7 Ways Bob Dylan Doesn’t Think Twice About Brand Strategy

bob-dylanThe Basement Tapes, Volume 11 from Bob Dylan and The Band will be released this week (for a free sampler click here).

These rough recordings Dylan made in Woodstock, New York during the spring and summer of 1967 (two years before the famous Woodstock Music Festival) were created, as we all know, after Dylan his flipped his Triumph motorcycle on a country road and suddenly went dark. After pushing out two albums in 1965–“Bringing It All Back Home,” and “Highway 61 Revisited” and “Blonde On Blonde” in 1966, the so-called basement tapes created between “Blonde On Blonde” and “John Wesley Harding” (also in 1967) hardly seem like down-time.

Dylan, who had already gone from folky protest singer to electrified warlock, was just resetting the table.

“Nashville Skyline,” which came out in 1969, was a kick on the side of the head for fans still getting stoned on Rainy Day Woman #12 & 35. And the album birthed an entirely new era of country rock.

The Basement Tapes have all the production value of just letting the tape roll, but include the not-yet-gelled versions of Quinn The Eskimo, and gangly but listenable takes on classics like I Shall Be Released, You Ain’t Going Nowhere, and This Wheel’s On Fire.

There is no question that Bob Dylan is a major brand in every sense. From the manufactured name “Bob Dylan” (his birth name is Robert Allen Zimmerman) to a lifetime of continual innovation and rebranding, Dylan-as-brand seizes the attention of a global fan community in the millions.

It is worth deconstructing the “Brand called Bob” to see the strategic touchpoints that lay  behind what all the fuss is about.

Like any powerful brand, the brand called “Bob Dylan” contains each of the seven pieces of “primal code” that design a narrative that attracts a community of believers, zealots, and the other advocates that create full-spectral fandom.

“Primal code” includes creation story, creed, icons, rituals, sacred words, nonbelievers, and leader that, when combined together, form a holistic belief system that attracts others who share your beliefs. These touch the emotional connections that we have with all brands, and create a template to help us understand why Bob Dylan has been attracting fans by the millions since the 1960s.

1. Creation story: As mysterious as it is famous, the spine of Dylan’s origin myth is that he made his way from Hibbing, Minnesota to New York City to visit legendary folksinger Woody Guthrie who was hospitalized in New Jersey. Along the way, Dylan shed his name Robert Zimmerman, for a hybrid based on the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. Dylan joined the folk music scene in Greenwich Village and recorded an unspectacular eponymous album of cover tunes in 1962. But the release of “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” album the following year (1963) included Blowin’ In The Wind, A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall, Girl From The North Country, Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right, and rightly changed the world.

2. Creed: Probably expressed best in Dylan’s track You Go Your Way And I’ll Go Mine. Dylan has always zig-zagged across musical styles and affiliations, leap-frogging genres, and creating bridges to new times and places.

3. Icons: The fact that Bob Dylan is an icon in popular music is no question. He is in the Rock And Roll Music Hall of Fame and Songwriter Hall of Fame. His personas as Greenwich Village folksinger, masked member of the Rolling Thunder Revue and never-ending leader of the Never Ending Tour (as well as his role in the aborted film Reynaldo and Clara), are images forever imprinted on Dylan fans and music public alike. But icons are not just images. Sound is also iconic: Dylan’s voice is iconic, and so are the iconic melodies in some of his most popular songs. This “sound” instantly identifies it’s Dylan, which is what being “iconic” is all about.

4. Rituals: Concerts are rituals. And so are interviews, appearances, signings, going into the recording studio and all the other seemingly random events that are woven together to create the map that designates the Dylan landscape. Waiting to see what Dylan comes up with next is also a ritual.

5. Sacred words: “Dylan.” One word, two syllables that represent a mountain of meaning for fans. The lexicon of Dylan album titles, the incredible song lyrics (the books, articles, student papers and blogs written about the meaning of Dylan lyrics number in the hundreds of thousands), and quotes from interviews and elsewhere become part of the sacred liturgy that surrounds the Brand Called Bob. These stimulate, provoke and titillate his global fan community.

6. Nonbelievers: For every “pro” there is a “con.” While Dylan has a global fan-base of millions, like all artists there are millions of others for whom his voice is a nail scraping a tin roof. His lyrics are too incomprehensible. After decades of deification, most of these critics have been beaten down or died off. And still. I used to have a dog who howled every time he played harmonica.

7. Leader: Bob Dylan is certainly the character who set out to recreate the world according to his own point of view. And now even at age 73, he continues to push the reset button.

Or maybe all this fuss about the release of yet another round Basement Tapes is just another set-up. Following press on the Basement Tapes, producers have announced a new Dylan release in 2015. Watch for “Shadows In The Night.”

To anyone born before, well, whenever, Dylan’s role in contemporary music may seem suspect. The words to Dylan’s first hit “Blowin’ In The Wind” might seem light and insipid. Until you realize that issues of race, freedom, war, ignorance, and myopic politicos are as contemporary as it gets. The wind is timeless and the questions raised are unanswerable.

It is testimony to Bob Dylan’s stature as a songwriter and generational muse for the last 50 years that even these scrappy 138 songs in a six-CD box set deserve consideration. (Bob Dylan is the only rock musician to ever win a Pulitzer Prize: “for his profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power”.)

Last word. Bob Dylan doesn’t have to think twice about brand strategy because he has created a community so enthralled by his music and so committed to his success, they are willing to do it themselves. And that’s all right.

