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What Taylor Swift Can Teach You About Bypassing Gatekeepers (Thinks Out Loud Episode 393)

Woman holding hands in heart position to illustrate the idea of Taylor Swift's playbook for bypassing gatekeepers and reaching fans directly.

Don’t let her reputation fool you. Taylor Swift prints money like a Mint. Maybe even more so, if I’m being honest. Her concerts have not only made her a ton of money, they have helped boost the economies of towns in which her tour played.

But what might be most impressive about her actions is the way that she’s bypassing the gatekeepers between her and her fans. There’s no bad blood there. Instead, it’s nothing but a love story. Swift has crafted a hugely successful songbook. But she’s also developed playbook for bypassing gatekeepers and connecting directly with her customers, one that we can all apply to our businesses, too.

How can we do that? What can we learn from Taylor Swift’s playbook? How can we bypass the gatekeepers in our industries and escape from Big Tech’s web? That’s what this episode of the Thinks Out Loud podcast is all about.

Want to learn more? Here are the show notes for you.

What Taylor Swift Can Teach You About Bypassing Gatekeepers (Thinks Out Loud Episode 393) Headlines and Show Notes

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You might also enjoy this webinar I recently participated in with Miles Partnership that looked at "The Power of Generative AI and ChatGPT: What It Means for Tourism & Hospitality" here:

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Transcript: What Taylor Swift Can Teach You About Bypassing Gatekeepers

Well hello again everyone and welcome back to Thinks Out Loud, your source for all the digital expertise your business needs. My name is Tim Peter. This is episode 393 of The Big Show, and thank you so much for tuning in. I really appreciate it. I think we’ve got a really cool show for you today.

I was listening to a podcast the other day called Offline with Jon Favreau, where he talked to Nora Princiotti and Nathan Hubbard about the media empire that is Taylor Swift. And there has been some enormous Taylor Swift news in the last couple of days. All of this collectively reminded me of an episode we did a couple of years back about "Why the modern marketing team is a media company."

We’re always looking for ways to help you avoid being caught in Big Tech’s web, Ways that you can bypass the gatekeepers and connect directly with your customers. And if there’s one thing we’ve learned over the course of this year, it’s that Taylor Swift has a winning playbook for doing this. That was the point of that episode that I mentioned a moment ago.

She’s also continued to update that playbook. She’s continued to say, how can we expand that playbook and do something really interesting? And I thought that was worth looking at today.

First, a couple of facts. You’ve probably heard that Taylor Swift is in the middle of a massive, massive tour. The Wikipedia article about the tour notes that the Wall Street Journal reported that the Eras Tour, "is on track to become the biggest in concert history with the potential to gross over $1 billion. Conservative Pollstar estimates projected that a $1.4 billion gross. And Bloomberg News reported that the average gross per show on the U. S. leg is $13 million." That’s huge. That’s massive.

One of the crazier parts of this story is that it’s not just Taylor who’s making money here. There’s evidence that suggests it is good for local economies. CBS News said that the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia announced this month that Taylor Swift’s tour helped boost travel and tourism in the region. This is from the article on CBS News. "Santiago Carado, who’s CEO of Visit Tampa Bay, said, I would say on the hotel side of things, pretty much similar to a Super Bowl." Which is wild when you consider that she’s doing 130-140 of these dates in a year. So, you know, 130 Super Bowls in the course of one year… by one artist.

Well, to add to the fun, now there’s going to be a movie. That’s the big news story that came out over the weekend. That’s pretty wild. "The Taylor Swift Eras Tour film." She partnered with AMC Theatres and with their distribution arm to put the film in AMC’s movie theaters and other movie theaters directly. There was a note in Variety that "the Taylor Swift Eras Tour film earned a record breaking $26 million in pre sales." That’s just pre sales. That’s not the number of tickets it will sell.

Fandango also said that the movie broke its record for the biggest first day ticket sales, though they didn’t cite an actual figure. But they said, "Pre sales ranked among blockbusters like Avengers Endgame, Star Wars The Force Awakens, and Spider Man No Way Home at similar points in their sales cycles."

