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How to build a brand like Pearl Jam

On Friday I put a huge tick on my bucket list by seeing rock legends Pearl Jam play on the main stage at the Big Day Out.  It was a life changing event for me personally, but also one that got me thinking about brands and how marketers could take some tips from rock and roll bands like Pearl Jam.

For one reason or another I have missed all of Pearl Jam’s previous concerts in New Zealand and/or never felt I needed to see them: they would always be back again, I was busy, tickets cost too much money, etc.

But this time it was different; having listened to their music and shared life experiences with the band since I was a teen I felt it was my duty of sorts to see them in the flesh.  Considering they were literally over my back fence I really had no excuse (well done BDO, Western Springs was a fantastic venue. Maybe just sort the toilets and bars next year…)

While rocking out to anthems like Better Man, Daughter, and my all-time favourite Black with 20,000-plus very well behaved 30 and 40-somethings it dawned on me that this band lives and breathe the qualities so many companies strive for in business, but are mostly never able to replicate.  It struck me that Pearl Jam has developed:

  • Incredible customer loyalty (there was no way I would miss this concert)
  • A solid value proposition and premium price point (cost did not matter)
  • Global brand recognition  and awareness (brand + songs)
  • Cross-generational appeal  (old crusties grooving next to young hipsters – no problem)
  • Strong positioning
  • A huge fan base and channels to market (social media / websites etc)
  • Consistent quality of output (sound, production, performance)
  • Originality and constant new material for a changing musical landscape
  • Social conscience / community care (they handed out free wine to the neighbouring houses to thank them for “having us in their backyard”)
  • Visible leadership / ambassadorship (Eddie Vedder, the front man) and great team around him.
  • Authenticity and trust

Thinking of Pearl Jam as a brand or business, they have really done everything right over the past 20-plus years. They can now charge what they like for tickets and sell millions of records or downloads through their owned, earned, and bought media channels. They have 9 million Facebook fans alone.

The recipe for modelling your brand on Pearl Jam is not that hard in concept but does require a mindset shift that needs to be driven from every part of an organisation.

It starts with product development (song writing) and goes right through to brand delivery (concerts / album releases). It means manufacturing products (songs) that are made from the heart and with the consumer in mind at all times. It means producing goods and services that have some meaning and purpose for the end user– as well as making a return for shareholders. We all know songs can have intense personal meaning – so why can’t your products or your company?

Modelling your business on Pearl Jam means delivering your product in a consistent, creative, engaging and authentic way every single time you go to market. It means creating environments that consumers want to come to (your website or retail outlet) and delivering experiences that are memorable and moving (concerts) – which is what experiential marketers aim to do, including my team at Sublime Activation.

Most importantly, a brand needs to have a consistent and trustworthy voice. It needs an ambassador or front man/woman like Eddie Vedder to speak directly to consumers and make them feel unique and special. 

At BDO Vedder spent the concert asking how people were feeling at the back, sharing stories about his experiences in New Zealand, and then thanked everyone for coming individually. Why not do the same in business? Get your CEO out of the boardroom and in front of the customers – build some love and trust in your organisation by giving it a personality that people can resonate with. It will pay dividends.

Maybe it’s unlikely that a company will ever have an arena of people singing their jingle at the top of their lungs with arms raised to the sky – but it’s worth a shot.  After all, the world’s a stage and we are all just players – including brands.

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Robert Bruce is an entrepreneur and founder of experiential marketing agency Sublime Activation (part of PPR), and a regular contributor to Idealog. Contact him at [email protected].

Comments or opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author, Robert Bruce only. The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the views of  Sublime Activation, PPR, or its management or employees. PPR is not responsible for, and disclaims any and all liability for the content of comments written by contributors to this blog.

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