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MARKETING

The Motown Guide to Making Your Company Famous

Motown had one of the longest hot streaks of any company ever. Here's what your business can learn from their success.

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Who doesn’t love Motown? Their songs are known by people around the world and their superstar artists have helped to define American pop culture. Motown is one of those rare record labels whose entire output is almost universally adored by fans and critics alike. What many people don’t realize, however, is that Motown’s founder Berry Gordy ran the label more like a Ford assembly line than a Center For The Arts. He prized efficiency, scalability, and packaging above all else. The product just so happened to be some of the best music of all time. With access to more communications channels than ever before, businesses have unparalleled opportunity to make themselves famous. Fortunately there are plenty of lessons to be learned on this front by studying Motown and its visionary founder.

Use Blueprints

The Temptations. Stevie Wonder. The Supremes. Marvin Gaye. The Jackson Five. All totally different artists with totally different sounds, right? Not exactly. If you go back and take a closer listen, the basic template for a lot of their songs is almost exactly the same. In fact, the blueprint was so effective that a whole bunch of artists on the grittier Stax label (Aretha Franklin, Sam & Dave, Otis Redding.) borrowed it for their own songs. Yet no two artists from either label were ever in danger of being confused with one another. Whether you’re blogging, speaking, or publishing articles, don’t try to start from scratch every single time. There are plenty of people and companies who have already made themselves famous by putting their messages out there in just the right way. Look at what they’re doing and steal the bones. You can always fill in the details with your own stuff later.

Test Even the Best

Even though Berry Gordy knew he had developed a monster success formula, he never stopped testing. Every time Motown cut a demo for a new single, he would gather a panel of handpicked staff members together to vote on whether or not it was a hit. It didn’t matter whether he thought they had crafted the best piece of music since Beethoven’s Fifth - if it didn’t pass the test, it didn’t get released. We live in a world the likes of which the young Berry Gordy never could have dreamed. These days you can get market data on everything, from how long people spend looking at your material to the specific actions they take after seeing something you’ve produced. No matter how confident you are about the brilliance of what you’re putting out there, don’t skimp on testing. It’s what will make the difference between whether you become a Hit Factory or a Hit-and-Miss.

Keep What Works, Trash the Rest

Not everything recorded at Motown was a smash hit. A major secret of their success was that it didn’t have to be. Because they were process-oriented, they knew they could always produce another great record. And because they were willing to ruthlessly evaluate their work, they made sure their public never heard anything subpar.

As a result, Motown not only became famous, they became great. What would you give to be able to say the same about your business?

IMAGE: Corbis
Last updated: Dec 3, 2013

MICHAEL SCHEIN is the founder and principal of Michael Schein Communications, a digital marketing company. He has created or facilitated the production of content for companies such as eBay, LinkedIn, Avectra, Tesla, SEER Interactive, Interneer, Arise Virtual Solutions, and Citrix. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with honors and got his start at Spin the Bottle, the production company behind VH1 hit show Pop-Up Video.
@MichaelSchein1




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