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What Mick Jagger Can Teach You About Business and Branding

Gail Bower at The Rolling Stones Exhibitionism delivered by DHL.
Recently I was in Chicago for a conference on consulting and spent an evening at “The Rolling Stones Exhibitionism delivered by DHL” at the Navy Pier. Wow! If you are in Chicago and enjoy even one song in the Rolling Stones’ massive oeuvre, check out the exhibition on the musical, business, and creative lives of one of the greatest rock bands in history.

The exhibit tells the story of the Rolling Stones’ early days, its significant influence on music and culture, the drivers of their creativity and work style, and allows us to peek into (recreations of) their lives — shared housing in the beginning (think frat house!), the recording studio, creative processes behind their tours and intellectual property, fashion choices, and even back stage.

It’s an impressive and instructive story — even for someone like me who spent 20 years producing large-scale music festivals before evolving into a consultant. 

Whether you’re a business or nonprofit executive here’s what Mick, Keith, Charlie, and Ronnie, along with a host of collaborators, can teach you.

1. Energy. When you’re starting a new initiative or venture, plan to devote considerable creative energy to getting it launched.  In their early years The Rolling Stones lived together and spent considerable time and energy writing songs.

 I think the musical bond between Mick and me is incredibly strong. We've always had the same ear. We might quibble a bit, bu we both have a certain affinity for what we're going for.  --Keith

Are you investing in the creative life of your product or service? In your content? In innovation? In building a body of work?

2. Graphics Matter. If you’re of a certain age, when you think about The Rolling Stones, you might picture their distinctive tongue logo (that is, if you’re not thinking of one of your favorite tunes). The Rolling Stones’ icon certainly has withstood the test of time — can you imagine the band deciding to do a rebranding?

It’s not just the logo that has defined the band’s image. Besides their music and performance charisma, a collection of posters, photographs, album art, and merchandise — some with collaborators such as Andy Warhol — comprise the branding power and mystique of these legends.

How’s your brand? Do you stand for something? Does your graphic representation reinforce the story?

The Rolling Stones influence on culture through fashion.3. Packaging Matters. For the Stones, the visuals go beyond graphic design to fashion and the accouterment of their realm. One section of the exhibit walks us through their guitar stories and another through their enormous influence on fashion. They seemed to have as much fun with making a mark on the world through fashion as through their musical risk taking.

We weren't obeying the rules: 'A band must wear a uniform and have itself groomed neatly.' We thought that was archaic and stupid. --Keith


Guitar exhibition in The Rolling Stones Exhibitionism.
How about your organization?  Are you leading the industry and taking risks? Or are you sinking back like a wallflower, indistinguishable from your competitors?  And through what means are you telling these stories?

4. Experience Design Matters. As rock ‘n roll exploded, musicians upped the ante through performance. If their music wasn’t distinct enough, The Rolling Stones created dazzling experiences through their live shows. The exhibit tells us about the behind-the-scenes design process, complete with architectural drawings and 3D models. Nothing, it seemed, was left to chance.

How is the experience of your brand? Are you designing memorable experiences? Or just letting things unfold however they will?

5. Rest. Just before the 3D concert and requisite walk through gift shop that concluded Exhibitionism, the Rolling Stones experience includes a visit backstage. You could say it’s the Stones’ happy place. It’s where they hang out, safe from the gaze of lenses (photographic, video), before and after a show. It’s where the musicians bond. Where the passion for and anticipation of live performance builds before exploding on stage. 

What recharges your energy? What space or activity fill you with passion? How are you creating anticipation for your staff and customers?

The celebrity system makes life look easy. The Rolling Stones make rock ‘n roll seem like one fantastic, super-charged tour after another. But The Rolling Stones Exhibitionism gives us an all access pass into the real story — the strategy, innovation, individual effort, and persistence need to flourish and evolve.

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