#1 Know your core competencies.
For Grohl, this means music. He’s a self-taught musician and a natural behind both the mic and drum kit. He’s also an enthusiastic speaker, gifted at rallying crowds and engaging fans. Grohl is confident in his own shoes. He knows who he is, and that naturally extends to his “brand.”
As he said in his keynote speech at the 2013 SXSW conference: “It’s YOUR voice. Cherish it. Respect it. Nurture it. Challenge it. Stretch it and scream until it’s [obscenity] gone. Because everyone is blessed with at least that, and who knows how long it will last. …”
Do you know what your company is good at? If not, there are ways to find out. Try looking at what sells best and what your customers say about you, for example. Once you discover what those things are, cling to them.
#2 Try new things.
As much as Grohl knows his core competencies, he’s also not afraid to push the envelope a bit and try new things. He was a drummer first. When Nirvana ended due to singer/guitarist Kurt Cobain’s death in 1994, Grohl was quiet. He re-emerged a year later with a new album, Pocketwatch, on which he sang the main vocals and played not only the drums but also all the other instruments. He clung close to his core competency of music, but extended his brand.
Years later, after many popular albums and arena tours, Grohl looked at another brand extension: film-making. He and the Foos were the subjects of the documentary Back and Forth, a behind-the-scenes peek at the band, including a look at their recording process for Wasting Light. After that came a Grohl-directed documentary on legendary Southern California recording studio Sound City.
No doubt inspired by Sound City, Grohl embarked on yet another jump-off idea: a documentary of historic recording studios around the United States. The show and album of the same name was called Sonic Highways.
As you can probably see, each project gave way to another. Grohl’s career has naturally evolved, with the roots all tracing back to his drumsticks.
Has your brand done the same? If not, could it? You don’t have to start with a big concept. If someone had told the young Grohl that someday he’d be making an HBO mini-series, he probably would have scoffed. But with each project, his dreams evolved and grew naturally. Your brand’s R&D can do the same.
#3 Don’t be afraid to fail.
That album created for Sonic Highways wasn’t particularly well received by critics, who knocked it for being more concept than album. As a music nerd and fan, I was fascinated. I love listening to the songs to pick up cues and clues of the places that influence and infuse the material. But I understand the critics’ point. When holding up the tracks from that album to some of the stronger earlier records, I can see Sonic Highways is more theory than substance.
But the sheer fact that Grohl and the Foo Fighters released the album speaks volumes to me. It was a strange idea to write and record a track in each of eight cities and studios. The band could have stopped at just the documentary. But they extended the concept, brought in their core competency of music, and went for it. To me, that isn’t a failure at all – it’s a demonstration of bravery and also a learning experience. For one thing, I suspect they discovered that it’s incredibly challenging to write a new song on demand and then record it, on equipment you’re not used to, in a relatively short amount of time. Maybe if they do a second season, they’ll allow themselves more time in each place.
Let’s think back to marketing and branding. What mistakes have you made – and how can you learn from them? It’s always wise to hold “post-mortems” after a big project, whether it ended positively or not. Take stock of what went down, and take notes on what you can do better next time.
#4 Look to the past.
As evidenced by his interest in American recording studios, Grohl’s a student of his craft. He wears his influences unapologetically on his sleeve, and has reverence for legendary musicians and venues. Most recently, Grohl and the band announced they are resurrecting Cal Jam, which was a historic outdoor concert in Southern California in the 1970s. In order to stir interest and drive ticket sales, Grohl and Foo’s drummer Taylor Hawkins posted a rogue social media ad on the band’s accounts. In it, they talked about the past Cal Jams, the epic stacked lineups, and what they had planned for 2017’s event.
“He’s an appreciator,” says Dave’s mother, Virginia Grohl, in a Rolling Stone article. “He has a respect for history and roots.”
What about you? Do you look to the past – of your own company, as well as your industry? What can you learn or try or pay homage to?
#5 Know how to stay relevant.
Despite his reverence for the past, Grohl also knows how to stay front and center in our minds. He and the Foos put out new releases – albums, documentaries – like clockwork, and they tour regularly. They also make funny stunts, such as recently Rickrolling the audience of a festival show in Asia. Grohl and his bandmates always seem to have something in the headlines.
Does your brand stay relevant? Do you use the latest tools – and, more importantly, are you constantly reminding your brand fans of your products and existence? No one wants to be out of sight, out of mind. Yet, with all the distractions and competitions on our time, it’s an easy place to fall into.