When it comes to building a personal brand, who does it better than Taylor Swift?
After battling with record label, Big Machine Records, in 2019 over the licensing and ownership of her music, videos and albums, Swift took matters into her own hands. To reclaim her music, she took the bold decision to re-record her first six studio albums.
In doing so, Swift decreased the value of the original songs, shifting the power over to her own personal brand, and reclaiming ownership over her art. Her most recent re-recorded album, “Red (Taylor’s Version)” was a global success, going viral, and even breaking 2 Spotify records.
In this piece, we’ll be looking into the decision to re-record, exploring:
The impact it’s had on Swift’s personal brand
How it’s affected Swift’s fan relationships
If the move towards ownership is a trend we can expect to see across the music industry in the future
Taylor Swift: The brand
In our opinion, Taylor Swift is an expert brand strategist.
In this hyper-connected world, everything can be a brand - from consumer goods to Instagram profiles to even cities. If it’s not “on brand”, then it’s not worth talking about. And for good reason – in an age where commodities are a dime a dozen, brand becomes the differentiator.
Brand takes something generic and makes it special. Take a bar of soap – easy to find, easy to use – and charge it with something that people can connect to. Instead of being something to wash with, a bare function, maybe the soap smells exceptional and leaves skin feeling soft. Maybe the packaging tells the consumer that it’s 100% organic – great for the eco-conscious. Maybe its ads suggest luxury and feature a celebrity endorsement – a pull for those fond of a splurge. Maybe a portion of sales go to funding a reputable nonprofit – perfect for those eager to get clean while making a difference.
Any one of these tactics ensures that your brand makes more of an impact than a commodity does. Branding is designed to differentiate the generic from the special and, in doing so, drive value to your business.
Swift has created a brand identity that is so strong it spans multiple generations, geographies, and has stood the test of time. She has successfully navigated the tricky balancing act of staying authentic to her existing audience to maintain her following, while also modernizing and keeping up with new trends to boost relevancy.
Her popularity has not waned since the beginning of career at age 14 - In fact, she’s only grown more popular with time, recently breaking a 50 year old music record in October.
Taylor Swift and her fans
To gain a closer look at the dynamics between Swift and her fans, we are going to focus on the 16 Drivers of Relationships. These are the 16 factors that are neuroscientifically proven to determine the relationships people have with brands. They range from factors like, Empathy (how Empathetic people think your brand is), to Integrity, how morally conscious people believe your brand is.
Taking a look into these Drivers, gives you an understanding of how your brand is performing, showing you what areas need improvement in comparison to your competitors, and giving you intel on what you can do to supercharge your brand’s growth.
Swift’s brand strategy revolves around 4 key Drivers, Innovation, Relevance, Popularity and Connection. The whole concept of re-recording albums is a novel idea - a solution to an issue that artists have been dealing with for years. Paul McCartney engaged in a decade-long battle for ownership with Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC in 2017 to regain copyrights to the Beatles catalog, and Prince notoriously battled with Warner Bros. to protect the copyrights to his work.
This innovative approach is also the reason Swift has continued to grow and remain relevant in a world that is constantly changing. Whether it's the actors she chose to cast in her music videos, like Stranger Things’, Sadie Sink and Teen Wolf star, Dylan O’Brien, or how she always promotes her music on the platforms most suited to her audiences – Taylor Swift knows exactly how to maintain Relevance.
Popularity is a no brainer when it comes to Taylor Swift. Whether you're a fan of hers or not, there’s no denying how Popular she is. Even with the release of songs that have been heard countless times, she still remains on the top of the charts. She is well-known all over the world and continues to grow her reach by appealing to new groups and partnering with relevant artists.
Connection is a Driver that Swift majors on, whether it’s through TikTok, Instagram or Tumblr, she makes a concerted effort to stay connected with her fans and build these relationships. The level of personalization Swift injects into her songs is what sets her apart and makes her so relatable. Through creating intensely personal songs, Swift gives her fans access into intimate parts of her life. She never shies away from difficult topics, shedding light on topics that matter to her audience, like heartbreak, grief, and relationship fractures.
In 2014, Swift explained why there aren’t many covers of her songs in existence, “People have essentially gotten to read my diary for the last 10 years. It's pretty hard to cover someone else's diary.”
Is ‘ownership’ becoming an important trend in the music industry?
As much as this is a personal triumph for Swift, the decision to re-record is also huge for the industry and is likely to have ripple effects across the music community. We’re interested to see how artists follow in Swift’s footsteps, as the benefits seem to be numerous.
Looking into Ed Sheeran on our ProQuo AI platform – that analyzes your brand, its category and the competition, on a daily basis – we can see how featuring in Swift’s latest re-recorded album has impacted the strength of his brand. Sheeran is a long-term friend of Swift’s and also supported on the creation of ‘Red (Taylor’s Version)’, featuring in two songs ‘Run’ and ‘Everything has Changed’.
Looking at Sheeran’s brand score on our platform, we can see since the release of Swift’s newest album, his ProQuo score (the single, simple indicator of the strength of a brand's relationship with its consumers) has skyrocketed. By associating himself with Swift, Sheeran has boosted both his public perception and his customer relationships. This has helped to build his brand in a positive way, enabling him to surpass the competition, outperforming other key contenders in the industry.
Looking at the Innovation and Integrity Drivers, we can see these are two areas that people are particularly impressed by. These Drivers have experienced the most significant changes since the release of the re-recorded album in November, showing Sheeran’s fans are noticing and rewarding his commitment to Swift.
The decision to go independent is most definitely a risk, but one that can clearly come with a huge pay-out. Despite the differing roles that were played within this ownership battle, both Swift and Sheeran have come out with strengthened fan relationships and reputations. A win for all involved.
The reaction to Swift’s latest album release proves just how important Innovation and Integrity are within the music industry, particularly at a time when cancel culture is so prevalent, and audiences are seeking transparency from the artists they look up to.
Taylor Swift is setting a clear example here, paving a path forward into the realms of independence – one that will surely inspire action from other artists in the future.
To see how our 16 Drivers of Relationships can help you to build a brand people fall in love with, click here.