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Brand strategy lessons from Jimmy Buffett

As we honor the passing of Jimmy Buffett, we recognize his contributions to music. But aside from his musical talents, he became a master in brand strategy. We’ve collected five of the best brand strategy lessons that can be learned from his business empire.

1) Brand Positioning As a marketing firm, Rebel Fox spends a great amount of time helping clients define their differentiated competitive positioning. The goal is to identify a message or idea that allows your target audience to understand your unique competitive difference. When you find a compelling positioning it enables you to stand out, be found, and ultimately be preferred. Jimmy Buffett started out as a country music artist and started to build his dreams in Nashville. After a fated trip to Key West, his musical direction shifted. He built a unique sound that was later coined as TropRock—a completely ownable positioning in the 1970s and beyond. Without that transition he may have spent years, even decades fighting through the crowded field of country music. Often companies are worried about narrowing their audience because they don’t want to miss out on the monetary opportunity that a larger market will promise. However, being a big fish in a smaller pond can have much bigger dividends than being a small fish in a sea of thousands. Jimmy leaped and never looked back. How well does your brand positioning differentiate you from the pack?

2) Brand as Place Marlboro Country, Folgers Mornings, and the Corona Life (baby) are all examples of brands as place. The idea is that you build your brand around a physical place, time of day, or time of year so that people associate that place or point in time with your brand. The benefit of this strategy is that all the good feelings emerging from sensory experiences (sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell) as well as attitudes can be assumed by the brand. “Folger’s mornings” owned that good coffee smell emanating from the kitchen and the feeling of those quiet early hour moments with loved ones, as the house begins to stir. Well, Jimmy captured Margaritaville—the quintessential escape to a more relaxed, “no care in the world” destination. This is the place you go to when you listen to his music. You close your eyes and you can feel the warm sun and cool breeze. You are in Key West. How can your brand own a place or time?

3) Brand Extensions Margaritaville was an imaginary place until Jimmy Buffet built an empire. From the song’s signature restaurants and resorts to small household appliances, furniture, and apparel, Jimmy was a master of brand extensions. Every offering delivered the promise of relaxation and tropical escape. How can your brand positioning be parlayed into a new line of products or services that help you further cement ownership of your core brand idea? What new ideas could help strengthen your brand and open up new revenue streams?

4) Brand Evangelists Deadheads were first, but Parrotheads are no less zealous. Jimmy developed a fanatical following spanning four decades among people seeking his music and brand experience. Jimmy gave back to his audience with every performance and at every brand touchpoint—always providing them with an escape from the everyday. How do you give back to your customers at each point of contact? Can you name your customer base as a collective, evangelistic cohort? Would they be interested in being part of a community with other evangelists of your brand?

5) Brand Aesthetics Some brands exist solely on their marketing brand aesthetics. The Absolut Vodka bottle campaign, UPS Brown, and Tiffany Blue are examples of how aesthetics lead the way. Jimmy Buffett’s concerts and products all deliver the same brand vibe through palm trees, parrots, beachside imagery, and vibrant margarita green. These elements alone may be enough to remind people of Jimmy Buffet even without his name attached. How well do your brand aesthetics signal your brand? What other types of sounds, sights, smells, or other sensory experiences can create great connections with your consumers?

Hopefully, Jimmy Buffett’s legacy an inspire you to push your own brand strategies further!

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