Sunday, 30 May 2010

Will more Great Catalogue now come back from Exile?

Have you listened to Exile of Main Street lately? If not, then you will surely have at least been curious to do so. It’s been nothing if not omnipresent for the past six weeks or so, leading up to the re-release last week.

This is how to do catalogue marketing. Take a classic record – one with plentiful versions of plentiful stories – and some good music – and re-embed it into the culture. So, for the past six weeks we’ve been ‘treated’ (whether we like it or not, and I for one have quite liked it) to extensive write-ups in all the broadsheets – with cover stories in their supplements, BBC documentaries on the TV and the radio – all seemingly with full participation from esquires Jagger & Richards. I'm sure there's probably been a social media strategy as well but I was less receptive to that if so.

Result for us: Exile On Main Street basically unavoidable. We are forced to submit, basically.
Result for them: Catalogue record from 1972 re-enters 2010 album chart and actually goes to number 1.

No wonder The Stones decided to take their catalogue over from EMI to Universal. Guy Hands probably didn’t paint quite this picture in his lunches with Jagger – the idea that for weeks on end, the likes of ‘Exile’ would literally become the biggest thing in British culture!

Universal is the number one on the block for ‘muscle’ and seems to have true carpet bomb capabilities in the way the other majors don’t (or maybe they can’t afford to or just don’t want to). Mind you having said that, EMI did a pretty good job with the Beatles re-issues didn’t they? When I wrote about that last year I predicted tens of millions in potential sales and I’m confidently assured that the Beatles re-issues have gone beyond 13 million and still rising.

It’s quite a phenomenon this ‘cultural marketing’, give the state we’re in generally and when you consider the fact that so much music catalogue has been commoditised too easily by being made available on streaming services. I think it justifies recent moves by Bob Dylan and other to question the move to be on those types of services. And the campaign around Dylan a few years back, when he released the book, the film and new music – was similarly the cultural phenomenon – and no doubt a fillip for his most recent new releases too.

It seems like the industry is beginning to take its catalogue ‘jewels’ very, very seriously – and that’s a good thing. Perhaps its because new music doesn't connect with mass culture in quite this way these days. Or maybe it's simply a mortality realisation thing, since there is a generation of these greats that may well literally expire on us before the next decade is out. McCartney has announced his farewell tour and you have to question how many more we’ll see – along with new records – by the likes of Springsteen, The Who and indeed The Stones.

What’s next on the catalogue cultural calendar? Personally I would like to see some proper re-appraisal of Queen’s catalogue – perhaps with a movie if that can be pulled together. Or Kate Bush – though I’m pining more for something new from ‘Our Kate’ having recently been playing the Nada Surf cover of “Love and Anger” and recognising just how uniquely Kate Bush it sounds. Stevie Wonder perhaps, with his forthcoming Glastonbury slot as marketing glue? Where was the Bowie ‘Berlin’ series tie in with the recent book by Thomas Seabrook? I’ve been enjoying that and would probably have been persuaded to part ways with money for some specially packaged versions of the Berlin triage of albums – perhaps.

I love the idea that great music can be culturally resurrected in this way – even if it is a bit in our faces via the usual big media gatekeepers – and will always be about records made a long, long time ago.

With ‘Exile’ it all seemed genuine enough and beautifully executed. But did the music itself warrant all this re-appraisal and attention? My CD (come on, after all this campaigning you could hardly be satisfied with downloading Exile now could you? – though I just bought the remix not the fancy packaged double) sat on the shelf for a week until this morning.

Last night I went out for reunion beers with for friends – two of which I had not seen for almost 15 years. This morning’s cotton headed, jelly-legged, bacon-sandwich-assisted slow recovery back to life seemed like the perfect morning to stick it on and given it a spin.

Yes, it’s quite good isn’t it? I guess a lot of people do know that now.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Never Mind The Box Set - Case Studies

Last week I made my ‘return’ to the music business (after a spell contracting in FMCG or ‘real business’ – a contrast to be blogged about in future no doubt) with a keynote at Music Tank’s ‘Never Mind The Box Set’ discussion – the topic being the state of the current ‘physical’ music business. Full details you will find on the superb Music Tank site.

In my talk I presented four brief case studies of physical products that had come ‘back from the brink’ to find cult, niche and perhaps even mainstream, success. These were:

• Moleskin
• Lego
• Filofax
• Marvel

I thought it might useful to post these here as part of a series of posts this week to mark the ‘return’ of the JB blog, as it were. These case studies were the brands that came from top of mind in discussion with Music Tank – so they are not precise analogues for music – but I don’t think it matters for providing us with some imagination, innovation – a bit more belief, perhaps.

These are specific businesses rather than industry formats like the CD, but these brands are in many ways, symbolic of the industries in which they operate.

We’ll also see how these businesses have smartly embraced digital innovation but even more smartly, kept the physical product alive and well – protecting where the real, tactile value is. Real products remain at the core of these businesses.

Case Study 1: Moleskin

How did writing make such a comeback from the brink of extinction? What’s more anachronistic to us now, the notebook or that funny gadget with a dodgy pen all the early adopters were brandishing in the mid 90s? Writing recognition, the touch screen keyboard and voice recognition tools still occasionally ‘threaten’ the business of handwriting, yet it’s hardly enough to get the stationary business quaking.