Innovation Experience Wrapped In Metaphor

After a caterpillar wraps itself inside its cocoon, it waits to metamorph into its next iteration as a butterfly. The caterpillar does not simply shrink and sprout wings. Instead, it disintegrates into a puddle of primordial ooze within the cocoon. If we were to open the cocoon during this process, we would not find a half-caterpillar half-butterfly, but a sticky mass of oozy goop. The goop is a sea of individual cells floating in a miasma.

Then, for whatever reason, a new type of cells begin to appear.

butterfly screen BGThese new cells are called imaginal cells and they are so completely different from the original cells that the ooze cells take them to be a virus or some invader. So the ooze cells act like white blood cells and begin to attack the imaginal cells. However, the imaginal are undaunted. They keep appearing and, in time, locate each other and form clusters.

Eventually, the imaginal cells gain a large enough population so that they switch from being invaders, to becoming the programming cells of the butterfly. Some imaginal cells start changing into wing cells, some change into antenna cells, some start becoming digestive tract cells, and so on. They are no longer imaginal cells but become the essential anatomy of the butterfly. As we know, when left alone in metamorphosis, the caterpillar emerges from the cocoon as a completely new entity—a butterfly.

Anyone who has been involved in creative or innovation will recognize this familiar process.

Moving from the gooey mass of ideation and rough concepts written onto blank sheets of paper, the cocoon sometimes gets ripped open too soon, killing the butterfly. But if we are able to acknowledge and embrace upfront that the process will be messy (and needs to be) then allow equal amounts of time, talent and inspiration do their work, and we soon find butterflies floating on the horizon.

Nordstrom Sarah Jessica Parker Shoe Line Makes Perfect Fit In Soho Fashion Pop-Up

Nordstrom SJP new pop-up in Soho pushes Sarah Jessica Parker shoe line and Nordstrom's shoe sense
Nordstrom SJP new pop-up in Soho pushes Sarah Jessica Parker shoe line and Nordstrom’s shoe sense

If department store retailer Nordstrom is famous for anything, it’s shoes. And if “Sex And The City” star Sarah Jessica Parker is known for anything, well, shoes are near the top of the list.

No wonder Nordstrom has popped up with their Nordstrom SJP (Sarah Jessica Parker) concept south of Houston in New York City. Excited attendants relayed the news that Sarah Jessica wasn’t just acting as a celebrity stand-in, but was “down on her knees” on opening day, fitting guests with shoes and discussing the importance of fashion on opening day. SJP was even devoting a part of her Saturday, March 1, for the event.

The new SJP line is a collaboration between Sarah Jessica and Manolo Blahnik ceo George Malkemus. Her shoe collection is priced around $300, and inspired by 1970s shoe design: beautifully made, wonderful fit, and fun.

Seen on the street, SJP footwear can be identified by an iconic light salmon-colored seam running down the heel.

While other department stores are buckshotting new concepts, Nordstrom is making a great move by understanding the importance of (first of all) having a core. And then focussing on it in a buzzy, dramatic way.

Three cheers for SJP.

Brand Experiences Get Sticky

Brain candy. Eye glue. Today marketers are finding new ways to lock down consumers and get them to stay in place.

Marketers have always tried to get people to stop and stare. The age-old example of a brand experience is that trite mime who always stopped Grandma in front of the store window. This behind the glass concept has been updated in recent years by having people sleeping, reading books, or other dramatic feats of patience.

Another sticky example was the Lady Gaga windows at Barney’s for the 2011 holiday season featured elaborate displays that included a hirsute women draped over a couch, a mermaid floating in waves, and a woman figurine on a moving bicycle. (The Bergdorf-Goodman windows on Fifth Avenue in New York City have also always been consistent show stoppers.)

But today, from iPads in retail locations to digital billboards, corporations and the marketers who serve them are making more dramatic efforts to wow their audiences.

One expert at this is London-based Universal Everything, whose startling videowalls for Hyundai, Samsung, and others have been smashing successes not only at the events and corporate halls where they have been installed, but also on Vimeo. Their Made By Humans execution for Hyundai was favorited by Vimeo last year, and is as stimulating a piece of gobsmack as it gets.

“The commissions aren’t about advertising, but to create an immersive atmosphere rather than a hard sell,” says Universal Everything’s founder and creative director, Matt Pyke. “It’s about creating mesmerizing expressions of brand values.”

To help ideate their Hyundai brand experience, Universal Everything designers were invited to experience the Hyundai culture and create something that expressed the values they felt. The result was a series of massive video walls displaying videos with titles like Primal Creation, and We Are All Unique. The Hyundai installation is 24 meters wide and contains 44,000 pixels. Universal Everything worked with a London-based visual effects company in order to get the high resolution detail necessary.

“It feels like art,” says Pyke. “But is powered by their brand.”

The project took about nine months and several million dollars to complete.

Rather than placing a sculpture or artwork in their main lobby, these days corporations are installing videowalls that serve an architectural function, as well as offer a flexible solution for expressing brand values and brand storytelling.

Brand experiences have become as important for people working inside the company body, as they are for consumer-facing communications. At the DeutscheBank head office, employees entering the lobby each day are greeted by a massive videowall that changes in appearance, color scheme or behavior each day. Sometimes it is an abstraction of the logo. More often, it is not.

From showstoppers like Coca Cola vending machines dispensing free colas, to the interconnectivity of Big Data tracking, we can look forward to even more attempts to stop us in our tracks. 

“It’s a lot of work,” says Pyke. “But there’s a lot of longevity in it.”