What Small Businesses Can Learn from Taylor Swift’s Marketing

Creative Entrepreneurship

Even though Taylor Swift is running her music business on a grand scale, so many of her business practices and marketing tactics can be applied to small business and handmade sellers! Taylor Swift knows what her fans want and genius-ly brands herself. Find out why you can learn from Taylor Swift's marketing. | The Merriweather Council Blog

Really glad to be able to share these extended show notes with you today, dear reader! If you missed our podcast episode about Taylor Swift’s amazing marketing example, catch up here! Big thank you to Kimber Casteel of Kim Art Designs for recording that episode with me and for writing this amazing “EP” for us! ha!

Kimber Casteel’s Deeper Dive into Taylor Swift’s Marketing

Whether you love her, or love to hate her, it is undeniable that Taylor Swift is on everyone’s radar. Taylor Swift has become a powerful and polarizing artist in recent years. After taking a long hiatus from the public eye to write her new album, Taylor Swift released Reputation on November 10th, 2017, a musical juxtaposition of her previous album, 1989. Reputation is an album through which Swift rewrites her story for herself, her fans, and really all of the people who may have misunderstood her.

Whether you are a fan of Taylor Swift’s music or not – there is truly no denying that she is a marketing genius. Sure, she has teams of people that work for her, but she innately possesses her own business savvy, knows what her fans want, and genius-ly brands herself to the pop-perfect tune of hundreds of millions of dollars in net worth. Even though Taylor is running her music business on a grand scale, so many of her business practices and marketing tactics can be applied to small business and handmade sellers! It was truly super fascinating for me to look through the lens of a business owner and really appreciate her each and every move for what they are – genius business decisions.

If you’re not a “Swiftie”, as her fans are amorously called, I am here to fill you in on all of the need to know details about Ms. Swift, as related to her business. While her personal life does play a huge part of her media coverage – I think it’s time we focus less on who women are dating and more on their business accomplishments and hard work!

Let’s get started from the beginning.

Building Her Brand

Taylor Swift is a branding genius. She knows her fan base VERY well and is consistent with her delivery of nuggets of detail, hidden messages, and lyrically genius ear worms. Taylor Swift is one very smart woman – everything she does is aimed at furthering her brand. SHE is her brand. Her fan base consists mainly of young females, ranging in age from pre-teen to adults, like myself, who have been following her musical journey for years. (After all, we were both born in the same year!).

It is nearly impossible to NOT pay attention to what she is doing. She utilizes the most powerful tool of this generation – social media – to ensure she is getting the information she needs to her fans where she knows they will see it. This is not unlike the many makers and small businesses that also have leveraged platforms, such as Instagram and Pinterest, to gain fans, popularity, and business.

Prior to the release of Reputation, fans were quickly alerted to Taylor’s next move when she blacked out her social media. What does this mean exactly? After months of being VERY quiet on all social media accounts, Taylor Swift deleted many years worth of social media content from all of her accounts (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and even her website was blacked out) in late August of 2017. Fans had speculated that a new album should be dropping soon, as this was the most time Taylor had ever left between releasing albums (3 years!). News outlets picked this up like wildfire – that is exactly what she wanted. I personally made sure that all my best friends knew that something was going on with TSwift!

As she built up the anticipation of what was to come next, she was patient and kept us waiting for just the perfect amount of time, and then released short teaser clips of what would clearly be the new theme for her next album, tour, merch… and well, everything. Cue a slithering snake. People went crazy when she posted a teaser promoting new music and a new album. In true TSwift form, there were hidden messages in everything down to the lengths of the clips she posted. Even her album release date (11.10.2017) adds up to 13, her favorite number, which her die hard fans ate up. She is known for subtle details like these, and it is most definitely part of her brand and connects her to her fans even more.

Most notably, Taylor managed to KEEP everyone talking, without even saying much herself. Her Instagram account has nearly had comments turned off on every post since she wiped her social media – her way of basically saying, I don’t need an algorithm and I surely don’t need a comment pod to get – and keep – everyone’s attention. We see you, Tay!

Taylor Swift’s Marketing at Target

I must notably mention that Taylor also had an exclusive partnership with Target where they created a magazine for fans of Taylor that included exclusive photos, photos of handwritten lyrics, and a CD inside. There were TWO cover variations of the magazine, but the inside contents were the same. What did her die-hard fans do? They bought both covers. She knew they would. This also meant doubling her album presales as well. Did I mention this was Target’s largest ever presale for a product? Ok well now you know 😊 Genius.

