Personal branding long before social media

Personal branding today is deeply rooted in how you present yourself online. But, a 40-year old brand known as Jimmy Buffett provides some lessons we could all learn about brand building.

Jimmy is the consummate storyteller. His songs weave tales of fun in the sun with escapades of love, adventure and relaxation. These are feel good stories and, while the songs stay the same, he continues to add new dialogue at each concert to keep the shows current.

Since I was in Vegas this week for the Corporate Executive Board’s Sales and Marketing Summit, it was easy to catch the Buffett concert at the MGM. I also talked my good friend, Scott McDonald, into joining me. He is a leading learning and development leader who uses stories to educate. Needless to say, we spent all of last weekend spinning yarns about the past! (Some of our stories were actually true!)

It hit us both when we walked into the Margaritaville store how masterfully the Buffett brand has been executed. He is selling clothes, furniture, barware, jewelry – just about anything that can be printed with his signature terms – like, “It’s five o’clock somewhere.” We even spotted a CD for sale; yes he does sell music!

The block party outside Margaritaville reinforced the brand, as the smell of burgers on the grill ensured we wanted to purchase a “cheeseburger in paradise.” What goes great with a burger? A Landshark, his own brand of beer.

But the real story here is a tradition that began 40 years ago where the fans dress up for the event. Grass skirts and coconut bras are popular, as are pirate outfits, wild Hawaiian shirts and anything sporting a parrot. But the signature pieces are hand-made hats decorated with memorabilia from past concerts and memories of margaritas and the music. To top it off, you cannot even get close the event without someone giving you a beaded necklaces or Hawaiian leis.

This is a participatory brand; fans want to interact. This really came to life during the concert that is part of the Jimmy Buffett Fin Land Tour. It’s unlikely there’s any other concert where so many people know the words to all the songs. Everyone sang along! But, my favorite example of participating in the brand was during the song “Fins.” Everyone took their hands and put them together above their heads to make shark fins. As Buffet sang, “fins to the left, fins to the right,” everyone did the same with their “fins.”

Often, I hear social media experts talk about personal branding and the need to ensure you are genuine about what you are doing – that you are not just tweeting to be tweeting, but you genuinely care about your network.

Buffet began this brand long before Twitter, but he exemplifies this trait. He must have thanked the fans at least six different times during the concert. He cares about the fans and truly wants them to enjoy the show – and the brand. He is also very thankful for the many employees who make up his company. In fact, he went out of his way to recognize the team that thought of making the Worlds Largest Margarita at this year’s party to get it into the Guinness Book of World Records.

Many of the readers here are connected to sales and marketing. I just don’t think Salesville would make it very far. But, the next time you are “Wasting away in Margaritaville,” think about how you can get people to participate in your brand and make sure you are genuine and appreciative of everyone who does actively engage.

photo by Katrina Snaps

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