No Luck of the Irish: 5 Lessons U2 can Teach Us About Marketing

5 Lessons U2 Can teach us about marketing on St. Patrick's Day

They say everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day. Some are more Irish than others, though, and some have made a career of maximizing their aspects to the stratospheres of success. I’m talking about U2, an act that could easily teach all companies about branding in the loud arenas of content marketing, market research, and really any type of marketing. Let’s take a look, because maybe the streets have no name but they can be paved with gold for attentive marketers.

Know Your Brand

Unless you have absolute clarity of what your brand stands for, everything else is irrelevant. – Mark Baynes, global CMO, Kellogg Co

From the beginning, U2 knew who they were: a group of young rock musicians in the late 70s from working-class Dublin, mired in an era of political turmoil and punk rock ecosystems. As Neil McCormick explained in his book U2: The band knew talent wasn’t a prerequisite for popularity and that Irish passion had no limits. They believed in a marriage of destiny and calculation, like so many tech companies today. This marriage conceived their first child, in the form of a record deal by winning a talent show in Limerick on Saint Patrick’s Day 1978.

Find Your Brand’s Niche

We used to put the brand in the middle. Now the consumer is smack-dab in the middle of everything we do. And that means we need to understand who our customer is. – Joaquin Hidalgo, brand CMO, Nike

A mistake many companies make is to foolishly believe they can be everything to everyone. U2 materialized in a period when the hippies were becoming a historical footnote and punk rock was self-destructing. The band mined a niche that was being overlooked during the “greed is good” era of the early 80’s: antiwar and spiritual seekers who still dug a good guitar riff and a melancholic love song. It paid dividends, making the band an immediate alternative beyond the materialism of New Wave Music or Heavy Metal. They never stopped nurturing that niche, even when they became as wealthy as the Masters of the Universe of the Reagan Era.

Build Your Brand Gradually

Most brand strategies end up being a penetrating insight in the blatantly obvious. – Brad Jakeman, US marketing expert

Marketing campaigns, especially online content ones, are about nurturing relationships and building momentum. It’s a marathon, even though marketers may feel they’re always sprinting. U2 began in smaller venues, gradually developing their own persona as they researched the persona of their targeted audience. The band toured incessantly at first, earning more money through concerts than their first four studio albums combined. They didn’t become “viral” until 1987 with the release of the immensely popular The Joshua Tree.

Adapt Your Brand with the Times

Building a brand is about a thousand little new touches … Consistency is only for liars. – Eric Ryan, co-founder, Method Products

U2 was as premiere rock band for over two decades after becoming mainstream. The band could have been easily marginalized during the Grunge Era of the 90’s, becoming just another rich aging rock act mocked by slackers and latte-drinkers (as happened with Van Halen and Bon Jovi). Instead, it transcended its image by experimenting with European industrial and electronic dance music, represented by the monstrous success of Achtung Baby in 1991. The band retained its core essence of Irish mysticism and socially conscious neo-punk; yet tweaked its brand when it was obvious it couldn’t compete with the existentialist thunder of such acts as Nirvana or Pearl Jam. Furthermore, U2 went beyond merely expressing social issue in albums, becoming the charity ambassadors for Generation X.

Take Risks with Your Brand

Today’s Twitter is tomorrow’s whatever. New challenges are critical, but they have to make sense for brands and never be isolated from the larger brand strategies. – Sean Finnegan, president/chief digital officer, Starcom MediaVest Group

Many media experts have claimed that U2’s venture with Apple in 2014 was as a marketing calamity (where the latest album of the band was downloaded free to every iPhone across the world, in commemoration of the iPhone 6 release). There was a backlash, indeed, but the band rolled the dice and the results were not that disastrous: Apple paid the band $100 million, Millenials got acquainted with their brand, and for the first time U2 was a hot topic on social media. That’s not bad at all, especially in a universe were bad publicity either doesn’t exist or just doesn’t last.

Will U2 be remembered as one of the greatest rock bands in history? That’s debatable. What can’t be argued is how remarkable it is for a band to sustain a high level of popularity for so long. This certainly takes talent, but also a top-notch marketing strategy.

Many will be celebrating on Saint Patrick’s Day, but it’s probable that U2 will planning its next marketing marathon into the next music era. If nothing works, the band will have an almost unparalleled legacy, and still keep its Irish stoicism. It was Bono, who when asked about overexposure, said: “Look, I`m sick of Bono and I AM Bono.”

5 Lessons U2 Can Teach Us About Marketing

 

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