“Brand On!”

I like going to rock concerts as much as the next guy. In fact, probably more. Nothing beats the raw energy, power, soul, and communal-spirit-as-one vibe of good live music. However, sometimes my business brain finds itself at the same show standing right next to me. Fortunately or unfortunately, I can’t shut it off or stop it from coming in with me, and that’s become a familiar tune in a familiar key for me – in Bringing Business to Life.



Who’s on First?

Very recently I attended  a small stadium concert (not at all oxymoronic in this particular case) with general admission seating in a small market city and noticed something. As background and with almost full transparency, I can tell you a this point that there were two “co-headliners”.  Each was cut from a different cloth, but really can be thought of as being of the same rock and roll church but maybe just different pews.

Arriving at the show, the first issue I saw is that someone had to play first. “Which act would it be?”, wondered the caring and the thinking. Others who didn’t care and/or weren’t thinking probably just got another beer or something to eat. Thorough analysis of the possibilities revealed that whoever didn’t play first would occupy the true headliner’s spot for this grand evening’s rock and roll festivities.

The First Guy

So with an early June evening sun still very much on the clock, the first guy and his band rather quietly but confidently took the stage to a strong and supportive ovation. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were wearing the clothes they just happened to have on that day when they came work. Very much, here we are, as we are. The whole vibe seemed pretty copasetic and consistent with the flavor of the appreciative and enthusiastic down front tribe.

Many in the audience, especially those up front, seemed quite pleased to be hanging out with and listening to this guy again after quite a few years had passed for both artist and audience. What followed was an energetic and well-played set, where it was clear that this guy and his band were having a lot of fun at work that day. In particular, the gentleman who sang and played amazing guitar seemed like he couldn’t be any happier to still have the opportunity to do what he was doing at that particular moment.

Turn and Face the Changes

As soon as the set ended, the changes began.  The changes went considerably beyond swapping out mics, drums, amps, and guitar stands. What transpired slowly at first gained momentum as the set break progressed.  Very quickly after the last notes of this first guy and his band had faded, the house mix seemed as if it got louder.  The next thing I noticed was that the crowd down front was changing. My neighborhood was undergoing obvious and visible change. As the Clash once said, I said to self, “Should I stay or should I go now?”

I noticed that the attire of those aspiring to occupy coveted down front positions now was screaming in its juxtaposition that black should become the new orange. Some of the black featured the next band’s name or interesting social commentary. Perhaps even a few ads for a Lynchburg, Tennessee spirt, cigarettes, or firearms. Also evident was that a good number of wide-brimmed hats had replaced what was probably a similar number of ball caps.  Budweiser replaced Miller Lite, Coors Light, and a microbrew or two as the beverage of choice.  More than just the change of equipment on the stage, true cultural change had swept the neighborhood.


Free as a Bird Now

As the band members took their places, the stage announcer (who seemed like he was a tour employee or manager) bellowed in his reference to the “Skynyrd Nation” that now had completed its takeover of the precious down front real estate.  First thought from business brain on this new input was, “Is this somehow supposed to be a parallel to the NASCAR nation?”. Probably many of the same people, so I guess that works.

So I catch a quick first look at the bass player. Standing right in front of me – dressed in all black, big hat, boots, bank-robber like bandanna across his face. Stage name Johnny Colt (see note below). He eventually lost the bandanna and changed hats, temporarily favoring something that looked like a dead animal skin for headwear. The keyboard player, Peter Keys (stage name) visually put me in mind of a southern rock adaptation of Professor Longhair.  With red solo cup in hand, singer Johnnie Van Zant demonstrated apparent and almost obligatory liquid consumption to the Skynyrd Nation, while handling the mic stand hauntily like his brother Ronnie did in the original band.

No detail had been left to chance. All the way around the horn, there was a very consistent uniform and attitude of the day with these guys.  Audience reflected band, and band threw it right back at them. It was a take no prisoners “Brand On!” approach to marketing.

Brand On!

