Thursday, June 22, 2006

The power of staying true to your brand

"If you want to look at Sarah, she's always stayed true to herself, and stayed true to her music." - Erin Kinghorn, Director of Sales and Marketing, Nettwerk Music.

Recently, Laura Ries had a great post about how the Dixie Chicks are botching their attempted comeback. Laura says the main reason why is because the group isn't staying true to their 'hardcore' fans, and their music. In other words, the girls aren't staying true to their brand.

The quickly falling sales of their new album(controversy led to a monster debut, but sales have skidded about 40% every week since), and disappointing ticket sales for their upcoming tour, point to Ms. Ries being as right as ever. We then started talking via comments, and we both agreed that while the Dixie Chicks (and Jewel, Laura's so smart!) had gotten their music and marketing all wrong, that Sarah McLachlan is a prime example of the power of a musician staying true to their brand.

Consider that Sarah's first true mainstream hit, Possession, didn't come until her third album, Fumbling Towards Ecstacy, was released. That was in 1994, with the combined sales for her first two albums sitting at less than a million copies at the time. And Possession definitely wasn't aimed at a pop audience. The song's lyrics were inspired (or lifted) by the letters that a stalker had written Sarah over a 3-year period. The stalker then sued Sarah from jail for 'damages', but committed suicide before the trial was to start.

But by 1996 when she was working on her followup to Fumbling..., Sarah had found mainstream success, with combined sales of her first three albums now at almost 3 million copies. Instead of attempting to 'go mainstream' as some (Jewel) artists would have done, Sarah stayed true to her brand, and her fourth album, Surfacing, spawned four Top 10 hits, and has sold over 8 million copies to date.

Her latest album, Afterglow, was generally given an 'average' rating by mainstream critics, and is considered one of her weaker albums. Yet it still sold over 2 million copies. Reason? Because like all of Sarah's albums, Afterglow wasn't aimed at a mainstream audience, it was aimed at Fumblers, and fans that discovered her in the late 80s, and never left. Not many artists can have an album get a '2 out of 5 stars' rating from Rolling Stones, yet still go double platinum.

That's the power of staying true to your brand.

SPECIAL UPDATE: Part of Sarah's brand has always been to help others. Here's the simply amazing $15 video that helped over 1 million people worldwide, World on Fire.

Pic via Flickr user WanderingOne


J.D. said...

Dude, Afterglow rocked my face off!

Mack Collier said...

'Weaker' is a relative term. The 'mainstream' critics weren't that impressed with it, but it still went double platinum because she stayed true to her fans, and they loved it. Afterglow didn't have the mainstream appeal that Surfacing and Mirrorball had, but it still sold well because her core fans bought it.