Business lessons learned in the school of rock

The Life: You may think rock stars have few lessons to teach the business world. But you would be wrong.

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 12: Gene Simmons, Tommy Thayer and Paul Stanley of KISS perform at the Wembley Arena on May 12, 2010 in London, England. (Photo by Jo Hale/Getty Images)
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Before it adopted the fire-breathing, blood-spitting image for which it is famous today, the American rock band Wicked Lester was going nowhere.

But with a name change to Kiss, and an image overhaul with a focus on theatrics, the band transformed itself into one of the biggest names in the music industry. In doing so, it also taught the business world an important lesson: do something different and people will pay attention.

"Being better is one of the toughest points of differentiation to establish. But if you come out first to people with how different, how unique you are, then you have your foot in the door and you get our attention and then reveal to us what makes you better," says Steve Jones, the author the bookBrand Like a Rock Star.

Mr Jones's book uses the rock 'n' roll industry as a lens to view branding - and rebranding - lessons for business. Being different versus being better is something many companies have done well.

Take Nintendo and its Wii videogame console. It has outsold the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, which are known for having more computing power and better graphics. "That's in a large part because there's nothing like it," says Mr Jones, who is based in Halifax, Canada.

"We had never seen anything like a game where you actually take part through the motions of your body," he says. "Up until that point, it had always been through joysticks or control pads. All of a sudden, Wii came along and changed everything."

Eminem, an American rapper with a bad-boy image, may not seem at first sight to hold many lessons for the business world. But his comeback over the past couple of years teaches companies the importance of being honest and transparent.

"He was sort of written off a few years ago as irrelevant in the hip-hop world, and he made a major comeback," says Mr Jones.

"And if you look at what he did differently, it's very smart. He sort of abandoned the old tricks he used to use. He used to do a lot of songs that were almost circus-like and thematic," says Mr Jones.

Eminem's newer numbers, such as Love the Way You Lieand Not Afraid, address his weaknesses and his shortcomings.

The car maker Chrysler provides an example of a company that has used this type of strategy to its advantage.

"A few years ago, Chrysler … looked as out of touch - and it was very honest," says Mr Jones. "The advertising campaign which launched in 2009 at [the] Super Bowl was all about what can a company from a city like Detroit possibly know about luxury and quality. It really revived its brand."

As a singer who is about to become the richest rock star on the planet, thanks to his stake in the social networking site Facebook, the U2 frontman Bono has already taught the business world about the value of smart investing. But a decision by his band in the mid-1990s holds another lesson.

"If you followed U2, they went from that whole Joshua Tree [album] era to where they were very eclectic. They took it so far in 1995 that they realised that they were about to release an album that would completely violate the expectations of their fans and could possibly ruin their career, so they released the album under a different name," says Mr Jones.

U2 released the album, called Original Soundtracks 1, under the band name Passengers. It was not a particularly big hit, but it taught businesses that when they are about to do something that customers might not expect, they should consider giving it a new name.

Some car companies have used the same strategy to win customers, says Mr Jones. When Honda created a luxury model, it was smart enough to recognise that it could not compete against the likes of Mercedes-Benz and BMW under the name Honda, so it created the Acura brand. Nissan established Infinity, and Toyota started Lexus.

"The whole import luxury line was born out of this idea that if you are going to create another product that doesn't live up to the expectations of your fans, you can't just put your name on it and release it," says Mr Jones.

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