Marketing and Research Consulting for a Brave New World
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Many of you have heard of Oliver Anthony by now. Six weeks ago, he had no recorded music and was unknown. Then his country/roots song appeared on YouTube called “Rich men north of Richmond” that went viral, and he became an instant folk hero. As of today, it has 74 MM views, went to #1 on the billboard all genre charts (first time a previously uncharted artist went to #1) and he is reportedly making $40,000 a day on digital replays and downloads of his music.

By all known yardsticks for what a brand is, Oliver Anthony is more than a performer, he is a brand. Before fans listen to a new song of his, they have a strong expectation (brand promise), his red beard and his resonator guitar are his logo, and he certain has a “brand voice”.

For those in marketing, what can the Oliver Anthony story tell us about brand building?

Lesson #1: Don’t equate production value with advertising quality.  Many assume there is a correlation, but if so, Oliver is the exception to that rule.  The song was recorded on one microphone, in his backyard, singing and playing his resonator guitar, with his dogs next to him.  No fancy effects, no band with two drummers, no glitzy choreography…just him telling a story that workers everywhere instantly bonded with. Which brings me to…

Lesson #2: the strongest bond between a consumer and a brand is when they see themselves in the brand.  I first heard this from Dr Bob, a cognitive anthropologist who I met when I was Chief Research Officer at the ARF.  He saw this on people’s faces when he went to the opera.  OA’s song contains lines like “…for people like me, for people like you…” and “they don’t think you know but I know that you do…” Very strong connection to the audience built into the lyrics. I see this in all the reaction videos to the song. Black, white, US, Europe, or Australia…it doesn’t matter…they are feeling what he is pleading about.  You see this connection for special brands, such as those who ride a Harley, or people at Starbucks, or those watching Formula One…they are one with the brand. Some of the lyrics will be objectionable to some, but once the bond is created, it’s practically unbreakable (and if a bond is not created, the consumer purchasing IS breakable).

Lesson #3: Live the brand values.  Everything he does is “on brand” because he is uncompromising and as authentic as you can get. He reads a bible passage to start his concerts.  He refers to government as “them” (regardless of party) as, “there’s a lot more of us than there are of them.” He cancelled a $120,000 gig because he heard the event promoters sold tickets for $99.  He recorded a video by the side of the road from his car where he said that the price was ridiculous, and he was going to rebook a gig where for $25, you could go to the concert and that would include a meet and greet.  He comes off as being of…and for…the people in every move he makes.

Lesson #4 Breakthrough brands can transcend traditional boundaries. His music is somewhere between country and roots music but his appeal extends to those who don’t normally listen to those genres.  He was quickly branded by Rolling Stone and others as conservative in his politics…his response? “I am right down the middle politically and I don’t want my music to be adopted by a political party…it belongs to the people.” Marketers…are your brands breaking boundaries?  That has to be the top of the innovation pyramid.  Was the first iPhone really just a better phone? Was Amazon really just a big online book seller? Was Swiffer restricted to the typical demographic for who mostly does the house cleaning? Please don’t believe the nonsense that brand differentiation does not exist.  Complete junk. You are only bounded by your imagination and your aspirations…so aim high.

Lesson #5 Primal Branding theory is validated.  This is the best book on branding I ever read, written by Patrick Hanlon.  The main points in his book on creating great brands are personified in Oliver Anthony’s journey. Creation story…fans all know he came from rural Virginia and was discovered and recorded by RadioWV a YouTube channel that focuses on Appalachian music.  We know our hero…it is Oliver Anthony himself.  Do we know the “sacred words” and did he build a community of believers?  Yes, whenever he plays this song live, everyone in the audience knows every lyric. Although I’m pretty sure he never read Primal Branding, a brand called “Oliver Anthony” is living every chapter.

Every once in a while, it’s a good idea for those in brand marketing to pause and reconsider what they know to be true.  When a great brand comes out of nowhere, it gives us one of those moments.

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