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Branding / May 20, 2023
The Brand Genius of Taylor Swift: Strategic Launches, Easter Eggs, and Calling Her Shots
There's something unmistakable about Grammy® Award–winning artist Taylor Swift. It's not her style, swagger, or even music; It's her #1 asset:
Swift is a master at branding and storytelling. Sure, she's also a master at songwriting, singing, performing, and so much more, but at the heart of millions of fans' adoration is perhaps the most convincing red thread of all, and it's not Jake Gyllenhaal's scarf.
If a brand is an emotional connection between people and a product or service, you can easily see how the emotional connection between Swift and her fans — Swifties, they're called — is the paramount example of branding. This relationship has them following her every move, guessing what's next, and cheering with joy when "Tay" bests the nasties who assault her (be they ex-boyfriends, music moguls, or even Kanye West).
You see, in the pantheon of modern pop music, Swift stands as an unparalleled figure. Her melodious tunes, evocative lyrics, and charismatic personality have endeared her to millions. Still, her success isn't just a result of her musical talent—it's also a testament to her personality, guts, and brand genius.
An Emotional Connection
Because of her emotional connection to fans, they don't just love her; they want to be her. They want to celebrate with her. To show her their support, they dress like her and follow her on social with a fervor few celebrities receive. It's all in gratitude and never tongue-in-cheek. Her fans mean it.
Apart from her tours, her brand strategy impresses. Her uncanny ability to time her music releases with major events, such as the surprise release of her eighth studio album, Folklore, dropped in July 2020 during the pandemic. When most artists postponed their releases, Swift went against the tide, resulting in an unexpected album that became a beacon of hope and an escape for many, serving as a testament to her finger-on-the-pulse awareness. (Her duet with Bon Iver, "Exile," mesmerizes.)
Being 'The Man'
Similarly, and also around this time, her decision to re-record her early albums has been a masterstroke of brand genius. This venture, born out of a dispute over her master recordings' ownership, has not only allowed her to regain control of her music but has also created a wave of nostalgia, re-engaging old fans and drawing new ones into her universe. With each re-released album, Swift has managed to recapture the zeitgeist of the original while layering in a newfound maturity and depth, often adding "secret songs" from her vault which had been previously unreleased. Another stroke of brand genius: Swift announced her forthcoming re-release of Speak Now (Taylor's Version) while on stage in Nashville during her Eras Tour. Simultaneously, the nearby John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge bridge turned purple to honor the announcement. Amazing.
The Easter Eggs
And while the timing she engineers is brilliant, she has also mastered the art of intrigue by incorporating Easter eggs into her music, videos, and social media posts. This clever strategy heightens fan engagement, turning every release into a thrilling treasure hunt. When the aforementioned Folklore was released, it was a departure for Swift, who previously wrote from an autobiographical point of view. A newly invented world was pure fodder for fans to unpack and unravel. Within days — if not hours — of its release, three songs stuck out to listeners: "Cardigan," "Betty," and "August" told the story of a teenage love triangle imagined by Swift. The constant blogging, guessing, and social media posting that followed was enormous, fueling her growth... during the pandemic!
But her Easter eggs also include subtle lyrical clues that hint at personal experiences, future collaborations, or upcoming releases to visual symbols in her music videos and album art. They are tantalizingly placed, encouraging fans to dissect her work and speculate about its meanings. These, like the teenage love triangle on Folklore, keep her in public conversation and foster a sense of community among fans, who eagerly share their theories and discoveries on social platforms.
Another prime example of this was the lead-up to her album Lover, released before Folklore. Swift planted clues about the album's title, tracklist, and collaborations across several months and different mediums. When she released the music video for "ME!," fans were quick to spot a sign in the background with the word "Lover" on it—a clue about her next album title. In the same video, a brief glimpse of a Christmas tree led to fan theories about a holiday-themed song, which indeed turned out to be "Christmas Tree Farm."
All planned. All purposeful.
Swift’s use of Easter eggs creates an immersive fan experience that extends beyond the music itself. It encourages repeated listens, views, and deep dives into her work, boosting her streaming numbers and chart positions.
Moreover, Swift's engagement with fans doesn't stop there. She maintains a close relationship with her audience, communicating directly through social media and inviting selected fans to secret album listening parties. This direct communication builds a strong bond between Swift and her fans, fostering a sense of loyalty that fuels her enduring success.
But it's not all gimmicks and timing. Swift’s brand narrative is also built around authenticity. Her lyrics often reflect her personal experiences, creating a sense of intimacy and connection with her audience. Moreover, her stands on issues such as artist rights and political activism resonate with a generation of fans who value authenticity and social consciousness.
Taylor Swift’s brand genius lies in her ability to stay ahead of the curve, engage fans deeply, and maintain authenticity. Her strategic timing, use of Easter eggs, direct fan communication, and authentic narrative all contribute to her enduring success. As she continues to evolve as an artist, one can only expect her to keep innovating, setting trends, and redefining what it means to be a successful musician in the modern era.
You bet I'll be there in the front row to witness. (If Ticketmaster lets me.)
Lessons from Taylor
- Create an emotional connection
- Be your own boss/Be original (Be 'The Man')
- Surprise and Delight (use Easter Eggs)
- Engage. Meet your customers where they are
- Be a storyteller