This should be a fun one, Big Thinkers. You probably heard that Taylor Swift just re-recorded and released an updated version of her breakthrough album, Fearless. What in the world could that possibly have to do with digital strategy or digital marketing? A lot more than you might think. In fact, the playbook followed by Taylor Swift, Dave Chappelle, and companies like Google, HubSpot, Marriott, and NerdWallet shows why the modern marketing team is a media company.
What does it mean that “the modern marketing team is a media company” for you and your business? What are the lessons in Taylor Swift’s playbook? And how can you put those lessons to work to connect with customers?
In this episode of Thinks Out Loud, we’ll take a look at these questions and offer some insights at the current state of digital marketing. We’ll dive into what you can learn from these notable folks. We’ll uncover exactly why the modern marketing department is a media company. And we’ll talk about what you need to do to put this playbook to work for your business.
Want to learn more? Here are the show notes for you.
Thinks Out Loud Episode 323: Digital Transformation is All About Customers Headlines and Show Notes
Show Notes and Links
As always, here are the "regular" show notes, detailing links and news related to this week’s episode. Take note, there are a lot of links this week based on the wide-ranging discussion. Be sure to check out all those that matter for your business once you’ve given the episode a listen.
- Non-Fungible Taylor Swift – Stratechery by Ben Thompson
- Publishers and the Smiling Curve – Stratechery by Ben Thompson
- When people are your brand
- Is Content a Strategic Product for Your Business? (Thinks Out Loud Episode 319)
- Is "Content is King" Dead? (Thinks Out Loud Episode 306)
- The Rebirth of Trusted Gatekeepers (Thinks Out Loud Episode 307)
- The Biggest Risk to Your Business? Becoming a "Hidden Intermediary"
- Danny Sullivan (technologist) – Wikipedia
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- A Brief Introduction to Thinks Out Loud. As a bonus, we’ve also included this PDF document that highlights some of our core episodes to help you dig into what the show is about. We think it will help you capture the show’s essence while you’re working your way through the 300-plus episodes published so far. Download it here.
- Digital & E-commerce Maturity Matrix. As a bonus, here’s a PDF that can help you assess your company’s digital maturity. You can use this to better understand where your company excels and where its opportunities lie. And, of course, we’re here to help if you need it. The Digital & E-commerce Maturity Matrix rates your company’s effectiveness — Ad Hoc, Aware, Striving, Driving — in 6 key areas in digital today, including:
- Customer Focus
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Past Insights from Tim Peter Thinks
You might also want to check out these slides I had the pleasure of presenting recently about the key trends shaping marketing in the next year. Here are the slides for your reference:
Technical Details for Thinks Out Loud
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Running time: 21m 00s
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Transcript: Taylor Swift’s Playbook Shows Why the Modern Marketing Team is a Media Company
Well, hello again, everyone, and welcome back to Thinks Out Loud, your source for all the digital marketing expertise your business needs. My name is Tim Peter. This is episode 324 of The Big Show. I think we’ve got a cool episode for you today. It’s a little weird because I originally thought today’s episode was going to be a follow-up to last week’s epsiode where I was talking about how digital transformation is entirely about the customer. I will follow up to that episode next week, but there was a lot going on this week. A number of people talked about a big news story outside the world of digital marketing, but it has a ton to do with the power of digital itself and the power of the internet. And so I wanted to talk about that today, and then I will get back to the originally scheduled episode next week.
Taylor Swift and Dave Chappelle Reclaim Their Content
So, you know this, I talk about this all the time, that I do lots of work with hotels and startups and other kinds of companies that themselves might not be household names. And because of that, I want to talk about Taylor Swift today. I know, that seems like a hard left turn from talking about, wait, brands that people may not know as well. But trust me, this all relates to you and your business, and it all relates to what the internet has enabled, what the power of the internet has enabled for you and your business. So bear with me just for a moment, and I promise you’ll like where this ends up.
Now, Ben Thompson of Stratechery, who I’ve mentioned many times on the show, wrote what I consider the definitive piece on Taylor Swift’s recent move to take back ownership of her brand, take back ownership of her content. He also talks about how Dave Chappelle has done pretty much the same thing. I’m not going to read the article to you in depth or anything like that, or quote from it in-depth, but I do want to give you a quick synopsis of it.
Thompson talks about the fact that when Dave Chappelle instructed his audience not to watch Chappelle’s Show, his groundbreaking television series on Comedy Central — and Comedy Central owned the rights to the show — Chappelle’s fans stopped watching. Taylor Swift functionally just did the same thing. This was the news story that everybody’s been talking about, where she just released a re-recorded version of her breakthrough album, Fearless, which literally she’s calling Fearless (Taylor’s Version), and has effectively rendered the original version, which is owned by someone else, worthless. Because her fans, they don’t want to hear Fearless. They want to hear Fearless (Taylor’s Version).