Again, this is from the Variety article. "Exhibitors privately believe a $100 million plus opening weekend is possible, which is unprecedented business for this kind of movie. In fact, only five films this year, Barbie, the Super Mario Bros. movie, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, Spider Man Across the Spider Verse, and Ant Man and the Wasp Quantumania, have hit triple digits in their debuts." Remember, this is on top of the money she’s making from the tour itself.

And she bypassed the film studios doing this to deal directly with AMC. By the way, AMC bypassed the film studios. This is great for AMC. They get a bigger cut of the film’s revenues, plus all the revenues from the popcorn, the soda, and the limited edition merchandise attached to the film that they can sell to the millions of fans who’ll come to sing along with their favorite songs.

The timing’s pretty wild too, and particularly savvy given that we’re in the middle of a major film industry strike. So, Taylor Swift and AMC kind of look like the good guys by not putting any more money in the pockets of the big bad evil film studios in the middle of this strike. Very, very, very smart. Brilliant.

And it points to one of the ways that we can consistently bypass the gatekeepers. You’ve heard me say many, many times on the show that content is king. Well, I need to remind you that content isn’t just king. It’s a strategic product for your business. It is core to the overall experience that customers have with your business.

Again, you’ve heard me say that content is king, customer experience is queen. I don’t care what kind of business you operate. Digital channels are the first, and for many customers, only interaction they have with your business. Your content is the first part of that customer experience. It is your 24x7x365 customer service rep.

And you need to think about, is it doing a good job of that? Swift and AMC are partnering on this content in a way to reach new fans to, and, and get a greater share of wallet from existing fans to deepen the experience that they may have had either because they saw the tour or because they wanted to see the tour and couldn’t get the ticket because the thing’s selling like crazy.

This is also a great reminder that content is cheap. You’ve also heard me say on this show that the biggest myth in content marketing is that content is expensive. It’s not. Creating new content is pretty straightforward. Obviously she’s doing this by filming the tour she’s on, but she’s repurposing existing content, the tour itself, in a new medium. The way artists in years past might have done live albums, she’s doing with a film.

Content that doesn’t convert is expensive. Content that doesn’t drive revenue for your business is expensive. Content that doesn’t help your customer is expensive. But if you create a new piece of content that costs, let’s say, a thousand dollars, and it works for you as a 24x7x365 customer service rep, or a 24x7x365 salesperson, then that’s actually super cheap for something that’s going to work for you for six months, a year, 18 months, two years.

Conversion can mean lots of different things, of course. Did they buy? Sure. But did your customer find an answer to their question? Did they ask to hear from you directly? One of the things that is brilliant about what Swift has done here, with the film and with the tour and everything else, is she connects directly to her customers every chance she gets.

And when people engage with your content on your website, or on your mobile app, or in person in a community event, it becomes much easier to bypass the gatekeepers to not be caught in their web when customers ask you to talk directly to them. They give you an email address, they sign up for mobile alerts or updates, they download your app. They’re basically saying, we don’t want an intermediary between you and me. We don’t want an intermediary getting in the way of that conversation. We want to hear from you directly.

We’ve done research for many of our hotel clients that show the value of an email address is about 5 to 25 bucks in terms of future reservations value based on, you know, the amount you charge per night, based on how long people stay, based on how many people stay in the room for each hotel, etc. But anywhere between 5 and 25 dollars for an email address in the hotel industry. We’ve seen with B2B businesses that an email address can be worth $100 or $200 or $500 again depending on the value of the product that you sell.

You’re using content to drive a deeper connection and a deeper relationship. That’s what she’s doing with her tour. That’s what she’s doing with her film.

Now, you also need a certain amount of content distribution. She made the film, but she said, "I need a way to get this in front of people." So, Swift did a deal with AMC. And that does raise a question of, is it enabling a new gatekeeper or who are the gatekeepers that you have to worry about?

And this is one that varies widely based on the kind of business you’re in, the kind of industry you’re in. There are all kinds of different potential gatekeepers. And they’re driven by the question of where your audience lives.

