Your Complete Guide to Becoming a Rock Star Brand

by Mack Collier


Often when I talk to someone about or speak on Think Like a Rock Star, they will say ‘I love the concept, but we’re not Lady Gaga or Katy Perry. They are actual rock stars, we’re just a brand.  We can’t have fans like they do.’

When I started writing the book, I set out to answer that question.  Do actual rock stars simply have some natural advantage that brands do not?  Are actual rock stars able to create fans, passionate customers that literally love them in a way that most brands cannot?

What I discovered, to my delight, was that rock stars do certain things to create fans that are easily replicated by brands.  It’s not that brands can’t do the things that rock stars do to create fans, it’s that most brands aren’t willing to do the things they need to create fans.

But we’re not Taylor Swift, we sell (insert seemingly boring product that no one can see anyone being a fan of HERE)

First, let’s accept that your brand would love to have passionate customers that considered themselves to be fans of your brand.  Rock stars have raving fans that love and support them, and your brand wants that as well.

The problem lies in calling them ‘rock stars’.  Because when you do that, it’s easy to say ‘they are rock stars, we’re a brand, it’s two totally different things’.

Really?  You think Taylor Swift isn’t a brand?  Lady Gaga isn’t a brand?  Katy Perry, Pearl Jam, Blake Shelton, these are some of the biggest and most bankable brands on the planet!

The other trait that’s common to these rock stars? All of them are exceptional marketers.

So if you accept that these performers and bands are also excellent brands and marketers, then that means they are just like you in that regard.  Which means you can learn from how they market themselves and apply it to your own brand-building efforts.


So if rock stars are really brands, why does The Zac Brown Band have more fans than my brand does?  What is he doing that I’m not? 

Six years ago I got on an airplane for the first time.  And I had the normal fears of a first flight, and was pretty worried.  My anxiety got worse as we prepared for takeoff and then as we rose and I was pushed back in my seat I just knew that I was about to fall out the bottom of the plane and I couldn’t understand WHY NO ONE ELSE WAS UPSET!  Then I looked over and saw an older woman sitting across from me, and she had taken out a magazine and was reading it without a care in the world as the airplane climbed and the ground became harder to see clearly.  At that point I realized that she knew something I didn’t.  So I immediately calmed down, assuming if she wasn’t upset, I shouldn’t be either.

I tell this story to preface the rest of the post.  Rock stars do a lot of things, especially in their marketing efforts, that seem counter-intuitive and even completely scary to most brands.  But the end result cannot be argued, rock stars have raving fans that drive real business growth for their brand.  If you want to have the same, then you need to trust that the rock stars have a valid reason for doing the ‘scary stuff’.

If you want to understand why rock stars have such passionate fans and your brand does not, then you need to understand why the average rock star markets the way she does.  You need to understand The Loyalty Graph:

LoyaltyGraph2Yep, at the end of the day the reason why rock stars have fans comes down to simple marketing.  But the key is that rock stars understand the true value of their most passionate fans, and your brand likely does not.

To the average brand, it’s great to have a fan, a passionate customer that praises the brand to others.  But most brands don’t look to actively engage those fans.  While they are happy to have fans, the average brand leaves their fans alone, with the thinking being let them keep doing what they are doing.

Rock stars literally focus their marketing efforts around their fans.  What’s worth noting about this approach is that rock stars are based their marketing efforts around connecting with less than 5% of their customer base.

This is curious, because the average brand not only all but ignores its fans, it spends millions marketing to the other 95% of its customers.  With a premium placed on marketing to New Customers, customers that have little or no affinity toward their brand.  At the same time, rock stars are all but ignoring New Customers, from a marketing perspective.  Think about that for a minute: Brands are investing the majority of their marketing dollars on connecting with a group of customers that rock stars are literally ignoring.  Again back to the airplane example, what do rock stars know that your brand doesn’t?

Rock stars understand that your fans are the best salespeople your brand has.  And if you take your branding hat off for a moment, you know this to be true as well.  Let’s say you are making a trip to Switzerland this Summer and you want to buy a simple point and shoot camera for under $300 for the trip.  Before making your purchase you’ll do the following:

1 – Get recommendations from friends and family online.

2 – Get recommendations from friends and family offline.

3 – Check online reviews (Amazon as well as photography sites)

Note that your buying decision was influenced not by marketing from any camera brands, but instead by friends, family, and other customers.  Because we trust other customers more than we trust the brands marketing to us.

That’s what rock stars understand about marketing that your brand does not.