The origin of Moleskin’s recent success might surprise. The rights to the famous designs were acquired by Italian company Modo & Modo as recently as the mid 90s and the big global marketing push didn’t happen until 2002 – now every second person working in the global creative industries seems to use one.

Success Factors for Moleskin

o Design, design, design – it’s just a notebook! But the look & feel means everything to its dedicated users

o Heritage – the ‘story’ – Hemingway, Bruce Chatwin writing beautiful prose in them – these stories are now part of the folklore of the brand

o Variety – size, colour, features – I’m using the ‘Woodstock’ red one just now

o All this comes with Premium – people pay 6-7 $’s more for a Moleskin versus a standard notepad – it’s all in the branding

The Root of Moleskin’s success though – the Insight if you will – is the art of writing – that’s what people really value. Can we work an equivalent for music with the art of listening?

Finally – Moleskin notebooks are addictive! Could you really switch back to using just a notebook? Can digital be addictive in the way a physical collection is? Can CD packaging be improved enough to raise such questions about digital music?

Case Study 2: Lego

Another business brand literally brought back from the corporate equivalent of life support, Lego was dead as a dodo at the turn of the millennium, with losses spiralling to €242m by 2004.

Fast forward to August 2009 and a buoyant Lego announced a robust increase in turnover and pre-tax profits of €124m for the first six months of 2009, up 61% over the same period of 2008.

Much was attributed to Jørgen Vig Knudstorp, a young dynamic CEO, who according to himself “changed everything but the brand”.

But really the success was down to a combination of licensing (Star Wars, Harry Potter etc.) and product innovation (bricks literally come in all shapes, sizes, colours – enabling you to build anything). Those innovations however came hand-in-hand with brave and painful operational changes.

For the last few years Lego has quietly expanded into video and online games. In 2010, it will roll out Lego Universe, a multiplayer online virtual reality game. It is also investing in real bricks too, with 15 new retail stores due to open before Christmas 2010 to add to its existing 47. Moving direct-to-consumer seems to have worked.

Success Factors for Lego

o Innovation in digital and physical – working symbiosis between these

o Heritage – converting parental approval and children’s creative instincts into sales

o Variety – size, colour, features

o Niche strategy – Lego’s sales are said to be concentrated on a relatively small market of loyal household customers (around just 2 million households according to one report)

As with any turnaround story, there’s always an insight that proves key to the Knudstorp’s own words: "We take the virtues of Lego and the virtues of Star Wars and create something more optimal out of it. A great example is the Lego Star Wars game which has been immensely popular. Here you have a category where many parents perceive it as not really creative and not very good for their children, but when it becomes Lego the parent says 'OK, now I feel comfortable, since it's Lego plus Star Wars.' It has the benefits of both worlds. Two plus two suddenly becomes five."

Case study 3: Filofax

That great symbol of the eighties – one many of us would perhaps rather forget - is back! And if Filofax can forge a comeback, anything can.

With a St Luke’s advertising campaign in 2006 to re-launch the brand – Filofax shifted its marketing to a younger (more colours), more female (more personal) customer base, with modest success. Pre-tax profits almost doubled from £2.8m to £5.5m for the year to January 2009, while sales nudged up to £61.4m from £59.7m a year earlier.

Success Factors for Filofax

o Niche strategy – what had become ‘naff’ is now a mould breaking statement for mavericks

o Heritage – Filofax built on the retro trend – but did so with deeper, practical benefits too

o Innovation: One innovation introduced in the run-up to Christmas 2010 was a service allowing customers to order personalised diaries from the website. Filofax users can now buy a printed calendar that incorporates all the birthdays, anniversaries and important dates they would otherwise have to annotate laboriously every year

Finally, once again here comes the insight – what’s become valuable today versus the 80’s when everything was about making money – is making time. Filofax responded by being less about business diary management and more about general lifestyle management – allowing people to manage all of their available time.


I’ve written extensively about Marvel In editorials and blog posts so I will re-cap very briefly.

Once again Marvel is a riches-to-rags-to-riches story. In 1997, Marvel Entertainment escaped bankruptcy by a thread thinner than one of Spiderman’s. The company had failed to diversify its publishing business and flooded the market with comic book lines, effectively commoditizing its core business and leaving the company with a stock value of under $1.

Yet Marvel was transformed to a business with a market value of $4 billion, the price paid by Disney when it acquired the company in 2009.

Again, format wise, Marvel is becoming a seamless world of the digital and the physical. While digital content thrives (motion comics being a superb, natural innovation), physical product is hardly the Cinderella business, with the Graphic Novel industry in rude health, now threatening to break out of its geeky niche status and into the mainstream. See also the post on Marvel on this blog last year.

Recurring themes

In summary, a number of success factors associated with these case studies recur as learning or inspiration for music in a physical form.

1. Heritage - building on original strengths.

2. Branding - generating attractive stories.

3. Variety - product in all shapes & sizes - even personalised.

4. Insight - building on key actionable insights - eureka moments.

5. Innovation – clever interplay of the digital and physical worlds.

All these products could so easily have died, but belief, smart, brave decisions and real demand – allowed them to survive, re-build and thrive in today’s over-stimulated, ultra-competitive, digital world.

Versions of this post may appear on Music Tank and in MusicAlly's fortnightly circular.