So for many of us, Google is always a gatekeeper. It is the most visited site on the internet. It is the place where many customers start their activities when they’re online. When they have a problem they need to solve. And of course, the other big sites play similar roles. YouTube is the second most visited site on the internet. Facebook is the third most visited. Instagram is the fourth most visited.

So those are probably places you need to be if you’re in a B2C industry. If you’re in B2B, LinkedIn, which is… quote, unquote, only the 16th most visited site is still probably, — and certainly for the, in the U. S. for B2B marketers — the biggest company you need to be thinking about, the biggest place where your audience lives… alongside, potentially, YouTube.

Now, one of the things that a lot of music artists are doing is, and I’m not the first person to bring this up, but obviously TikTok, it’s, it’s the 14th most visited site on the internet globally. But it’s still growing and it’s where the music industry is generating hits today, not in the old fashioned web counter sense, but in the older sense of top hits on the radio, what are people listening to? It is an immense, immense component of how the music industry is breaking new artists or breaking new songs.

It’s also where tastemakers like Taylor Swift are learning what her customers are listening to, what are her fans listening to. We’re going to come back to that in just a moment.

There is lots of debate in the music industry whether TikTok pays enough royalties and you hear the same on Spotify and YouTube. So this is an existing problem. And of course this film industry strike I referred to earlier, a lot of the conflict is due to questions about, do streaming services generally — though in their case they’re thinking about Disney+ and Netflix and the like — are they compensating artists appropriately for their work?

First, I want to say, of course artists should be paid for their work. I don’t want to suggest otherwise. I’d also think about this in a slightly different way, and in the way that I think Taylor Swift does look at this. There are lots of ways to monetize your offering. You don’t just have to make money from your content. Remember, Taylor Swift, in theory, is selling music, her songs, her records.

But look at all the revenue streams she produces and uses the music to merchandise all the other stuff: the concerts, the movie, the merchandise that you can get in these places. The 1.3 or 1.4 billion dollars the tour will make does not include merchandising revenue. Her label Universal Music said in their most recent earnings call, "…merchandising revenue grew 12% in the quarter, fueled by a strong performance from Taylor Swift." That’s crazy. She also has things like perfumes and endorsements. If I’m being fair, fragrances from other pop stars like Ariana Grande, Rihanna, and Billie Eilish appear to sell much better, according to British Vogue magazine. But still, there’s revenue there. And endorsements are advertising, right? That’s companies paying her to advertise their products.

You get to do the same thing. There are lots of ways that you get to monetize the traffic that your content drives for you. It could be ads. Obviously, lots of people do that. It could be partnerships with other companies. It could be merchandising and marketing your own products and services. Of course, people do that. But the point being. That you’re not trying to sell the content. You’re trying to let the content sell your thing.

Taylor Swift is somebody whose business is the content and is saying, "We’re going to use that as a platform for other revenues." You get to do exactly the same thing.

Don’t think of Taylor Swift just as a person. Think of her as an enterprise. Nathan Hubbard, in Offline podcast episode I mentioned at the top of the show, referred to Swift as the "CEO of a direct to consumer brand." And she succeeds in that role by understanding her customers, her fans better than anyone. This shows up in the success of the ten albums she’s put out — plus the four she’s re-recorded as "(Taylor’s Versions)" — across her 17 year career.

Pop stars tend to age out of the marketplace faster than fruit flies. Clearly, Taylor Swift is doing something worth watching. One of those things she’s done, as Nora Princiotti noted, is "scaled intimacy." She’s not creating customers. She’s not even creating fans, really. She’s creating deep relationships, at least in the mind of her customer, with those individuals.

She interacts with fans on TikTok and Instagram to listen as much as promote. Mostly, she doesn’t promote. She’s listening to what matters to her fans. And yeah, it could be people on her team. It might be Taylor herself. I don’t really know. The point is that she’s staying connected with the sounds and feelings and cares and concerns of her customer, her audience. She’s using social media to connect deeply with that audience. I mentioned this a couple weeks ago, social isn’t anti-social for businesses if you use it widely.