So rock stars literally shift their marketing message and put it in the hands of the people that you are most likely to trust.  They connect with their fans and cultivate them as salespeople for their brand.  This is why they don’t have to spend 95% of their marketing budget on trying to acquire new customers.  Instead, they connect with their fans that love them, and those fans then acquire new customers for them.

The key is to put your marketing message in the hands of the people that other customers trust the most 

The reason why most brands don’t want to do this is because most brands want complete control over how its marketing messages are shared and spread.  This is exactly why television, newspaper and radio advertising has been so popular for decades.  The brand can communicate directly with many people at one time.

The problem with this approach is that as a result, any communication from the brand is viewed as being ‘marketing’, and as such, less trustworthy to the average customer.  So to make sure that your marketing message is actually heard, it needs to pass through a source that the customer trusts, such as another customer (fan).

But again, we are back to the point that most brands don’t trust their fans enough to give them control of their marketing messages.  And yet, most rock stars do.  This is because most rock stars understand who their fans are and what motivates them.

Fans want to see their favorite brand, rock star or sports team succeed.  So they will act in what they perceive to be that brand/rock star/sport team’s best interest.  But the important point to understand is that since they are fans, they trust their favorite brand or rock star.  So if that brand connects directly with them and asks them to spread their marketing message in a certain way, they will listen.

Which is exactly what rock stars do.  They are constantly connecting with their most passionate fans because they understand that by doing so, their fans will better understand who the rock star is, and the message the rock star wants them to spread.

Your brand’s fear that your fans won’t spread the message that you want is mostly unfounded.  If they don’t spread the message that you want it’s probably because you haven’t communicated to them what message you do want them to spread!  What features of your product do you want them to tell others about?  What are the selling points that you want other customers to know about?

Participating in a conversation changes that conversation

Conduct this simple experiment: For the next 5 customers that mention your brand positively on Twitter, tweet them back and say Thank You.  Then note what happens next.  The odds are that at least one and possibly all five people will respond back saying you are welcome.  One or more of them might try to extend the conversation with you.  The point is that whatever happens after you reply happened because you replied.  By simply interacting with customers that self-identified as being fans of your brand, you gave them a reason to think more positively about your brand, and a reason to create more positive word of mouth about your brand.

Here’s your primer to becoming a rock star brand:

1 – Understand the business value of your fans.  Your fans are your brand’s best salespeople.  They are the real rock stars, treat them as such.

2 – Focus on ways to increase interactions with your biggest fans.  This galvanizes them and validates why they love your brand to begin with.  Plus, it gives them a better understandng of your brand and your brand a better understanding of your fans.

3 – Communicate to your fans how they can help you.  Remember that your fans are different from your average customer.  The average customer has little to no interest in helping you spread your marketing messages but your fans are actively looking for ways to help you grow your brand.  They want to help you, work with them to make that happen.

4 – Ask your fans for feedback.  Ask them what they think about your brand, and ask them what they are hearing from other customers they talk to.  Specifically, ask them what reasons other customers are giving them for why they do not want to buy from your brand.  This is incredibly valuable feedback that you need to seek out.  Once you learn why some customers don’t want to buy from your brand, you can work to correct those issues, and drive more sales.

5 – Remember this is doable.  There’s no reason why your brand, no matter what industry you are in or products you sell, cannot have passionate fans that love you.  It’s not about the product, if it were you would never see companies that create commodity products like scissors and industrial lubricants with passionate fanbases.  It is about how you relate to and understand your customers.  This is exactly why rock stars place a premium on having constant interactions with their fans and being as close to them as possible.

6 – Build the stage for your fans. They are the real rock stars.

Pic via Flickr user LunchboxLP

Brad February 26, 2014 at 12:50 pm

I am currently attending MIU and wanted to write saying how much i enjoyed your article. Please check my website for a break down of brands, image and marketing advice. Thanks a bunch!

James Flynn April 9, 2014 at 5:07 am

Spot on Mark. One issue I’d like your thoughts on however.

Marketing to the long tail hardened fans is great when you already have a decent sized or large audience. Clearly you need an audience already for this approach to work.

What would you suggest for this just starting out in building a brand?

Mack Collier April 9, 2014 at 10:40 am

First, you have fans. You may only have 1 or 2, but you have some. And these fans will seek YOU out. If they can find you, they will contact you, so being visible (for example actively using social media) helps.

Second, you create fans by having more interactions with your customers. That leads to your customers having a better understanding of who you are, and you get a better understanding of who your customers are. Which makes it easier for your customers to trust you and to become fans.

So if you are just starting out and have fewer customers, look for ways to have more interactions with your existing customers. This will help you better understand your customers, then you can more effectively market to them, which will help them trust you and covert them into fans!

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