Brands, like bands, should own their fans


For any business today, there is no substitute for direct contact with a customer. Anyone unconvinced need only look to Radiohead.

The rock group released their eighth album, The King of Limbs, on 18 February. As with the previous album, In Rainbows, it has initially been made available only from Radiohead’s own website.

The band are no longer signed to a label, choosing instead to record, market and distribute their songs at their own expense. That has proved no barrier, as the awareness generated around this latest launch has shown.

With a total marketing spend of zero, Radiohead have attracted a level of publicity most bands – and brands – would covet enviously. There was no ad campaign or PR effort, just a simple announcement on the website and a message to an email list two days before release.

The rest of the work was done by fans themselves. Within hours, #Radiohead was a “trending topic” on Twitter and the story had been picked up by news media around the world. Imagine if brands could mobilise their customer bases in this way.

There are caveats, of course. Radiohead have nearly 20 years of successful recording and touring behind them, in what might fairly be called a high-interest product category. Their email subscribers probably also consist of an unusually high number of music journalists. An unknown act could hammer away at the music market in this way for decades and never leave a dent.

Yet it would be obtuse, and would miss the point, to ignore Radiohead’s marketing model for these reasons. Their strategy could be replicated by numerous brands, should they be dedicated enough to create the right conditions.

Picture from Radiohead's latest video for their single Lotus Flower
Picture from Radiohead’s latest video for their single Lotus Flower

Radiohead are able to pull off this audacious achievement not just because they have multinational and mainstream popularity – though that helps. More importantly, they have a community of highly engaged customers and advocates. They in turn have vibrant and relevant forums in which to spread the word, amongst themselves and amongst others that the band would want to target.

Crucially, there is also a product that generates excitement – Radiohead’s first album for four years.

But none of this would be possible if Radiohead did not own the relationship with their fans. For years, the band has been consistently providing reasons for them to hand over their data – in the form of email addresses – by using their mailings as a source for getting news, tour dates, ticket announcements, artwork, merchandise and other valued content.

What is more, those ordering the new album must first register with an email address, ever expanding the database for future use.

Any marketer reading these past few summary paragraphs should feel it is within their power to create the conditions necessary for this model to work. No-one would claim it is easy to achieve, but neither is it restricted to the world’s biggest bands, or brands.

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