A musician’s perspective on branding

Gibson Les PaulI’m a guitar player and have been for going on 20 years. In the words of Wayne’s World’s Garth Algar – “I like to play”.

My love for music is a huge part of what defines me and while I couldn’t pack an arena by any stretch of the imagination, I can usually hold my own with the musicians I come across. As far as material possessions go, my Gibson Les Paul is among my most prized.  And even though my first purchase 20 years ago wasn’t a Gibson (it was in fact -gasp- a Fender), I promised myself that I’d one day own a Gibson. It took more than a decade an a half to fulfill that promise but, a few years ago, almost on impulse, I pulled the trigger.

Hold back your tears… the purpose of that story was not to reflect on a boy and his longing for a killer 6-string. My point was that 15 years is a incredible amount of time to hold on to a brand as an aspiration.

Owning an Les Paul was always a boyhood dream. But come on, I’m now in my thirties – surely I didn’t think that owning a Gibson would transform me into Slash or Jimmy Page. Of course not (though that would be some nifty marketing). So what is so dang enduring about the Gibson brand? Well…

1) Gibson symbolizes an uncompromising approach to quality, and dog gonnit, I’m worth it.  If it’s good enough for Slash, it’s good enough for me.

2) Gibson owners are fanatical about, well, Gibsons. While I don’t own a Harley, I imagine the kinship to be comparable. There’s a mutual respect and admiration that comes with owning a Gibson – as if it gives you immediate credibility. Part of it is their branding and pricing strategy – which even at the low end will cost you more than most high end guitars – making ownership an elite club among the musically enlightened.  But it’s not just fancy marketing. Last year I had the honor of playing in a fundraiser and tribute to the late (but always great) Les Paul himself and I was amazed at the immediate kinship people had despite having never met before. Yes we were all musicians but this was more than just simple commonality. Which goes to my next point…

3) People are fanatical for the brand, but the brand is also what it is because owners are so fanatical. Or put more simply, Gibson is a brand, personified. The zealots are Michael to Gibson’s Air Jordan. But with even more zeal. Just go on youtube and look up Gibson. From young to old, from hack to pro – people are showing off their finely tuned axes.  There is an incredible symbiotic relationship, a personal pride that defines those musicians, and that in turn feeds the brand. And the best part is that it costs Gibson nothing in terms of marketing dollars.

Play a word association game with a Gibson owner and you’ll see what I mean.

…Party on Wayne.

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  1. #1 by Luke Cerny on July 30, 2010 - 11:58 am

    Party on Garth..

    I am also a guitar player (going on 9 years or so). When I was 16 I happened to save up enough cash for an Epiphone Les Paul Custom. It still plays like butter. Last year I put in two Seymour Duncan pickups to replace the stock Alnicos, and it sounds even better than ever – however… my long time dream has been, and still is, to own a Gibson Les Paul. Even if I replaced all the hardware with Gibson hardware, I know I wouldn’t be completely satisfied – only because I know its not really a Gibson. There’s something about the way Gibson guitars play and sound that I can’t explain. Kudos for sticking to your dream brother. Someday I will join you in the Gibson players club… as soon as I can afford one without going into massive credit card debt 🙂

  2. #2 by fartheroutnearerto on August 2, 2010 - 4:29 pm

    Hmmm. I wonder how the idea of branding and appealing to the dedicated (fanatical not being a good word in the arena I am talking about) might apply in that other area of your life that I think defines who you are…faith. This post got my brain rattling not so much about spreading the Kingdom – that we seem to do pretty well at; but more in terms of making our missions and ministries more visible and appealing to the people who are at the point in their faith where they want more than to be entertained. Thoughts?

    • #3 by Kris Kaneta on August 2, 2010 - 6:28 pm

      wow… not sure I have answer to that question. So that I can at least attempt to respond to your question, let me paraphrase. You’re asking about translating that fanaticism to our faith. How do we get people to exhibit the same engagement that we see with other ‘brands’?

      To me it’s a bit of a chicken vs egg (though I hear scientifically they’ve proven the Chicken came first). Faith or the organization spreading that faith needs to get out it’s own way and cease to be defined the The Book. I realize this probably goes against a lot of view points here but I would argue that Faith cannot be defined by written word but by the people who are living the written word. People have to want to be in it, but they don’t want to be in it unless they see others living it.

      So the real question becomes how do you get them to live that word in a public fashion and move past faith being a one-way conversation. I don’t have an answer there but it you are the first proof I’ve seen that it can be done. You, my friend, are the working case study and I’d bet you will have it figured out well before I do.

      • #4 by fartheroutnearerto on August 2, 2010 - 7:48 pm

        The chicken came first?!?! Rats, there goes my lunch money. I was betting on the egg. I know you stay really busy, but I would appreciate any ideas, thoughts, or things-worth-trying that might make what this faith is about more visible, relevant, accessible to people. Some people that we do mission with joke that we’re the “best kept secret in Brookfield”. Somewhere, we’re missing something, or I’m missing something. I am intrigued by the idea that people might be brand-crazed for years before they even own the brand, and I wonder how many people have approached faith with that kind of urgency. You do. But how do we take the “why” that inspires your faith and do with it what successful companies do with branding? I’m not really sure what I’m asking…I think just how to make what we’re being called to participate in here have the kind of cultural penetration and impact that good “branding” does. You know… how come more people know why you would want a Les Paul guitar than know why living the Kingdom is worth all the treasure on earth? That’s a branding thing, right? Ahh…maybe it this doesn’t make sense at all.

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