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Five Vital Business Lessons From KISS

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They arrived on the scene in the mid 1970s and immediately put the fear of God into parents, teachers, and religious leaders. KISS wasn’t just a rock band, they were a fire-breathing, devil-worshipping, rock ‘n’ roll circus. An entire generation fell in love with the band and enlisted in the KISS Army, their parents helpless to stop the mayhem.

Looking back, the fears of our elders were unfounded. KISS turned out to be harmless, and today Gene Simmons is a reality TV star and not a satanic cult leader.

In my new book Brand Like A Rock Star, KISS comes up more than once. In hindsight, the band wasn’t just a great rock ‘n’ roll act. They were also master-marketers!

What can your business learn from the rise (and temporary 1980s fall) of KISS?

1. Being different matters more than being better. The band we know as KISS emerged from the ashes of New York bar band Wicked Lester. Having had very little success as Wicked Lester, Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley created a new band complete with comic book imagery, a love for pyrotechnics, and a mission to shock and amaze people with their stage show. Within two years, they were touring the planet as superstars. Did they become that successful because they improved their musicianship and songwriting? Not a chance. They became superstars because they were so different. We had never seen anything like KISS before. They immediately grabbed our attention. Rock stars have proven for years that being different – and getting noticed because of it – is more important than quality of music.

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2. Getting noticed means offending a few people. KISS knew that in order to be the biggest stars with young fans, they would need to do things to alienate and offend conservative older people. There’s no way around Newton’s 3rd law of motion, which tells us to expect an equal and opposite reaction to every action. If you plan on getting noticed, establishing a brand promise, and creating a tribe of passionate fans for your business, you should expect some people to dislike you.  In fact, if you sense that your business appeals to everyone, there’s a good chance you really don’t hold much strong appeal with anyone at all.

3. Marketing IS storytelling. KISS created theater, not just music. Their act – both on stage and off – was a story based on comic book characters. We knew that these guys weren’t really comic book characters, but suspending our disbelief was way more fun than reality. Great advertising really is just great storytelling. So instead of talking about products and prices and advertising cliches, tell your customers a story in your marketing. Create some drama, conflict, and resolution. People tell stories to each other, we don’t tell advertising to each other.

4. Sell us an experience, not a product. A concert with KISS was an experience. Being the first to own their new album was an experience.  Today it feels like 90% of all advertising attempts to sell us products, but we don’t buy products… we buy experiences. Harley-Davidson doesn’t sell motorcycles, they sell the experience of being a bad-ass for a few hours on the weekend. True bad-asses can’t afford $25,000 motorcycles! The Apple experience is why the iPad continues to outsell cheaper competitors. Put your product or service aside, and start to think about what experience your customer has when they interact with your product.

5. Live up to customer expectations! Remember when KISS took off their make-up in 1982? For a short while it was major buzz. And then we realized that without the make-up and theatrics, KISS was just another hard rock band with big hair. The band’s fortunes faded for nearly a decade, until they wisely put the make-up back on, brought back the pyro, and started spitting blood again. Those things, as gimmicky as they may seem, are what KISS fans demanded from their favorite band.  If you expect your favorite restaurant to serve great Italian food but they instead serve you a burrito, it doesn’t matter how good the burrito might be… they failed to live up to your expectations.

Brand Like A Rock Star by Steve Jones takes you backstage to uncover the core marketing strategies of rock ‘n’ roll legends like KISS, U2, Jimmy Buffett, AC/DC, The Grateful Dead, and Bob Dylan, and shows you how to put those strategies to work in your business.

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