When Chappelle told his fans to stop watching this show, Comedy Central was left with this problem of suddenly this content that they thought they owned was valueless. And so, they paid him to basically stop telling people to not watch the show. And Taylor basically is doing the same thing, Taylor Swift. I’m talking about her like she and I are buds, you know, "Taylor". But Taylor Swift basically told their fans the same thing, that this one — Taylor’s Version — is the real one. Ben Thompson’s expectation, and I think he’s probably right about this, is that the current copyright holders of the original albums that she has now proved she is willing to re-record are probably going to want to pay up to prevent her from doing that again. So you should totally read Ben Thompson’s piece. I will link to it in the show notes. It’s fantastic.
Building a Direct Connection with Your Customers/Audience
But the reason this matters so much to me, the reason that I think it matters so much to you is because this is a topic I’ve talked about for a really long time. It speaks to how brands that might not have the kind of platform that a Taylor Swift has or that a Dave Chappelle has can still succeed by engaging directly with their customers, by going, as Taylor Swift has done and as Dave Chappelle did, direct to the fans. That’s really what I want to talk about. That’s really what I think is so important today. There are people who are trying to connect this to things like non-fungible tokens and what it means there. And there is a connection, I absolutely believe that, but you don’t really care because it doesn’t really affect what you’re doing or what you’re going to do.
What Taylor Swift has done and what Dave Chappelle has done is that they’ve illustrated that customers want to engage with someone they trust. They want to engage with someone they have a relationship with. That’s what Dave Chappelle’s fans and Taylor Swift’s fans are buying. And what they’re buying now is straight from the source.
I talked about this most recently in episode 307 of the show, last fall, about "The Rebirth of Trusted Gatekeepers." But I’ve been talking about this for years. There is an ancient piece on the blog called "When People Are Your Brand" that was written way back in 2006, almost 15 years ago, summer of 2006. It chronicled the fact that search engine marketing journalist, Danny Sullivan was leaving the website Search Engine Watch. Now, in the years, since that time, Sullivan left Search Engine Watch and then he started a company called Search Engine Land or started a publication called Search Engine Land, that he subsequently left in 2017. And now his current role is that he’s… the public liaison for search at Google. He’s one of the people that Google has talking to the search marketing community to make Google seem like they’re good folks, that they have someone who is listening to them and speaking of them on their behalf.
And the point being that the relationship isn’t between the customer and the brand, it’s between the customer and the people that make that brand meaningful in their lives. Sure, in Chappelle’s case and Taylor Swift’s case, the person is the brand. But for a brand like Google, they’re saying, "We need a face of somebody that our community can trust." And so when Matt Cutts left Google… Matt Cutts was the former liaison, and it was sort of an unofficial role for him, but he was the guy the search engine marketing community listened to and got to talk to. When he left Google, they needed a public face who could speak on their behalf to the search marketing community. Google recognized that Danny Sullivan gave them a trusted voice, and it helped to humanize the brand.
Now, to their credit, I think they also recognize, "We don’t want it to be just one person." When Matt Cutts left, people were like, "What do we do?" And so Google diversified by giving John Mueller and Martin Splitt and a bunch of other people the ability to speak on their behalf and communicate with that community, which is obviously an important community for Google. Sullivan, Mueller, Splitt, others, represent that trusted voice on behalf of the brand.
What Danny Sullivan Has in Common — and Doesn’t — With Taylor Swift
From a certain perspective, they play the same role to their respective audiences that Swift does for the record company and Chappelle did for Comedy Central. Obviously, the fame dynamic here is very much reversed. Google can replace Danny Sullivan and John Mueller and Martin Splitt and just about anybody else anytime they want in a way that Universal Music and Comedy Central can’t easily do with Taylor Swift and Chappelle.
But they do risk those people taking their audience with them. Don’t misunderstand, I’m not suggesting that if Danny Sullivan were to leave Google or John Mueller would leave Google or Martin Splitt where to leave Google, that Google would just suddenly go belly up. It’s not quite the same power dynamic there. But it’s also true that they are incredibly important to the communities that they speak to. In fact, when you look at some of the challenges Google is having, or the public relations challenges that Facebook is having, and they might benefit from having a Danny Sullivan or a John Mueller or a Martin Splitt, someone like that, who is trusted by, I don’t know, Washington or the broader consumer marketplace that maybe they weren’t doing negative things.
Content Without Distribution is Worthless
Now, the other piece of this, of course, and I think this is also worth noting, is it’s not enough to create great content. It has to be seen. Now, I’ve talked about this lots of times, the content isn’t expensive, but content that isn’t seen is. My friend, Mark Schaefer, talks about this constantly, where he talks about content velocity and the need for content to accelerate into the marketplace. So just as Google recognized that Danny Sullivan gave them a trusted face and a trusted voice, Sullivan recognized that Google was going to give him a pretty large platform. Dave Chappelle and Taylor Swift know that their efforts wouldn’t work if their audiences, their customers, didn’t care what they said. Obviously, they have a major platform, so they don’t need the label. They don’t need that third party getting between them and the customer. But they have to have the customer or they would need the third party a ton.