Her total preorders of her album totaled over 400 thousand copies, which was DOUBLE the amount of preorders for her previous album, 1989. Once officially released, her album sold more copies on Day 1 than any other album released in 2017 sold in its first week. Within 4 days of release, she passed the 1 million album sales mark. Reputation is her 4th studio album to sell 1 million copies in its first week. Clearly she knows what she is doing!

Social Media Marketing

After announcing new music, Taylor quickly began her claim over the internet by creating a partnership with Ticketmaster for her very own “portal” for her fans, dubbed “Taylor Swift Tix” – a genius way of funneling her fans to a platform and have them do the heavy lifting to increase HER social media stats, downloads, streams, and online sales. This is so smart. What Taylor did made it extremely EASY for her fans to tweet and Instagram about her music, sign up for updates, spend their money on her merch, and buy her CD many different ways. Genius.

This is very similar to the trend of creating one landing page for all of your most important links and contact info, and funneling your fans from social media to this landing page. It behooves ALL of us to make it as easy as possible for people to shop for our products and get in touch with us! I personally get so frustrated when I am trying to buy something from an account I see online and their feed isn’t tagged with products, or the direct link in their profile does NOT take me to their site! Eventually I give up. You have to expect that if you aren’t making it extremely easy for people to give you their money – then they are probably giving up too.

So Taylor not only collected all of her fans’ data – wonderful to use for future marketing purposes – she also created this system in the Taylor Swift Tix Portal that made her fans WORK for a spot to be able to purchase a pre-sale concert ticket.

Taylor Swift Tix prompted fans to take “actions” that would give them “boosts” to further their spot on the virtual line for pre sale tickets. There were ways you could pay for larger boosts – mainly, buying the album and merch – but there were also tons of free boosts, too. Daily free boosts included streaming her VEVO lyric videos (up to X amount of times per day), tweeting about her new music, etc etc. What this did was skyrocket her VEVO view stats on YouTube and ensure that her hashtag and album were being mentioned DAILY on the internet. What more could you really ask for? This is perfect. Her fans were doing all of the hard work to gain something they considered valuable – exclusivity.

Without getting into too hardcore details on the ticket selling business, a huge difference in the ticket sales for this tour vs. her tour for 1989 was that this time Taylor wanted to make it as difficult as possible for bots to buy up her best tickets and then resell them at astronomical prices to true fans. At the core of the sentiment, I truly appreciate that. As someone who has paid nearly 3x as much as the face value of a ticket to go to a concert in the past, I really thought this was a step in the right direction.

Pricing

The true business and economical decision behind this was also very genius. Let me paint a picture for you. Her 1989 tour dates sold out in minutes. Yes, it was because the album was a hit, but there were also a TON of bots that bought up tickets and resold them at higher prices. It was wonderful for headlines – “Taylor Swift’s World Tour Sells out in Minutes!” – but really, in cases like these the artist and venue are losing a ton of money to bots. This is basically an artificial sense of success that doesn’t profit the business owner. Kind of reminds me of “exposure doesn’t pay my bills!” – ha!

So to combat this, this time around, you had to prove you were a real person and complete boosts in order to get a personalized pre sale ticket purchase time slot sent directly to you. Also, to keep the numbers relative, say for the 1989 tour Taylor is selling 60,000 tickets for a show. If 10,000 of those tickets were purchased by bots, surely 50,000 tickets sold is nothing to scoff at! That’s still a ton of ticket sales, and a ton of money! Her team calculated an average price for what her tickets sold for between bots and her normal ticket prices and used this scale to set the prices for her new Reputation tour. Cutting out third party resellers in presale, she released her tickets at a higher-than-average price. Upon hearing this, one might think, well wouldn’t she just rather sell out then have empty seats? This decision was made for a long term benefit.

You see, cutting out the third party sales allows Taylor to get a far more accurate representation of her ticket sales to date. More importantly, it also ensures that herself and her team are seeing the money. They can actually sell LESS tickets and earn the SAME amount of money as a sold out 1989 show because there is no one dipping into her ticket sales. This really reminded me of the notion of raising your prices to more accurately reflect the value of your work so that you can earn the SAME amount of money for doing LESS work. If you are selling a $5 product, to make $50 you have to sell 10 items. If you raise your price to $10 an item, then you only have to sell 5 items to make the same amount of money as before. Smart!

