One of my clients is the new Milwaukee-based band, The Hungry Williams. (Ok, full disclosure, this is John's band - John is my sweetie.) Being that I'm a branding and digital designer, and John has played with dozens of bands over the years, we bring unique perspectives to the endeavor of effective brand marketing for The Hungry Williams. I have had many years experience in branding companies and organizations, but is branding bands or musical artists the same as branding any other kind of venture? Over the last year we've both learned some stuff - take a load of this:
The right name
We started with a great name. The right name can get you noticed, remembered, talked about – all good things. While John has been the drummer in many bands in his lifetime, up until now he'd never started his own band. He had been ruminating on this idea for a band for a long time, and had come up with the perfect band name. The Hungry Williams play New Orleans Jump Blues of the era just before Rock & Roll became a thing. The name comes from Charles “Hungry” Williams, a legendary drummer of the period with a distinctive, self-taught style. The name “Hungry Williams” is at once fun, easy to remember, and inspires the imagination. It also is the name of a real person who influenced the sound of the era and the sound of this band.
The right logo
Now - what's the right image to go with the name? The main thing we wanted was for people to see the logo and think "fun". We found an enigmatic image of a cat - an illustrated graphic with a big, sharp and toothy smile - a product of the early 20th century. The cat embodies the spirit of the band - and reflects the time period of their music. The image is nostalgic, happy and energetic.
The right message
For messaging, we research slang from the early-mid 20th century and put it right into our ads and posters. What we look for is popular sayings of the day that still make sense now with relationship to the band. What we choose is mostly no longer in use - so it feels fresh and new when we pop it into our marketing. This is much the same as The Hungry Williams set list. They play all covers, but they're songs that most modern listeners have never heard before. When played by this band, the songs feel fresh and nostalgic at the same time.
The right imagery
We pair the slang headlines with vintage imagery. Inspired by the bizarre images in a book called "Wisconsin Death Trip", we started looking for odd or strange images of the past that work with the headlines. Our goal is to grab attention via an arresting image, inspiring people to click for more info. For example, our headline for an upcoming gig was "Hey all you sheiks and shebas..." We created these two different ads below - one an image of an actual sheik and sheba, and a second a still from a classic film featuring Greta Garbo.
What we found out is that a) Facebook is very strict about ad imagery and that b) sex sells (duh). Facebook did not approve the Greta Garbo image above for use in an ad, stating it was "too suggestive". However, they did approve the revised one below. We ran both, and according to Facebook stats, sexy/weird Greta got way more clicks than the odd sheik/sheba. Hm!
Well - looks like sex sells, folks - this is not a new idea. Following are ads from subsequent shows - all featuring pretty women but also keeping an element of the odd. In addition to the style of messaging and selected images, the look also repeats the same font, and a grainy sepia styling of the image - details that comprise the Hungry Williams brand.
With Facebook advertising you can control your spend and your audience to a granular level. John has pinpointed exactly the audience that he wants these ads shown to, and how much he's willing to spend per campaign. With controls like this, it is quickly evident what works and what does not, and you are able to make revisions on the fly to improve your statistics. It’s important to make the most of every dollar spent on advertising. These things matter.
Branding bands, always more opportunities
In addition to the social media advertising above, we have created some branded items for gigs, including a six-foot-wide banner and a bass drum head with the logo on it. We have also just ordered some drink coasters that we plan to distribute at the venues where the band plays. Note that also employed in the branded style is a bright orange and red palette to counter the sepia images, as well as specific fonts, circles, ovals and rounded corners.
Branding bands case study: The Hungry Williams
Branding bands is similar to branding for other kinds of businesses. It's about building a recognizable image paired with a consistent message that speaks to your target audience. For each gig we create Facebook ads, events and posts, blog posts on the website, as well as printed posters that we hang around town in the weeks before a gig. At each gig we hang the banner, the drum set is front and center on the stage, and we'll soon be passing out the coasters. On top of that, John has recently stocked up on Mardi Gras beads that are thrown into the crowd during the gig, always a crowd-pleaser.
Word has been spreading fast, and for a band that's only been playing out for one year they've suddenly seen a lot of momentum. We've been getting comments about our marketing, and we are seeing a sudden growth in social media engagement, site visits and gig attendance. Swing dancers in the area have discovered the Hungry Williams and show up with their shoes shined, ready to dance. Local dance clubs are starting to book them and gigs are getting offered more frequently.
Can we attribute this upswing directly to branding? Could be! Do we know all there is to know about branding bands? Not by a long-shot! Are we hungry for more? You bet your boots!