Last Saturday night I saw the future of branding. My wife and I participated in an event where every part of the experience was carefully designed, tightly controlled, and beautifully managed.
The marketers scripted everything, from the attire of the attendees to the refreshments to the activities to the entertainment.
Was I at an Apple Store? No, Apple is fastidious about controlling the look and feel of their products and experiences, both online and in-store, but not the look of their customers. Plus, they don’t serve snacks or drinks.
Was I at a political rally? No, political campaigns do control the messaging and perhaps the demographics, but they don’t provide a 360 degree experience.
Was I at Disney World? No. Even though Disney does control their 360 degree environment, the experience is landlocked in Orlando and this new experience travels around the world.
Where in the world was I? I was at a Jimmy Buffett concert.
His distant cousin Warren might get all the credit for business acumen but Jimmy Buffett is an honest to goodness branding genius, the true future of marketing. Let me walk you through our evening and you’ll see what I mean. You’ll even see ideas you can use to build and promote your own brand.
When you first arrive at the arena, you don’t get in line or go to your seat, you go to a party. Right outside the main hall a band is playing, drinks are pouring, and everybody is having a raucous good time. Beats the hell out of those velvet ropes every time.
Thousands of Parrotheads (what diehard Buffett fans call themselves) are dressed in Buffett’s tropical Margaritaville clothing or are buying tour tee shirts to pull over their already casual outfits. They’re guzzling Buffett’s own Landshark Lager or margaritas made with Buffett’s Margaritaville brand tequila. And they’re having lots of fun.
When the time comes to get started, the party moves into the arena. There are lights, music, and a couple of cheerleader types on stage shooting tee shirts into the crowd. Big colorful beach balls are bouncing around while screaming fans bat them back and forth.
Even the opening act has been well planned. Instead of some “no name band” that nobody wants to see, this show featured a couple of guys with guitars and a saxophone player. They played Buffett-esque tropical party music to keep the party going while the crowd filed in. When their stage time was up there was no equipment to change. They just walked off and The Coral Reefers (Buffet’s band) strolled on. Easy peasy.
Talk about demographic profiling! The band looked exactly like the audience. No tattooed rock star hotshots in ripped jeans and leather jackets, but a bunch of middle-aged folks in shorts, khakis, tees and Hawaiian shirts. Buffett even kicked off his flip-flops before he bounded up to the microphone.
Everyone in the crowd knew the words to every song, which should come as no surprise since they’d been singing along for the last 30 years. And while the crowd may not have had the rhythmic sophistication of the audience at a Black Eyed Peas or Beyoncé concert, they danced along to each tune just the same.
Each song, comment, and photo was strategically chosen to sell the Buffett brand experience of tropical leisure, middle-aged irresponsibility, and boat drinks. No wonder, either, when you realize that besides his touring machine, books, CDs, and DVDs, Jimmy Buffett also owns or has licensed liquor and beer brands, tropical clothing, Margaritaville-themed restaurants, a recording studio, and much, much more.
And what if you couldn’t make the concert? No worries, Mon! It’s was all recorded live and uploaded to Margaritaville radio on Sirius’ feed. Just pay for satellite radio and the party goes on 24/7.
All of it — the music, the signage, the outfits, the parties — are designed to sell a singular, aspirational experience, Buffett-style. Yeah, your life in Union City, New Jersey or Dead Fish, Montana might be gloomy and gray but Jimmy’s here to take you away from all that. All you have to do is pay up.
I’m telling you, the man’s a genius.
I was a kid back in the dark ages of transistor radios. If a friend told me about a cool new song, I’d tune in to WQAM and wait until they played what I was waiting for. Usually it would take an hour or more if the song was hot. While I waited I’d get my cassette recorder plugged in and loaded so I could tape the song. Invariably, I’d miss the beginning and inadvertently record my mom calling me for dinner over one of the verses.
Sometimes I had a little allowance money burning a hole in my pocket and wanted to order something from the ads on the back of my comic books – sea monkeys, say, or X-ray specs. I’d get my mom to write a check, put it in an envelope and root around for a stamp. Then I’d drop it in the mailbox and wait the four to six weeks the small print warned me about. I’d religiously check the mailbox every day after school but that didn’t make the package arrive any sooner.
Things are different today. When my daughter gets a text message about a great new band she has to hear, an MP4 file of the actual song usually accompanies the SMS. If not, she can go to YouTube or the iTunes store, download the song to her phone and listen to it right away.
If my son wants to buy something, he can simply order it online and have it Fed-Ex’d to him in a day or two. And while he waits he can track his package as it wings its way across the country. No one over 45 actually cares where the package is until it arrives in their hot little hands but younger consumers need to know when it’s in Tulsa, when it’s in Memphis, and when it’s on the delivery truck.
Of course if it’s a book he wants, he can just one-click order it on Amazon and have it transmitted to a Kindle, iPad, or laptop in less than 60 seconds.
These buyers are labeled by a lot of names these days, – Generation X, Generation Y, Echo Boomers, Millennials – demographic titles based on when they were born. But I think it would be more accurate to name them psychographically, based on the trait they all share: their instant gratification addiction. My genius friend David calls them The Instant On Generation – the hordes of people who have grown up with the “what have you done for me next” demands of digital technology and don’t know how to function in an analog environment.
Unfortunately for them, world events are conspiring to make things very difficult for Instant-ons. Thanks to the combined effects of a burgeoning world population, expanded financial opportunity in the under-developed world and the democratization of technology, there are more people on airplanes, more people in restaurants, more people consuming natural and man made resources, and more people traveling around the world than ever before. And while Instant-ons are perfectly happy to zoom along in their digital environments, finding their friends on FourSquare, making reservations on OpenTable, and communicating with each other 24/7 across Facebook and Twitter, the sheer number of people expecting immediate service in the carbon universe is an unscalable mess that slows everything down.
Before you start pining for the good old days, remember that things weren’t that fast before. It’s just that there were far fewer people clamoring for service and those people were way more willing to wait their turn. But older consumers didn’t grow up with the instant reward and response of videos games. They didn’t grow up with the instant gratification of flash frozen prepared foods heated in a microwave. And they didn’t grow up with a 24/7 communication device glowing greedily in their pocket.
Tomorrow’s consumer did, and tomorrow’s marketer is going to have to figure out how to successfully service people who live the lyrics to the Queen song: “I want it all and I want it now.”
Talking about today’s sped up world, Steven Wright said, “If you put instant coffee in a microwave you almost go back in time.” Funny thing is I don’t smell coffee. I smell opportunity. Specifically, how to make Instant-ons happy? An improved customer experience is one way: think Disney World’s line management techniques or the TSA security experience at Las Vegas’ McCarran Airport. Here in Miami, wealthy wannabe American Instant-ons can even hire people to stand in line for them at immigration.
But all of these solutions are just Band-Aids. The true moneymakers will be the ones who figure out how to reconcile Instant-ons’ digital expectations with analog reality.