Swift is building a community, one in which she’s an active participant. And that’s another way of bypassing the gatekeepers. No one is filtering the message that she receives.

I’d compare and contrast this with Elon Musk’s recent moves. His actions suggest to me, anyway, that he’s searching for evidence that confirms his beliefs. He’s modifying Twitter, or X, or whatever you want to call it, to share more of what he likes and less of what he doesn’t.

What leads me to this conclusion? Why do I think that? Well, the dude got in a fight this past weekend with the Anti Defamation League about anti-Semitism. I haven’t followed the whole thing that closely. Maybe I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and say he’s not anti-Semitic. Maybe he’s being taken out of context for his brief tweets. But you don’t have to be a marketing or PR genius to know getting in a fight with an organization that literally exists to fight anti-semitism is never going to be a good look. I mean, really. That’s like 101-level stuff.

Swift, by contrast, appears to hear what her fans want and give them more of that. Earlier this year, she collaborated with the hip-hop star Ice Spice on a remix of her track "Karma." Now, she received some allegations at the time that it was a PR move to distract from controversy around (maybe?) racist comments made by her (maybe?) boyfriend at the time.

Again, to be completely honest, I’m not deep enough in the lore, legends, or facts to know exactly what happened. What I do know is that Swift knew that Ice Spice was a hot up and coming star, and that she had a fan base Swift could reach out to. How? By listening to what her fans cared about. If the worst thing you can say about this action is that it was "a calculated PR move" or "a savvy business move," well, we should at least learn from that, right? I mean, that’s something we should be trying to do all the time.

The point remains that Taylor Swift has provided a playbook for envisioning a modern marketing team as a media company. It’s about bypassing the gatekeepers to connect directly with your customers, your community, your fans. To create what Nora Princiotti calls "scaled intimacy." To create, nurture, and grow that community, and grow your fans. To use these tools to listen more than you speak. To learn what matters to your market, your audience, in the places that they already congregate. And then to use those learnings to inform your future messages and your market offerings. To monetize those relationships. You have tons more opportunity to make money from your content and your customer experience than Taylor Swift does. And she’s the highest paid woman in entertainment.

By the way, this all assumes that you’re not a pop star, you’re not selling music. And that you’re looking for a longer commercial life than a fruit fly.

If you want to avoid getting caught in Big Tech’s web, don’t let them charge a fee every time you want to talk with your customers. Build those connections directly. And don’t build a marketing team. Borrow Taylor Swift’s playbook. Build a media company. Bypass the gatekeepers — just like she’s doing with her tour and her film and her merchandise — when you listen, and when you speak.

I can’t guarantee you’re going to generate a billion dollars in a year like Taylor Swift is doing. But if you follow this playbook, if you use it to bypass Big Tech and escape from their web, I am very confident you will end up as a marketing superstar, and that you won’t suffer from a cruel summer… or any other time of the year.

Show Closing and Credits

Now, looking at the clock on the wall, we are out of time for this week. As always, I want to remind you that you can find the show notes for today’s episode, as well as an archive of all past episodes, by going to Again, that’s Just look for episode 393.

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Show Outro

Finally, I want to say thank you so much for tuning in. I know that I say this pretty much every week, but I say it pretty much every week because it’s so important for me that you hear this. I would not do this show without you, your support, your comments, your conversation, the community you are helping us build here at Thinks Out Loud means so much to me and the other members of this community.

So please keep the tweets coming, keep the messages coming on LinkedIn, keep the emails coming. I love getting a chance to chat with you and hear what’s on your mind and learn how we can make this a better community together. So with all of that said, I hope you have a fantastic rest of the week. I hope you have an amazing weekend.

And I will look forward to speaking with you here on Thinks Out Loud next time. Until then, please be well. Be safe. And as always, take care, everybody.

Tim Peter is the founder and president of Tim Peter & Associates. You can learn more about our company's strategy and digital marketing consulting services here or about Tim here.

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