Named in “honor” of a high school gym teacher in Jacksonville Florida back in the early 70’s, Lynyrd Skynyrd has always and forever will be known for its three guitar army attack on the senses, the tragic plane crash, and its classic rock anthems like “Freebird”, “Sweet Home Alabama”, and “Gimme Three Steps”.  More than just of themselves, this band more than any other became something culturally more important. Skynyrd became the indisputable and symbolic torch bearing icon of the “Southern Rock” genre.

What it was, is, and apparently will continue to be is exceptional branding.  Not sure who owns the name and corporation under which Lynyrd Skynyrd is organized, but this is truly impressive marketing in this day and age where it’s all about touring revenue and not about album sales. The strength of the brand is even more amazing if we stop to think that there’s only one original member and the discography of new music over the years is at best scarce and sporadic.

Tuesday’s Gone (or least my hearing was until Tuesday)

Did I mention yet how loud these guys play?  Yep, it’s part of the brand too, I guess.  Similar to my 9th grade experience with the fully-intact original Skynyrd at JFK Stadium in Philly years ago, I couldn’t hear normally for the better part of a week again this time. Back in the day, I can clearly remember taking my Algebra final with ringing in my ears. This time, it was the challenge of conducting business during the next day with the ringing and temporary threshold loss.

What was cool is that I still knew every song they played, and the band played them very well. The musicians were all very professional and were very good players. Dude with red solo cup seemed right as rain-perhaps the red solo cup was just a prop? That Johnny Colt fella I referenced above is no lightweight…..looks up his credits…Black Crowes, Train….yes, that Train….that’s how impressive this Skynyrd branding is. Mr. Colt is a true rock and roll chameleon! Despite my feeling that I was attending a reenactment of sorts, the performance was very strong and the music definitely has survived the test of time. The Skynyrd Nation seemed to love ’em and seemed to revel in their shared brand identity. This brand definitely still throws off some cash for its owners some 40 years later.  And that’s pretty impressive from a business standpoint!

First Guy – Reprise

By the way, “the first guy” and his band that played before Skynyrd…….was none other than Peter Frampton. You see, he’s pretty good too.  Straight forward, amazingly humble for his stature in the business and literally its history, he seems like a good guy who remains one of the most underrated guitarists on the planet…which may I add is probably related to how he was once branded and marketed as a teen idol rock star back in the day. Some of us knew how good he really was back then. And he’s better now, which is a story worthy of its own future Bringing Business to Life post (tags = continuous improvement, development, life-long learning, etc….).

Photo credit – me.



About Thomas W. Smith
Bizsinc - Bringing Business to Life

3 Responses to “Brand On!”

  1. Jim S. says:

    Interesting story. I too still enjoy the visceral thrill of being at a concert. But I’m finding the whole “competing for good ticket/paying way too much” thing increasingly a drag. Not to mention the mixed bag of going to a show. I remember going to shows when we were all young and long-haired. Now we all look like we just came from mowing the lawn or a suburban BBQ. Rock n’ roll?

    As to Skynyrd’s audience, I guess that doesn’t surprise me. I’m one of their fans and I hardly fit their demographic. I’d love to see them once if only to air guitar my way through Free Bird. And yeah, Frampton is a great guitarist. I passed on seeing him in a relatively small venue recently, though, simply because I didn’t want to hear any songs from ‘Frampton Comes Alive’ even one more time.

    As to branding, sure. It’s a business as you well know. Who markets themselves better than the supposedly countercultural Grateful Dead? And after a while, the names of the people in the band don’t seem to matter as long as there’s even one original player. A friend of mine saw the Yardbirds (!) a few weeks ago. I think maybe there’s one original guy. The rest might as well be session players. It didn’t seem to matter in the least to anybody.

    As to concerts, for me, I see my ‘big concert’ days winding down. (Although that said, I really wouldn’t mind seeing Bruce just one more time). I’m going to see Ricki Lee Jones in a small club next month (where I also saw John Mayall and Savoy Brown recently). That’s now becoming the right speed for this aging boomer. :-0

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