Everybody is niching so it’s not unique and the problem with best practices is that they are common practices. The term I use when discussing positioning with clients is the same term I use to describe Cowboy Troy and DJ Sinister: game changer.

Game changer: (noun) A person, event or process that affects a significant shift in the current method of competing.

Being a game changer is about doing things in a way that’s never been done before and as a result elevating and separating yourself from the competition.

Why is this advantageous? The best practice (pardon the pun) is to be non-traditional and create new demand via a completely new experience. When you do this, you create a market of one for yourself. It’s the best way to stand out in any industry.

Sadly, many entrepreneurs buy into a certain group think that prevents them from ever becoming a category unto themselves. When your prospects can easily compare you to competitors, you’ve probably already lost. Because if you’ve been compared, you’ve been commoditized. They view you as one of many and the only differentiator then becomes lowest price. That is a race to the bottom because you haven’t positioned yourself as one of a kind in the eyes of your clients.

Related: Your Personal Brand Needs a Growth Strategy

How do you make a name for yourself in a crowded, hyper-competitive industry? By not competing. There isn’t a lot of space to operate where it’s crowded so you need to position yourself in a place where you own the space. 

In every industry, there are people playing the game, and then there are the rare few like Coleman and Lee who are changing the game. Players all try to compete on the same field -- game changers on the other hand create a whole new field they get to own. It’s essentially redefining the boundaries by breaking them.

How to be a game changer

“Listen to the market," Lee says. "The market never lies.”

Lee started mixing beats with country music to bring a new energy to Big & Rich concerts in the form of a 20 to 30 minute warm up for the crowd. It was something the audience never experienced before and they ate it up. This real-time reaction is how he knew he was on to something. Radio program directors started requesting to get his content on the radio. What began with one station in Chicago turned into Country Fried Mix, a syndicated show in 30 markets across the U.S.

How can you elevate the energy level of your audience? What live events could feed and scale your business online?

“Not just ahead of the curve, you set the curve and everyone followed,” said Laura Coleman, Cowboy Troy’s wife, when describing his game-changing approach.

His core values remain the same today as they did when he started in 2001: make music fun for himself, his friends and audiences. In the process, he invented and trademarked the term "hick-hop" well before it was popular for country music to incorporate rap elements. Other artists distanced themselves from the term, thinking they needed to fit in to gain acceptance in the industry. He knew better and has been unapologetic about embracing the description even early on when people viewed him as a novelty. As a result his brand has taken off.

The takeaway for us is that, “in business, people vote with their wallets, which speaks to the authenticity consumers are seeking from brands," Coleman said. 

Are you setting the curve in your field while maintaining a sense of fun? How might being unapologetically authentic about your brand boost your business?

Your goal should be to do what the cowboy and the DJ have done and in the process provide something for your clients that they just can’t get anywhere else. The key is to have your clients buy you, not merely your service or product. Sure, your product is part of the total package, but bigger than the product itself is the brand that is uniquely and exclusively you.

Remember: be different or be invisible.

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