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  • Paul Jankowski

Tracing Taylor Swift's Appeal In The Heartland And Beyond

(Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

Prolific songwriter, mega-star and genuinely good person, Taylor Swift has done it again with the release of her new single, “Me!” She released the "Me!" video just after midnight EST last Friday (April 26), and—to no surprise—it has already broken several YouTube records. As Entertainment Tonight reports, the colorful clip has become the biggest female and solo 24-hour debut for any music video on the streaming service. The Brendon Urie collab also garnered more views in its first 24 hours than any other of the pop star's videos before it, and has more likes, too.

But, how did a 29-year-old country-turned-pop star secure a seat at the tables of individuals and families across the nation and world? The holy grail for any brand.

Building her brand the right way...from the beginning.

I met Taylor when she was a high school student in 2006. My friend and owner of her record label, Scott Borchetta, was adamant that I meet his new, talented singer-songwriter. Luckily, I obliged and was blown away by her writing skills and overall passion. Her personality was infectious. One email later to my Pepsi client and branding visionary, Frank Cooper, Taylor joined music icons Mariah Carey and Kanye West on a Pepsi/Yahoo campaign. It was crystal clear that Taylor had the talent—that was the easy part. What got me from that first meeting and subsequent path crossings, is that she lived with a realness that’s incredibly hard to find with high profile personalities.

The following year, Taylor was interested in visiting Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley. Ironically, I was CMO of Elvis Presley Enterprises at the time and took her on the tour. She didn’t ask for special treatment and took the tour like every other Elvis fan. She was gracious, humble and kind to everyone who approached her.

Taylor Swift in front of one of Elvis' planes, the Lisa Marie NEW HEARTLAND GROUP

Since 2006, Taylor Swift has been flipping the music industry on its head. Her self-titled debut country album featured five platinum singles. At the age of 16, she sold over 7 million copies and spent 24 weeks on the Top Country Albums Billboard charts. In total, Swift’s U.S. album sales account for 31.4 million copies of the more than 50 million albums she has sold worldwide.

She’s arguably one the most successful artists of our time. Just last year, Forbes listed her #60 and among Oprah Winfrey and Celine Dion in its list of America’s Richest Self-Made Women. Swift has built an expansive brand that touches millions on a personal level.

I firmly believe her success can be attributed to her grip on Heartland values including faith (not religion), community and family. She consistently demonstrates her unique ability to not only deeply connect with the 60% of U.S. consumers in the Heartland but globally as well.

Her authenticity attracts devoted followers.

It’s easy to toss about the marketing-speak word of the day: authenticity. But it’s much harder to live that way. As a brilliant marketing ploy in advance of her new single, she appeared in front of a mural she commissioned in Nashville’s Gulch district, posing for pictures with very excited die-hard fans. The brand continuity between her aesthetic and the music product she unveiled was seamless.

Swift has been telling her story in a similar manner since day one. From her song lyrics to her posts online, Swift conveys raw emotion.

The proof of the power of her authenticity is in the pudding. Her Reputation Tour grossed over $20 million more than The Rolling Stones A Bigger Bang Tour, at $266 million. She sold over 2 million tickets during her last tour and averaged 54,432 ticket sales each night. For comparison, she was only selling 12,964 tickets a night on the Fearless Tour, according to Billboard reports. Her community of “swifties” are loud, proud, and growing at lightning speed.

She drives engagement and immediate response.

Her engagement on stage is astonishing as it is. But, of course, it doesn’t stop there. From the beginning, Swift avoided relying on her novelty as a young musician in Nashville. She knew she would have to stand out and use innovative methods to ignite her tribe.

By designing the graphics for the album packaging of Taylor Swift, she created an opportunity to begin her cryptic displays. She capitalized specific letters from song lyrics to spell out messages, which primed her audience to pay close attention. In somewhat of a Pavlovian style, she has conditioned fans over the past decade to stop and listen when she speaks or writes.

It’s genius. And she’s copied the strategy over and over again; deleting her entire Instagram account (with upwards of 116 million followers) prior to the Reputation album launch and an integrated digital overhaul of her website, Instagram feed and stories in preparation for the “ME!” release.

She stays true to her roots while transcending genres.

Throughout her record-breaking achievements, Swift hasn’t forgotten the market that propelled her career to where it is today. In her Reputation concert feature on Netflix, Swift said that every song she produces starts as an acoustic country song.

More importantly, however, Swift is a steward to her community. She’s been known to share her time, money and resources with fans. Earlier this month, she sent a letter and flowers to a Kentucky woman recovering from a crash.

The lessons brands can learn from Swift’s authenticity, engagement, and principle-driven business decisions are real. She is a case study in a successful brand strategy supported by seamless integration of everything her fans see, hear and most importantly, feel.

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