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BRANDING

4 Things the Rolling Stones Can Teach Marketers

Back before the world knew of the Stones, Andrew Oldham was busy quietly creating the band's image. What he did could teach you a thing or two.
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There was a time that the Rolling Stones and the Beatles seemed to be the antipodes of rock and roll. There were the regulated and uniformed Fab Four on one side and the seductive and seditious Stones, who just did what they felt like, on the other.

Only, it's easy to forget how sculpted and planned both groups appeared. Some of the steps taken by Andrew Loog Oldham, manager and producer of the Rolling Stones in the early- to mid-60s, to build the image and brand of the Rolling Stones are great tips for an entrepreneur looking to get ahead.

According to the ADWEEK story, Oldham had done some PR for Bob Dylan and the Beatles, but the Stones gave him a chance to create something from scratch. Not that the band didn't exist in the year between its formation and Oldham's association, but it was the beginning of the difference between being just another would-be band and global recognition. Here are some of the strategies that helped the Stones break through.

Find your positioning.

People love to put things into categories, after which they unconsciously use those categories to decide what products and companies might interest them or not. If a competitor seems to have one category fairly well locked down, look at another way to position your business. Here's what Oldham told ADWEEK:

"The Beatles looked like they were in show business, and that was the important thing," he said. "And the important thing for the Rolling Stones was to look as if they were not."

Although rock was supposed to embody the idea of rebellion, the Beatles at first represented the slick and polished version. The Stones became something else. No identical uniforms for them. They were the bad boys of rock and roll.

Embrace art direction.

When you want your company to become and represent something, you need control over all aspects of your image. Oldham said he "told [the Stones] who they were and they became it." It's a variation on a concept in acting. When you meet the world as a character should, you eventually entice the emotions that go along with the trappings and, so, become that character.

So, when there were originally six members of the band, one--keyboardist Ian Stewart--was chunkier than the rest. Oldham made the odd one out a studio musician. He wanted to create an image that would obtain the attention and, ultimately, money they wanted. That said, you can make the art direction so obvious that the market snaps, like controversial Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries whose behavior seems to have negatively affected sales.

Get the right attention.

Getting attention from customers is key, of course. Oldham got the band to add "I Can't Get No" to the beginning of the title for the song "Satisfaction." Suddenly the more subversive meaning of the song was brought out in the open.

But you also need attention from the business partners that can have an impact on your success. In the 60s, record companies were pumping out one release after another. Fail to get attention from the label and you could find people going through the motions without remembering your name. So, the song "Paint It, Black" received an out-of-place comma that not only made consumers scratch their heads, but had the labels asking if the punctuation was correct.

Pick the right enemy.

Oldham says that fashion and consumer-oriented brands can do well with having an enemy. But you need the right one. The designated enemy of the Stones wasn't the Beatles. They were focused on different audiences. Instead, the band focused on Elvis Presley, an established bad boy in the U.S., and the U.K.'s Cliff Richard.

Play the branding and image game right, and you might turn into a business rock star.

Last updated: Sep 30, 2013

ERIK SHERMAN | Columnist

Erik Sherman's work has appeared in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times Magazine, and Fortune. He also blogs for CBS MoneyWatch.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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