One of the things you find yourself saying about music when you’re a teenager, along with “I like everything except country,” is “I respect them, but I don’t like them.” You say this partially to not look like the sort of ignoramus who doesn’t appreciate Yngwie Malmsteen’s tapping technique, and partially because you don’t want to piss off your friends. But it turns out this simple formulation stands in for an entire complex relationship between bands and their audience. Kevin Roberts, CEO of marketing giant Saatchi & Saatchi, calls the sweet spot where loving and respecting come together a “lovemark.” And there’s a graph!
Roberts’ argument is that many brands attain respect, either by consistently putting out high-quality products or by cultivating an image of being high-quality through marketing. But if a respected brand goes away, it can easily be replaced by another. Brands that have achieved “lovemark” status, however, are irreplaceable, because consumers have developed a kind of personal relationship with them; the best example for this sort of thing would be Apple. It takes a long time to get to this point, but once you do, you’ve secured a good, long run for yourself.
We probably need to wave our hands at an issue at this point: there’s an extra “r” in the object under discussion, and that might make the kind of people who have personal relationships with bands uncomfortable. We don’t like to think of bands as being commercial entities, despite the evidence that money is essential for the realization of artistic vision. But this discomfort is also a fact of life, something that bands have to skillfully avoid if they want to become respected and/or loved–to pretend not to be commercial entities while staying ruthless in their business dealings. Still, the music industry could always use a little advice on its marketing techniques.
For those of us that just talk about music, the graph is a useful conception. For instance, it explains the angry disconnect between dedicated fans of particular popstars and everyone else. Clay Aiken fans, to take an example entirely at random, rate Clay highly on the Love axis, and even if the rest of us don’t, we can at least understand how people would. But because Claymates go further and insist that he should be rated highly on the Respect axis too, it causes a disconnect. Even if there’s no rational basis for the feeling, everyone who’s not a Clay Aiken fan would agree that he doesn’t really seem worthy of respect, no matter how much you like him. Claymates’ conviction that their love for Clay comes along with a sort of logically consistent respect makes them seem, well, a little unhinged, or at least like rubes. Of course, you can say this about dedicated fans of anything you yourself see as worthless.
Roberts’ specific tips for how to achieve lovemark status contain some useful pointers for up-and-coming bands, and a handy description of how that sort of fandom works for the rest of us:
A Lovemark’s high Love is infused with these three intangible, yet very real, ingredients: Mystery, Sensuality and Intimacy.
Mystery draws together stories, metaphors, dreams and symbols. It is where past, present and future become one. Mystery adds to the complexity of relationships and experiences because people are drawn to what they don’t know. After all, if we knew everything, there would be nothing left to learn or to wonder at.
Sensuality keeps the five senses on constant alert for new textures, intriguing scents and tastes, wonderful music. Sight, hearing, smell, touch, taste. Our senses work together to alert us, lift us, transport us. When they are stimulated at the same time, the results are unforgettable. It is through the five senses we experience the world and create our memories.
Intimacy means empathy, commitment and passion. The close connections that win intense loyalty as well as the small perfect gesture. These are often remembered long after functions and benefits have faded away. Without Intimacy people cannot feel they own a brand, and without that conviction a brand can never become a Lovemark.
Now, of course, the way he’s putting this involves a lot of cringeworthy marketing-speak, but the essential point remains valid. In Hammer of the Gods, it’s made very clear how Led Zeppelin intentionally cultivated an aura of mystery and how effective this was in securing a rabid fanbase. As frustrating (and seductive) as mystery can be for critics, it’s what keeps fans coming back for more. Bands today know well the value of intimacy, certainly. If you communicate with fans through the usual channels, it seems impersonal, but if you do it through YouTube and social networking sites, it seems more personal somehow, and fans like that. Intimacy allows you to control your own image. If there’s anyone who’s hit the lovemark sweet spot in these regards, it’s Bob Dylan. After a period in the woods, he’s become such a figure of sensual, intimate mystery (introducing long-lost tracks on a radio program where he talks directly to you) that he’s essentially the Apple of music: respectable, classy, a little edgy but also a link to the past. And the fact that he’s doing it intentionally is somehow part of the appeal.
A final word about respect and Yngwie Malmsteen: it’s been fashionable for a long time now to decry virtuosoism, and perhaps rightly so. But one of the interesting things about the new rhythm games is that it turns virtuosity, seemingly a fixture of the Respect axis, into a form of pleasure: intricate, masterful performances make for challenging, rewarding gameplay experiences. Maybe we’ll get to the point where we love a band for their Rock Band tracks, but can’t really respect someone who doesn’t seem very relevant outside of video games.