After months of meticulous planning, a hotly debated X Factor performance and the fastest-selling single of 2009, Cheryl Cole’s solo album sold in record numbers as a result of some clever micro-marketing and a lot of hard work. A glance behind the glitz of the album release, though, reveals an industry in flux, and shows how labels are changing in the face of mass digital piracy and plummeting profits.
Peter Loraine, general manager at Fascination Records, the pop label behind the album and part of Universal, put it bluntly. “There is less money to spend these days and you have to make it go further,” he said. “You have to be a lot more creative, with a lot fewer resources.”
High street record stores may have disappeared, but a huge, and growing, range of online retailers needs to be catered for. Cheryl’s label made sure that each one got a special piece of her to offer fans. Amazon got 200 signed albums; Play.com, a meet and greet and a shopping trip offer; HMV.com, personalised calendars; Orange, signed lyrics; and iTunes, an exclusive track, digital booklet and remix bundle.
“We had to make sure we were catering to every fan out there,” said Loraine. “Every outlet felt involved and excited about the release – no one was left out.”
The digital revolution and online piracy have dealt a huge blow to the industry – but may yet prove its saviour. The drop in record sales – down a further 6% last year – has coincided with an explosion of new ways to connect with fans. According to BPI figures in 2009 showed that 98.6% of single sales were digital.
For the release of her album, Cheryl Cole has featured on almost all of them – MySpace users got a live webchat while Bebo users made videos for a chance to interview the star. On Twitter, fans asked questions which Cole answered in a video on her website and MSN Messenger was given an exclusive video which became the site’s most watched and commented on. “Cheryl really got her hands dirty. Lots of artists may not want to do this grassroots stuff, but she was totally committed to the job in hand,” said Loraine.
Peter Robinson, the founder of Popjustice.com, said the Cole release reflected a trend for “micro-marketing”. “Labels are tracking down potential fans and invading their lives,” he said. “Previously you would have been made aware of an album through hearing it on the radio and [seeing] billboards – it was a blanket approach, and you were never really sure who your message was getting through to. But now labels can be pretty sure who they are reaching.”
What 3 Words reveals is that labels are still willing to invest time and money on talent –such as Leona Lewis and Alexandra Burke – when they are confident of seeing a return. There is a lot more money riding on a lot less and today things are either a massive success or a massive disaster and there seems to be little room for anything in the middle.
It proves my point that there is nothing worse than being average, nice or middle of the road. Just like the many X-Factor winners that we can’t remember, the brands that try to stay in the middle of the road appealing to everyone are the ones that are forgotten the quickest. That’s why you need to find your niche. Some people will love you, some people might hate you and most people won’t care, but therein lies your success.
I did some research for Marmite a few years ago and it showed that all the most successful brands appeared on the most loved and most hated lists; brands such as Tesco, KFC, McDonalds and Adidas. What was interesting was the brands that no-one really had an opinion about because they were dull and middle of the road. Most of them were financial institutions such as JP Morgan, MBNA, ING and AIG.
Brands such as AIG have tried desperately to build their reputation by doing high-profile endorsement deals with Manchester United FC, but their brand wasn’t strong enough to make people fall in love with them. Branding is ALL about emotional attachment and story telling, so if you don’t have the love, you are just another company with an expensive logo.
If you want people to remember you name, it’s better to be loved or hated by a few people than average and beige to everyone.
You don’t have to be the most talented person to be the most recognised celebrity. Likewise, you don’t have to have the most money to be the most loved or recognised brand. David Beckham wasn’t the best footballer in the world. Cheryl Cole wasn’t the best singer in the world. But they both make up in sheer hard work what they might lack in natural talent and as a result they are more famous than many of their more talented contemporaries. They come in earlier and stay later than everyone else.
This is the key to any brands success (it’s not rocket science). Finding your niche is really important. But once you’ve found it putting in the hours is essential. Gary Vaynerchuk, owner of the $60m WineLibraryTV brand spends less than an hour on his website each day, but he spent over 12 hours a day (every day) with his team promoting his brand and getting his hands dirty. His fans have seen his story develop and watched his brand grow through the up’s and downs (just like Cheryl and David) and they love him for it. And once you’ve got a good story and you’ve put in the hard work, you’re well on your way…