I don’t mean to knock third parties. They can be incredibly valuable for helping you reach customers you can’t reach on your own. So if you’re a hotel and Expedia or booking.com is helping you get in front of a customer you can’t reach on your own, that’s okay. If you manufacture something and you’re using Amazon as that third party to reach a customer you can’t reach on your own, that’s okay. If you’re using Etsy because you’re a creator, that’s okay. You are also better served in this case if you can become more like Dave Chappelle or Taylor Swift, because then you don’t need the third party as much. You can reach the customer on your own. And that’s where you have to think about, how do you create content and how do you get that content in front of your customers in a way that builds connection the way that Dave Chappelle has, the way that Taylor Swift has, and allows you to grow a brand that reaches people directly.
A Modern Marketing Team is a Media Company
This is why I’ve wanted to talk about this so much today, because this is where your marketing has to go. A modern marketing team is a media company. Taking nothing away from Dave Chappelle, taking nothing away from Taylor Swift, we can’t pretend that they don’t have a team behind them helping them make their brand work. I don’t mean to slight the artist here in any way, they are immensely talented, and they do the work that they do exceedingly well, super, super well. They also use resources around them to do the things that those resources can do, a manager, an agent, a stylist, whatever, right? I don’t mean to dismiss those people, I just mean that when Taylor Swift isn’t writing songs or singing songs, she isn’t doing the thing that’s going to enable her to have that connection to her fans and have that platform that allows her to do what she just did. When Dave Chappelle isn’t writing jokes and standing on a stage telling those jokes, he’s not actually leveraging his strength. And so they put a team around themselves that enable them to get that material in front of people, that enable them to focus on what works for their purposes.
The Key Questions for a Modern Marketing Team
And so, you have to think about your marketing team as a media company, and think about who’s doing the various roles you need to do. Content is video and audio and text working together to tell a brand’s story. More importantly, it’s working together to tell a human story. So you’ve got to ask yourself,
- "Who’s the editor-in-chief for your brand?
- Who are the reporters?
- Who are your columnists?
- What is your voice?"
I’m the editor-in-chief at timpeter.com, Tim Peter Thinks, Tim Peter Thinks Out Loud. That’s a big part of my role. I do a lot of the writing, and I do all the speaking and things along those lines, but I’ve got a ton of people who help me behind the scenes with doing research and making sure we’ve got a content calendar put together, which admittedly I tore apart today, but who help make the machine work such that we can actually tell a positive brand story and also a story that connects with you because this is what I do, right?
- So what are you doing to make sure you have content that your customers will want to see and that they’ll want to share?
- What are you doing to get your content in front of the people you want so that they can see it and so that they can share it?
That’s what the job of marketing is in the next few years. What’s great is that Taylor Swift and Dave Chappelle are giving companies a playbook for how to do this, for how to use digital to bypass third parties or bypass the distribution channels we’ve had for years, and connect directly with their customers, just like you can do. I know this works because we see companies do this. We see Marriott do it. We see A16z, a venture capital firm do it. We see NerdWallet and Financial Services do it. We see HubSpot do it with software as a service. They’re giving you the playbook. They’re showing you how this is done. And so, as you think about this, think about who’s your editor-in-chief, who are your reporters, who are your columnists, what is your voice?
Conclusion: Taylor Swift’s Playbook Shows Why the Modern Marketing Team is a Media Company
And the big question is, if you’ve been given a playbook, are you doing the work necessary to follow it? Because if there’s one thing we’re learning, is when you connect directly with your customers, when you go directly to them and connect with them in a meaningful way, just like Taylor Swift, just like Dave Chappelle, you’ll be able to control your destiny of where you end up. In fact, if you follow the playbook that Dave Chappelle and Taylor Swift are following, you just might end up a star.
Show Closing and Credits
Now, looking at the clock on the wall, we are out of time for this week. I want to thank you once again for listening. I know that I say it week after week after week, but I genuinely appreciate the fact that you tune in every single week. It means so much to me. I want to remind you that you can find the show notes for today’s episode, as well as an archive of all our past episodes by going to timpeter.com/podcast. Again, that’s timpeter.com/podcast. Just look for episode 324.
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With all that said, I want to say once more how much I appreciate you tuning in every single week. It just means the world to me. I know I say it a lot. I would not do this show without you. So it’s just great that we get a chance to spend some time together. So again, thank you very much for choosing to tune in. With that said, I hope you have a wonderful rest of the week. I hope you have a great weekend. And I look forward to speaking with you here on Thinks Out Loud next time. Until then, please be well, be safe, and as ever, take care, everybody.