Taylor Swift: The Brilliance of her Branding

Molly Blacker, Strategy Director, Slingshot
By Molly Blacker, Strategy Director, Slingshot | 13 August 2019

After that headline, I’m sure it will not surprise you to read that I am a Swiftie. You may also love her (what’s not to love?) or you might not be ready to admit your fandom. That’s ok, no pressure, you’ll get there. But let’s give credit where credit is due, Taylor Swift is an expert in branding. Not only can she build up her brand to immense success, but she is deploying a little-known secret weapon: The brand refresh.

Usually, when a brand reinvents, it’s a reaction to declining sales or a lack of relevance. It’s usually a process that involves many stakeholders and can take years of workshops from inception to creation.  However, Taylor Swift has shown time and time again the power in a proactive rebrand. Like most musicians, Taylor Swift’s life and career is segmented into phases that revolve around albums. The album usually takes into account:

  • Her brand values, which largely remain consistent but are expressed differently
  • Her successes and failures that she has learnt from, personally and professionally
  • The opportunity within the market 

Take her last two albums for example; Reputation was all about standing up for herself and calling out what was right and wrong. Visually, we saw this in the black and white look that permeated throughout her album cover, social media posts, concert decor etc. She even set about calling out unfair contracts in the music industry and used her renegotiation with Universal Music to better contracts for all artists. 

Contrast this with her latest album Lover; this album is all about standing up for others and showing love for everyone. This is consistent with her brand values throughout all her albums, but she has expressed it in a different way. Every piece of collateral is now in bright pastel rainbow colours and she’s using her voice to better living conditions for the LGBTQI+ communities. 

For both albums, she made sure that the distinct look and feel guided every action, small or big and was consistent through her launch, album promotion and tour. Importantly, she never stops there. For Taylor, the closing of a brand chapter is as important as its launch. She ensures each chapter gets its time in the sun and is celebrated when its coming to an end.

So if you want to take a leaf out of her beautiful pastel book and adopt a mentality of brand reinvention, follow these 5 steps: 

1. Start with your brand values
Everything that Taylor Swift does (or doesn’t do) comes back to her values. 

2. Be honest about what has been successful for you to date
Taylor evaluates her successes and strengths against her music and her personal life.

3. Evaluate the opportunity in the market
Next she looks at the market opportunity. She looks at the other artists her audience are listening to, the way they are listening to music and what will stand out in comparison.

4. Ready to reinvent
Now she’s ready to develop the distinct look and feel of this chapter in her life. Importantly this always ladders up to what she stands for, she just tweaks the expression.

5. Make a song and dance about each chapter opening, and then another about it closing
Thinking about our brand story in chapters is an excellent way to reframe our thoughts on how we express our brand’s purpose.

A chapter mentality gives us:

  • Short term focus with long term vision
  • Clear space for each iteration of our brand
  • The opportunity to celebrate our past and clearly define our next steps

I tested this theory at our agency annual review to the leadership team of my media agency, Slingshot. At Slingshot we are celebrating our tenth birthday, taking the time to look back at our successes and what our vision is for the next 10 years. I pleaded my case to our founders: Now, more than ever, we need to be more like Taylor Swift and Shake It Off. While I expected to be met with uncomfortable laughs, they stuck with me. They could see that brand reinvention shouldn’t be exhausting, it should be exhilarating.  

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