The long term benefit is that Taylor can (and will) continue to sell tickets to her show on her own terms. I remember a quote from her team that I read that said they are in this for the long term benefit and that their goal was the sell the last ticket on the day of the show. I really related to this because as a business owner, I want my success to also be long term. It doesn’t benefit you to make get-money-quick business decisions. Your focus should always be on building a foundation that will set you up for long term success!

Taylor’s tour kicked off last week and she has been performing to crowds of 60 thousand people, so I would venture to say they aren’t having too much of a problem on the ticket sale front. Shows later in her tour, however, do have thousands of seats open (again, perspective… in a 60k seating venue, having 10k seats available is still an AMAZING turn out).

Some of the tactics they have utilized to continue selling seats to her shows in coming weeks is turning off Ticketmaster Verified Resale Tickets. How does this differ from other resellers? OK so Ticketmaster decided to combat the secondary ticket selling market (a multi-billion dollar industry, by the way) by creating their OWN reselling platform within Ticketmaster. So I could have potentially purchased tickets for a show next week and decided to resell them via Ticketmaster Verified Resale.

Side note – another genius tactic is that TM (Ticketmaster) created this platform on their own website. They realized that secondary ticket sales was a market they could venture into and took full advantage of it. The perk for them is that while they don’t make any extra money on the resold ticket – they DO earn that fee/service charge the person buying the resold ticket has to pay. These fees are then put back into SEO and online marketing to increase THEIR base ticket sales, according to TM reports. So. Smart.

Pre-Sales and Promotions

OK – back to the tactics to selling out remaining seats. Ticketmaster did a weekend promotion where they waived their fee and resale tickets have been disabled for shows that are coming up soon. They are testing out lowering the prices of seats that are left, which has spiked sales. How is this fair to people that bought during the presale? Well, to be frank, if you purchase anything from any seller at full price or during a presale, it is because you clearly had a strong desire for the product that they are selling. There was a part of you that made the decision that the dollar amount placed on a particular product was WORTH the enjoyment you would get out of it. Also, if you didn’t buy during presale you really were taking a risk. You didn’t know if ANY seats would be available or where they would even be, if there were some left at the end.

This is no different than when our customers sign up for our mailing list, group, etc with the promise of exclusive access to our product. Sure, we might throw in some perks for a presale, but most of the time the only perk offered is FIRST access. If you choose to not sign up and wait, then you run the risk of not being able to get the product at all. And as a lot of handmade sellers do, when we have leftover stock that doesn’t sell for some time, we often discount it to get it moving some time later. It could be weeks, or it could be months later. This is where the whole “not valid on previous purchases” clause comes into effect. Taylor Swift’s concert is no different.

Other little promotions frequently used to help “move” inventory is free shipping, flash sales, etc. I am not suggesting that these should be frequent occurrences. In fact, if you do these types of thing a lot you are actually conditioning your fans to wait for a sale. If you release something on May 1st, you could end up conditioning potential buyers to wait until June 1st, because they have noticed your pattern of discounting before releasing new products, for example. Try to switch it up and keep your fans on their toes! (Side note… when was the last time anyone bought anything full price from Old Navy or Express? Ha!).

FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)

Another tactic is just sheer FOMO (fear of missing out). FOMO is a powerful tool, y’all. Take it from me. I personally participated in the boosts but ultimately did NOT choose to purchase tickets during presale. As soon as her tour kicked off, I began seeing ALL of the clips and pictures of her concerts on Instagram. The FOMO was real. After a few more days of trolling the hashtag, #taylorswiftreputation, I caved and bought tickets!! FOMO IS REAL.

As of this month, Taylor is said to have sold $240 million in concert tickets and is projected to sell another $60 million in tickets by the time her tour is done. By withholding her new album when it was released from streaming services (such as Spotify), Taylor used FOMO to encourage people to BUY her album, which clearly worked in her favor, as the stats listed above show! You have to think to yourself, how can I play into FOMO? How can I create the sense of urgency to get my fans to buy my product? Leverage the innate feelings of FOMO everyone has. THE END!

I hope you enjoyed this pop culture biz talk and found some relatable tips here for you. There are lots of practices from big businesses that we should NOT replicate, but if you think a bit outside of the box, you can take tips from your favorite brands and businesses and apply them to your own!


This post was written by Kimber Casteel of Kim Art Designs. Kimber is a talented embroidery artist and big time Swifty. Check her out online and on Instagram!

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Oh, hi! Welcome to The Merriweather Council. I’m Danielle and I am a maker in business and mentor to other makers in business. I teach you how to turn your crafty tendencies into profits!

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