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Five things B2B companies can learn from Taylor Swift.

By Brian Odell   

I have to admit, I’m a big Taylor Swift fan. I think she’s remarkable. At age 25, she’s already one of the best-selling artists of all time, having sold more than 40 million albums. She’s won numerous songwriting and performance awards including seven Grammys, 12 Billboard Music Awards, 11 Country Music Association Awards, eight Academy of Country Music Awards, and one Brit Award. Wow! Even if you don’t like her music, you have to admit it; that’s pretty impressive.

The truth is though; I don’t own any of her music. Nor have I ever been to one of her concerts. I’ll listen if one of her songs is on the radio, but at the end of the day, I’m really more of an Eagles kind of guy. They’re the band that fills up my iTunes playlists. They are the band I’ve seen multiple times. As for Taylor, I’m more of a fan of her and her brand. There’s few like her. Consider this: According to the people who keep track, she has a monstrous level of public awareness (90%) and an equally impressive popularity rating (80%).

I first took notice of the Taylor “brand” about five years ago when I saw a news report of her interacting with a group of young fans. The thing that struck me was that she was being totally present to those kids. You know what I mean. She was really connecting with each one. Looking directly at them. Talking to them. Asking them questions. Listening. You could tell she was actually interested in each of them. My impression was; this wasn’t just another PR opportunity. To me, she was being genuine. She was just being Taylor.

It occurred to me – as I watched her Mom introduce her as a recipient of one of the Academy of Country Music’s Milestone Awards – that Taylor Swift can teach B2B marketers a few things about their brands:

1. Be authentic.

Taylor Swift is authentic to the core. She knows who she is and holds true to that in her music and her actions. She wears her heart on her sleeve and exposes her feelings in everything she does. And now, through her values and personality, she is a true, purposeful, and extremely recognizable brand. She is open, honest and relatable like few others. Even when rapper Kanye West infamously interrupted her MTV Video Music Award acceptance speech, she said later that she didn’t have “any hard feelings” toward him. It was said by experts that the incident, and her subsequent reaction, helped turn her into a bona-fide mainstream celebrity.

It’s likely that B2B brands that are devoid of this same sort of authenticity won’t stick. That is, B2B brands must stand for something relevant and compelling. They must act with integrity. It starts with finding a purpose that resonates with all of a business’s stakeholders – appealing to a higher human ideal or need. This includes employees, suppliers, channel partners and customers. Find your brand truth and live it.

2. Be different.

When Taylor was eleven years old, she traveled to Nashville to submit a demo of Dolly Parton and Dixie Chicks karaoke cover songs to a bunch of record labels along Music Row. After several immediate and painful rejections, she came to the realization that “everyone in town wanted to do what I wanted to do. So I kept thinking to myself, I need to figure out how to be different.” That’s when she learned how to play the guitar and started writing her own songs. By the time she was 14, she had signed an artist development deal with RCA Records and was on her way.

For B2B marketers, the fight to get noticed and succeed is equally challenging. The key is figuring out how to be different. Look at everything, not just your products. Talk to your customers. Add new services to help them. Enhance your customer experience. Align your organization. Then refresh your brand messaging to match. Different is better.

3. Embrace change.

Artists come and go because they refuse to embrace the changes needed to remain relevant. Taylor grew up in the country music industry writing songs about teenage angst. But as she has matured, she has embraced other genres as a way to stretch her wings – without fear of alienating her core fan base. In 2010, her Speak Now album expanded beyond country-pop to “border both alternative rock and dirty bubblegum rock.” Her more recent efforts touch heartland rock, dudstep and dance-pop. Rolling Stone magazine said, “her latest album sounds exactly like Taylor Swift, even when it sounds like nothing she’s ever tried before.”

The world of B2B marketing and selling is experiencing unprecedented change. And many marketers are trapped in a time warp that somehow prevents them from progressing. Many of the concepts utilized even a few years ago are obsolete today. Digital is driving much of the change. But brands are at the center of it all. Building a B2B brand today is a much more complex process requiring constant reinvention. Don’t be a one-hit wonder.

4. Connect with your fans (your customers).

In 2012, Rolling Stone described Taylor Swift as “the Best People Person since Bill Clinton.” Here are a few recent examples: While promoting her new album, she utilized social media to invite 100 of her fans to appear in the “Shake It Off” video. She has sent personalized holiday cards to fans in the mail and in person. She has invited fans to her home to spend time with her. On Awards shows, she goes out of her way to recognize her fans, even tracking down and finding fans who attend.

For B2B companies, this tip isn’t about social media. That’s just a mechanism. The point is; B2B companies should get more personal with their customers. Really learn who they are. Interact with them. Share helpful advice with them. Make them feel special. Like Taylor Swift does.

5. Tell stories.

One of the reasons Taylor Swift fell in love with country music was that she was drawn to the storytelling nature of the songs. She used this in her early career writing lyrics about the challenges of teenage life. Later she explored the disconnect between fairy tales and the reality of love. More recently, her songs address more adult relationships. Clearly, she has harnessed the power of storytelling to touch people. To engage them.

For B2B marketers, storytelling can be an equally powerful weapon for connecting with customers and prospects. Employees too. Stories have the ability to inform, touch and inspire. They help people understand. They imprint a picture in your mind. People forget facts, but they never forget a great story. What stories do you have to tell?

Okay, so maybe you’re not a big Taylor Swift fan. But you’ve got to admit, these are five great lessons we can take from her. I’m quite certain you’ll never look at her the same again. Or your brand.

Brian Odell

About Author

Brian Odell

30+ year veteran of B2B branding and marketing communications. Started out as a technical copywriter. Worked in PR. Eventually moved to account service. Founded Catalyst to serve B2B marketers looking for ways to leverage their brand as the stimulus for company transformation. Lots of experience, but definitely new age when it comes to brand strategy and activation.