Your Band is Your Brand: Business Lessons from a Rock Band

Only as Good As Your Last Hit and Other Tips from the Music Biz

Great White – Unofficial band of the Swagger Group

Like many kids growing up, I wanted to be a musician. And fortunately, I was lucky enough to have that dream come true. I loved the power of music. How it — like great advertising — could move, affect and engage an audience. But when it came to selling more records and concert tickets, that took marketing.

As the CEO of a growing digital marketing company, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to grow my business. Time and again, I find myself looking back at the evolution of my band, 10 Speed, and what worked, didn’t work and was overpromised. I may have moved on from a band to a company, but at its heart, my business is my new band. And just like the old one, it uses creativity, technology and ideas to deliver hits.

While I am no longer the bass player singing harmony with the band, as CEO I still have to inspire. Some of the lessons I learned touring the world have great relevance to how I’ve built my new band/business and I think they apply to many young companies and brands looking for not just a one-hit wonder, but for long term success:

Choose your bandmates carefully.

I actually found my band mates through a classified ad they had placed in a local paper. This was after playing with many different groups, listening to bands at clubs and auditioning for others. You find the right players where you might not expect. And every member plays a different role or instrument. It’s the same with business partners and employees. We frequently partner with other companies who bring an expertise we might not have in-house. Or we partner with our clients’ other agencies to provide integrated solutions. We have learned the value of playing well with others. But sometimes band mates and business partners have different goals and different expectations. If your partners don’t sing in tune, you need to walk away. Knowing when to make this transition is critical. Businesses, like bands, need to be in harmony.

The indie route is more fulfilling.

When our band signed with a record label in the early 1990s, little did we know that we’d see very little in terms of a paycheck. While our earnings may have taken us around the world, record labels — like holding companies –want profit margins. Independent agencies have much more flexibility to invest their profits in their people, their offering and in creating ideas. It might mean taking risks, but that’s how you learn. We couldn’t have built an office uniquely suited to our personality and that of our employees if all we worried about was quarterly profit reports. We’re still conscientious about spending, but we understand the value of investing in ourselves. It’s made a huge difference in creating a culture that employees value.

The drummer can always be replaced.

Talent is the critical ingredient for success in any band or organization. Every company I know today is looking for the rock star innovator, technologist or creative director. But I’ve found that businesses — like successful bands — need collaborators, not divas. We’ve all witnessed the rock star who takes off like a jet, only to end up in rehab, or worse. While it’s tempting to sign on the creative talent or innovator whose big idea led to a massive brand transformation or new product iteration, if that individual has a history of being a control freak, there’s someone else just as hungry and daring who thinks “we” not “me.” That’s the talent I want next to me all the time.

You’re only as great as your last hit.

There is no better teacher than failure. Not every song will be a hit and not every account will be won. It’s kind of an unwritten truth that a band’s second album — like a novelist’s second book — has much higher expectations for success than might be achievable. With business, the client or consumer always wants to know what’s next. It doesn’t matter if you’ve just broken all prior sales results or engagement measurements. What you do next (every time) is where your value will be judged.

My early career as a musician continues to be a touch point that I consistently refer to for inspiration and guidance. Every day I see the ways in which the content we are creating now, with an increasing assortment of digital tools, is not all that different from the music that our band created. The goal continues to be to inspire and engage an audience. With practice, we hope to have many more hits.

by Dimitry Loffe