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The enduring relatability of Taylor Swift: What brands can learn from the superstar

The enduring relatability of Taylor Swift: What brands can learn from the superstar

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No matter where you look, it’s hard to avoid Taylor Swift. Whether it’s a new album announcement, her romance with a professional athlete, or the economic impact of The Eras Tour, there’s no denying that the singer-songwriter dominated headlines in 2023 – and it doesn’t seem like that’s going to change anytime soon.

But what is perhaps most impressive about this is the fact that Swift is doing it nearly two decades into her career. Her first album was released in 2006, and since then she’s put out 13 more albums, won 14 Grammys, and successfully changed genres, going from a country chanteuse to an international pop star. This continuing success is in large part due to Swift’s talent and hard work. But crucially, she has remained relatable to people the world over, even as her fame has risen to incredible heights.

Swift’s boundless appeal

Despite the fact that she’s a superstar with wealth, accolades, and access to a lifestyle that most of us can barely fathom, Swift doesn’t often feel untouchable. She is endearing, but not cool; she’s sharp, but not intimidating; she’s witty, but not uproarious; she’s poised, but not graceful. And that means she’s someone many people can relate to – the kind-of awkward friend who sometimes tries a little too hard and is more than a little self-deprecating.

And on top of all that, there’s her songwriting. Album after album, her work captures the minutiae and nuances of life and love in a way that makes listeners feel as if she perhaps looked into their brains and watched memories about a first kiss or a toxic friendship or a slow heartbreak or a particularly wonderful weekend play out.

But beyond penning songs that successfully communicate nostalgia and angst and rage and joy in ways that are universally understood, Swift and her team have pinpointed ways to keep her fans engaged and not just hungry, but ravenous for more.

In examining her career, there are several lessons brands can learn from the enduringly relatable Swift. 

Don’t be afraid to evolve

It’s called The Eras Tour for a reason: Swift has very effectively changed genres, styles, sounds, and attitudes from album to album, creating different “eras” throughout her career that reflect how she – and her audience – have grown and changed over the years.

Take the temperature of your vertical and audience regularly and consider whether you are still relevant. If the answer is no, then identify what you need to change, be it a complete rebrand, new messaging pillars, a shift in strategy, or tweaking your brand voice – because it’s time to enter a new era.

Allow your failures to make you stronger

Several of Swift’s public embarrassments loom large in pop culture. “I’mma let you finish” became a catchphrase after Kanye West interrupted Swift’s acceptance speech during a live awards show; her unrestrained reactions when winning awards turned her into a punchline (and a lot of gifs); photos of a boyfriend wearing an “I TS” shirt at her Fourth of July party made both of them internet punching bags; and her statement about the rights to her masters being sold (which was the catalyst for the “Taylor’s Version” re-recordings of her first six albums) led many people to question the veracity of her claims.

Rather than pretending these moments never happened, Swift usually confronts them head-on after a period of reflection. Whether it be through songwriting or even merch, she often works these moments into her narrative, owning them, and making them part of her brand.

It’s an interesting consideration for brands. Though not every crisis scenario or company failure is something that businesses will want to shine a light on or remind people of, addressing public missteps can be beneficial. It could bring a sense of humility, humour, or levity if done correctly, and even go to show how much a company has reflected and grown.

Inject fun into your strategy
Something that Swift has become synonymous with is her use of clever hints and Easter eggs, which keep her fanbase puzzling over what might be coming next. Most recently, Swift performed a mash-up of three songs during one of her Eras Tour concerts in Melbourne that has many fans speculating on social media that she was hinting “reputation (Taylor’s Version)” will be released in August.

Incorporating playful ideas that tease new products, services, or offers, or that simply engage customers between campaigns, is a great way to strengthen your marketing strategy, and keep you top of mind.

Proclaim your values
For years, Swift stayed out of politics. But in 2018, she publicly endorsed a Democratic politician in her home state. Since then, she has continued to be vocal about her political opinions, beliefs, and values, supporting the LGBTQ+ community, defining her stance on abortion, releasing a political anthem, and encouraging voter registration.

As value-based marketing becomes more crucial for businesses, it’s important for brands to define their values, and incorporate them into their key messages and mission statement. From there, brands can then determine how to create marketing campaigns, communications strategies, and crisis plans that consistently and seamlessly reinforce their values.

Surprise your audience from time to time

Despite Swift’s penchant for hints, she often still manages to surprise fans. During her Eras Tour shows, she reserves time to play two “surprise songs” that change from show to show, and in years past, she’s referenced memes of herself, hosted intimate, in-home listening parties for fans, and sent fans gifts during Christmas, which was quickly dubbed “Swiftmas.”

By finding ways to delight fans – either as a collective or individually – Swift forges a deeper bond with them. Brands, too, can do this, creating opportunities to foster a sense of community and genuinely bring joy to their audiences, while also boosting engagement and brand loyalty.

Taking a page out of Swift’s playbook can help your brand find ways to remain self-aware, connect with your audience, create community, and grow, when needed. And if it doesn’t go exactly as planned? Then just shake it off and move on to the next era.

This article was written by Bethany Bloch, managing editor at Mutant.

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