The 2009 Superbrands have been announced, with the likes of Microsoft and Google (not surprisingly) leading the pack again this year. Skimming through the list my suspicion was confirmed - not a single position given to anyone in the music industry.
This is perhaps a reflection of why the industry struggles. In days of yore, labels operated more like a traditional consumer brand. Buy a Motown record, and you knew what you were getting. Trust was established, and an expectation of the Motown experience was assured. The music industry seems to have turned its back on this strategy. In comparison, the gaming world is lapping it up - with Nintendo and Playstation holding positions in this years' top 100.
None of the major labels today exhibit characteristics of a strong brand. Rosters are sporadic, constantly changing and have no glue connecting the artists they release together. But most of all the labels fail to create any emotional ties with the consumer - in fact most music fans probably couldn't tell you what label their favourite artists are on. There are a few mid-weight labels - like Warp or Modular - who have managed to achieve brand status (though sadly not to the level of the Superbrand ... yet!).
Where the big labels fail, many artists have certainly risen to become brands in their own right. The best example of this is of course Madonna. What lets her down on the Superbrand scale is inconsistency - her policy of reinvention and desire to court controversy means she loses trust. And though she maintains a loyal following she has struggled to attract new consumers to brand Madonna.
A consistent experience is what has lead Depeche Mode and Pet Shop Boys to become successful. Quality, strong image, believable - they are certainly groups that have used their brand to maintain an audience where their contemporaries have failed to do so.
Some people would argue that music shouldn't be tarred with the brand brush, but I believe that artists and labels can create powerful brand loyalty and use this to thrive. Brands are about creating a lasting positive experience which form an emotional bond with a community of ambasadors who spread the message. Music is already a powerful medium, it is made even more addictive when artists are able to capitalise on their brand potential.
Chatting about brands yesterday a friend of mine asked which was my favourite. Without even thinking I responded - Apple (number 9 on this years Superbrands list). I have used their products consistently for over 15 years and am fiercely loyal to them - to the point where I defend any criticism of their work. They are fantastic at creating emotional bonds with their customers, through their customer service and image. And their shit works - I've never had an issue with anything they have ever made. A fascinating, innovative company who have been a true inspiration.
Image by dadawan on Flickr.