How did the band Green Day beat the odds to become so successful? The other night on TV I watched their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They’ve sold over 75 million records, won five Grammys, and even have a Tony-nominated Broadway show adapted from their album, American Idiot. So how did Green Day turn three chords into greenbacks? Let’s dig into their marketing secrets and see how they might apply to your business.
They invented a new sound. Well, not exactly, Green Day’s classic punk roots are unmistakable. The band follows the musical template set down by the likes of The Ramones and Patti Smith in the early 70’s. But what they did do is update the punk sound, adding a new level of complexity to the songs, and bringing it to the attention of a new audience in the ’90’s. “I knew I didn’t want to play three-chord punk forever,” said singer/guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong. How are you updating the message of your brand?
They created a new look. Uh, no. Spiked hair, jeans, leather jackets and combat boots are standard issue for any self-respecting punk rocker. Why does it still work? It resonates, we know what the look stands for. And in a world of ever-shortening attention spans it helps if your brand has a subtext of the familiar.
They’re from England. Actually they’re not. Band founders Armstrong and Mike Dirnt hail from Rodeo, California, over 5,000 miles away from London. Armstrong affects a British accent when he sings, because, well, it evokes classic British punk. In the 1970’s punk was a phenomenon in Britain and the accent makes you think that Green Day are just the latest to carry that flag of rebellion. So, you can determine the sound of your band, or brand, that’s how it works.
They’re innovative musicians. No doubt these guys have the musical chops; they get the job done whether in the studio or on the stage. But there’s no Jimi Hendrix or John Bonham in the band. In fact, the punk world was never about technical proficiency, punk rockers are products of the garage and back alley. The “flaws” in the playing give it an interesting, raw edge. Get some skills, but don’t wait until you’re the best to take on the world, or the scene will pass you by.
They quit while they were ahead. Except they didn’t. After selling millions of records (back when that mattered), packing stadiums and receiving critical acclaim it would have been easy for the band to retire to their mansions and chase more leisurely pursuits. But that’s not the route successful folks tend to take. “We set that bar then looked at each other and said, ‘OK, now we have this mountain to climb,'” Armstrong said. Are you coasting on previous successes? If so, someone’s probably gaining on you.
They have a clever name. What? “Green Day?” No, it’s boring. It sounds like a sale at the local garden center. It will never be on any greatest band name list. Even Armstrong says he hates the band’s name but it’s too late to change it. One thing the name does have, though, is a little element of the unexpected. It’s the furthest thing from punk, so you wonder if there’s something else going on.
They’re a “power trio.” While marketed as a threesome (guitar, bass, drums) the band actually has a longtime lead guitarist. There’s also a keyboardist in the mix. Also part of the package is the producer who has been with them forever, not to mention the lighting folks, stage crew, roadies, business managers, etc. But people like things simple to understand so the band is branded as a trio. Who have you tapped to be the face of your brand?
They played it safe. Nope. After establishing themselves as neo-punk rock stars they smashed that by releasing Time of Your Life, an acoustic power ballad that become a prom favorite. Bassist Mike Dirnt asks,”What are you gonna do lay down and roll over and be safe or are you gonna stick your neck out and say what’s gotta be said?”
So before you take your next venture to the stage remember to build your value prop upon what’s come before, add your own unique twist, create well-crafted content and get the word out to your fans. Oh, and take some chances. Who knows, perhaps your brand can go from garage-band obscurity to the spotlight, too.