My knowledge of Taylor Swift ran only three albums deep until about a month ago. I found myself wedged into a 12-person limo with 15 other people on the way to my wife's work party, and 1989 was blasting almost as loudly as the people singing along with it. Not children. Men. Women. The driver. The people they were Snapchatting during the ride.
Once we arrived and the music stopped, the sing-a-long turned into a knowledge contest. Tour dates. Her dates. Her pet names. Her pets' names. I'll be honest, it was exhausting. But I wanted to know how people knew so much beyond what the tabloids tell. So I started digging.
It was the easiest investigative reporting I have ever done. They knew because Taylor Swift told them.
Taylor Swift is a machine. And every brand in the world needs to learn from her.
What she's doing isn't magic. It's popular for brands to claim they want to do what she does--interact with fans authentically and consistently. How does she do it better than almost any other brand in the world? She does it tirelessly. If anything ever actually fills up YouTube, it might be fan videos opening cards from Taylor. Or opening packages. Maybe videos from Ms. Swift herself during "#swiftmas," sneaking up to the front door of a fan's house to leave a present in response to a wish on social media. Ms. Swift's brand is so loved by people for a pretty simple reason: She loves them back.
"It feels good to love Taylor Swift because you know she loves you," said my co-worker yesterday. "She is never going to roll her eyes at you, be annoyed at you. It honestly feels like she would be totally down to hang out if our schedules lined up."
After you recover from your eye roll, think about it. That is the brilliant world Taylor Swift created--the feeling that if you met on the street, she'd be as excited to see you as you would be to see her. Because she would, and there is proof.
How many brands wish they could say that? She can, because it's not a marketing plan. It's her authentic lifestyle. She treats her fans like her friends. She interacts with them like she knows them and empathizes with their lives. She tailors the messaging by platform, not just messaging with a blanket sharing blast. She posts her own content within the networks organically and reposts fans content constantly. (Maybe she has people. But if that's the case, it is the best job of monitoring one voice I've ever seen.)
More important, it's an open playbook for other brands to use to build a massive fan base, but so few brands do it. Even the great brands. Coke, Nike, Apple--they are all fantastic at pushing their stories to people. Amazing stories. Inspiring stories, even. But only recently are they treating it like a two-way street. Seems like we can count on one hand the brands that give their customers a voice more frequently than at the annual shareholder meeting.
On the way to becoming the poster child for how to effectively use social media, Swift redefined customer loyalty programs. Her product-release parties are for customers, not reporters. A music talent manager friend put it best for me: "I particularly enjoyed the private shows ahead of time for her super fans and releasing multiple tracks (to them) before the album actually dropped," she told me. "Equally as impressive is the overall control of the message and brand as it, her fans, and she grows up and develops. The whole thing looks and is incredible: Touring, fan engagement, message, sales, brand partnerships, etc."
Is all this effort worth it? Well, you be the judge. Maybe the Grammies weren't too kind to her this year. But consider the stats.
Her latest release, 1989, has been Billboard's number-one selling album for 10 weeks running. When it came out in late October, 1989 accounted for 22 percent of the total record sales in the entire U.S. that week. It sold more than the next 106 titles on the top-selling list, wait for it, yes, combined. It was the fastest-selling album in 12 years. In January, she sold her four millionth copy. The last album to do that? Her last album, Red. In fact, each of Ms. Swift's five albums have sold at least four million copies. The 25-year-old was number 18 on Forbes's celebrity list, banking $64 million last year, and is estimated to be worth over $200 million.
As the father of two little girls, I long ago lost control of the music selection in my house and car. That's how I got to know a few Taylor Swift albums. If I ever steal back the stereo, truth be told I might put on a different artist. Her catchy bubble gum country pop is easy to pick on. She'll be the first to tell you, haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate. But even if I'm just smiling while my girls are screaming at the top of their lungs during her Seattle show this August, there is no doubt I am a huge fan of the machine.