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Taylor Swift’s Marketing Strategy: “Shake Off” Perfection

10/08/2014

Have you heard the new Taylor Swift song making the rounds? Yes? Good. I don’t care if you like the song or not, but you have to watch the video. Do it on mute it if you have to, but the video’s important to see. Your company’s branding depends on it.


Swift’s Success

At first glance, “Shake It Off” doesn’t strike the average marketer as anything revolutionary. It’s a catchy, repetitive pop song with Taylor attempting different dance genres. The lyrics are her typical faire, with self-references that fans will eat up (“I go on too many dates / But I can’t make ’em stay!”) and an overall positive vibe.

Typical, sure, but she’s doing something right. Billboard reports that the single premiered at #1, something only a handful of other artists have ever achieved. (Actually, “Shake It Off” is only Taylor’s second song to reach the top of the charts, the first being “We Are Never Getting Back Together.”) As of today, the song’s been streamed 137+ million times since its debut a month ago on YouTube alone.

You could argue that sure, she’s got the money and the team behind her to make this video successful by default, even if the song and production were terrible. But if you ask me, I think there’s something more at work.

Dare to Be Vulnerable

Watch the video again, and pay close attention to Taylor’s interactions with the various dance troops. She’s a far cry from the choreographed, sexualized pop sensations from the days of Britney Spears. In fact, her performance reminds me of a baby giraffe, with its writhing mess of limbs and awkward timing. The poor dancers backing her up seem to spend as much time avoiding Taylor’s attempts to mimic their performance as they do showing off for the camera.

But Taylor’s lack of perfection works, and that’s the “X Factor,” as it were, to her performance.

Visually, Taylor shows us that she’s not good at dancing. I’d go so far as to say she flaunts her complete lack of talent, exaggerating it to the point of caricature. In this moment, when Taylor shows us this vulnerability, she becomes empathetic. Actually, her team has gone so far as to show these “behind the scenes” clips taken during production, showing Taylor in even more awkward positions than they picked for the final cut.

My personal favorite is the outtakes for the ribbon dancers. The ribbon seems to have it out for her, as it keeps wrapping around her throat. I had no idea dancing was so dangerous!

After the main video and the outtakes, you forget that you’ve never met her, that she’s a multimillion dollar entertainer, that the whole video was scripted this way. The moment Taylor becomes “less than,” she makes herself just like the audience who will never reach that sculpted moment of pop star perfection. “I am a terrible dancer,” she seems to tell us, “and you know what? That’s okay, because I’m really good at other things.”

Like singing.

Takeaways: Focus and Humanity

So let’s leave Taylor and get back to you and your company, shall we? I think there are two lessons here we can take away from the video.

First, your business doesn’t have to be good at everything. In fact, it probably shouldn’t! It’s the same idea as showing that Taylor can’t dance, but she can sing. By trying to be everything to everyone, you’ll do nothing well.

As a content marketer, I apply this lesson every day in what jobs I do and don’t take. See, I’m an excellent writer. I can write clearly, coherently, and have a knack for asking questions and making connections no one else would bother to do. That’s what I’m good at; that’s what I polish.

Do you know what I can’t do? I can’t make graphics, or professional edit or shoot videos, or take pictures. Sure, I’ve dabbled in all of these, and I understand the importance of visual content in a broader scheme, but that’s not where my talents lie. So my clients and my boss know what they can ask of me and what they need to recruit someone else for. Being upfront and honest about my limitations increases my trustworthiness as a professional, and the same holds true for you and your company.

Second, show a little personality and humility. When you make a mistake, receive bad press, or simply want to show the human side to your company, it’s okay to come forward and face the music as an individual, not an entity.

You know who did this really well? POM Wonderful. During his weekly satirical news show “Last Week Tonight,” comedian John Oliver slammed the American food industry’s misleading labeling practices, including POM’s claims that their pomegranate juice could help prevent prostate cancer in men. POM Wonderful responded by sending John a case of pomegranate juice and a letter, which he reads to his studio audience:

 

That’s right. You heard them tell John to give himself an enema with their product.

That response was not the typical press release protesting John’s treatment of the company. It wasn’t watered down through committees or tweaked for language. It showed that the folks at POM Wonderful thought their product was worth something, admitted its faults (“While the research isn’t conclusive…”), but stood up for itself.

As John said, “Bravo!”

In the same way that Taylor showed her faults as an entertainer and POM responded very personally to criticism by “Last Week Tonight,” I believe all businesses could benefit from branding themselves as people first, business second. Clients want to work with Joe, the guy they’ve been talking to over the phone and grown to trust, not mysterious, imposing, anonymous Major Company.

And so I ask you: How has your company shown its imperfect, human side to its clients?

(In case you’re fighting a sense of deja vu, let me put your mind at ease: You’re not in the Matrix! I originally wrote this article for Bryan Del Monte’s “Brand Media Studio” marketing and branding blog. Also, the top image is courtesy of Mark from OnePopz.com.)

Source: Linkedin

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