Belonging Marketing – Taylor’s Version
Why Taylor Swift Gives Me Hope For Marketing
A Discussion of Core Emotions As They Relate to Buying
It is widely accepted by most marketers and certainly any copywriter worth their salt, that our prospects have a core set of emotions, often three are named, that motivate each and every human to action. I’ve seen the three written as Pain, Fear and Pleasure, and often Shame is included in there too. One brilliant copywriter I know says that Status is the only real motivator that unites all the rest. Probably every marketer has their own slightly unique opinion on what core need or emotion motivates their audience to buy from them.
Today I am going to propose a different core need, one I’ve heard spoken of, but never fully fleshed out before. That need is belonging, which when it is met, defines for me the true meaning of community – a buzzword that is thrown around so often these days it has unfortunately lost much of its value and impact.
Before I go into the meat of this article, discussing a favorite topic in my household (because of my almost 16 year old daughter), I want to step back and explain why I think this is important. I am not setting out in this short article to argue that the core need of belonging is somehow more powerful than that of status, which is of course related to belonging, but not the same. I am not going to argue that the emotion behind belonging, loneliness, is somehow more impactful on buying decisions than fear or shame or the pursuit of pleasure. In fact, in my experience, each and every one of these emotions and needs can be an equally powerful motivator depending on who you’re speaking to, and even more nuanced, depending on the day you happen to catch them with your message! No, I am here to discuss the outcome of choosing to approach your marketing with the motivator of belonging over the others.
Today’s article is my observation of Taylor Swift’s marketing, why I think it works, and how the impact of her marketing gives me hope for marketing on the whole.
How Taylor Swift Motivates Her Audience To Buy
Let me begin by sharing my recent experience at a Taylor Swift concert. My daughter and I drove to Philadelphia on a Friday night in May, a mere two months into the artist’s epic sweep of the nation, nay the world, with her now iconic Eras Tour.
Before my daughter bought the tickets (which at the last minute I did a bait and switch on her and announced I was the one buying the tickets for her for Christmas. See, I thought I would be the one purchasing the tickets, but the chaos of Ticketmaster’s Taylor Swift pre-sale led to my daughter getting a slot on the waiting list and suddenly being IN THE SALE before anyone knew what was happening. She’d already added the two cheapest seats she could find – because at 15 years old only working part time, what other choice do you have – when I texted her my reveal – she was in class at the time – that these were a gift and she had X more money to spend. But at least we got tickets at all!)… Anyway, before all of that, I was not a fan of Taylor Swift.
When my daughter was little, all I knew of Taylor Swift was that she had an odd almost fetal look (look up #fetustaylor it’s a thing) and had released a song about being a crazy slut and taking names. As a mother of a little girl, I pretty much hated Taylor Swift . When my daughter started liking her music around age 8, I successfully talked her out of her fandom with advice like “all she sings about is boyfriends, that’s lame.” It worked for about 4 years.
After the ticket purchase, and before the concert, I became a student of Taylor Swift and my daughter played me all her favorite songs, quizzed me regularly on the artist’s full discography, including the order of release, and the accompanying colors. I learned about her storied dating life, and how she shouldn’t be blamed for falling in love easily. I learned she wrote that song about being a crazy slut as a piece of satire, making fun of her ‘slut’ reputation that she didn’t feel was earned. I even found a song or two I enjoyed along with my daughter. We picked out Era’s tour outfits. I bought and wore a corset top for the first time. We ordered cheap sequined attire off Amazon. I started sending my daughter Taylor Swift GIFs in reaction to well, pretty much everything. For Christmas my husband (her step father) bought her the newest album in Vinyl, and a record player to listen to it on. I was excited for the concert.
About 3 minutes after stepping of the Septa train into Taylor Swiftville, south of downtown, amongst the sprawling parking lots outside Lincoln Stadium that were crawling with sequins clad teenagers, Moms in bright red dresses, boyfriends with a pink heart painted on the back of their hand, and about 199 other coordinated and creative homages to TS, I was a fan. This is before I’d heard even one note of the most epic and heartfelt stadium concert I believe has ever occurred or will ever occur again in the future of pop music (Paralleled and perhaps surpassed by Freddie Mercury at LiveAid… so I’ll add…) at least American Pop Music. I became a fan before the concert because of the people.
Six weeks before the concert our family had the incredible privilege to spend two weeks in Japan. Yes it was a busy spring. Upon returning home from that life changing trip I found myself a thousand times more frustrated by the behavior of American crowds. The inconsideration of others, the brash behaviors, the taking up of ridiculous amounts of space, the lack of orderliness, and the general lack of acknowledgement on the part of most Americans that anyone other than numero uno exists to be served, has driven me to near madness. Especially at places like airports, stores, walking down a crowded street, and, one would think, heavily populated concert venues.
But not at this concert venue. People stood patiently in long lines that snaked around fences and through crowds farther than your eye could see. People said excuse me before cutting across a line to get to the crowd at the other side. The joy and excitement of these tens of thousands primarily teen, pre-teen and 20 something young ladies was bubbling over. But it wasn’t a selfish excitement, like what you picture most privileged white girls enjoy. It was a distinctly communal excitement. Older girls turned around and smiled when little ones asked them if they’d like to trade a bracelet (handmade beaded bracelet trading at Taylor Swift concerts is another THING). Mom’s stood in line and shifted weight in their high heels next to sneakered daughters who never even mentioned their discomfort in the 95º blazing sun. I don’t think I heard one girl whine over the course of the near 12 hours we spent at the venue. People spoke politely to one another. People asked for help and offered help. Young woman saw you coming and smiled while getting out of your way. Fans shared that knowing smile of what was about to happen, and during the concert about “oh my god THIS is happening,” exponentially. It was like being on another planet… or slightly like being in Japan. It was a sea of kindness. It was an overflowing of positivity. It was Planet Taylor Swift.
What’s Marketing Got To Do With It?
Finally I bring you to my thesis about belonging. How does Taylor do it? I believe, either consciously or subconsciously, that Taylor Swift and her brilliant marketing team operate according to laws of attraction rather than by compulsion. The fans are drawn to her willingly, not because she promises them fame, or fortune, or beauty. I don’t even think her homegrown white girl message of “be yourself unapologetically” is what does it for her fans. I have observed, in my own daughter, and even in myself whenever I’m in the presence of other fans, an unquestionable sense of belonging. Once you are a fan of Taylor Swift, you get a name, you get an identity, you get a family made of all who self-identify as “Swifties.”
How does she achieve this in her marketing? Primarily by playing happy games with her fans. Taylor speaks to her fans through secret messages that require working together to piece the parts of the puzzle and solve the clue. She hints at everything from the meaning of a song, to the release date of a new album, to what will be on the album and why. She drops easter egg riddles randomly and all the time, so that every time she speaks or drops a video or a tweet, fans are combing her words, and even her actions, for clues. She codes everything in color and meaning that is as deeply personal and meaningful to Taylor as it is to anyone who has loved and lost or struggled at all. And each of these laden symbols is for sale. Taylor even managed to “package” feminist energy itself in her industry upsetting, “you just watch me,” re-release of her stolen IP in the form of three, to date, wildly successful “Taylor’s Versions” of her early records. She called on her fans to support the project, taking money out of the hands of the record execs who owned her early work, and putting it into the coffers of this fabulously rich single woman’s empire. You will not meet a Swiftie (among the hundreds of thousands) who does not know , and deeply appreciate, the difference between the original recording of “Fearless” and the 2021 version.
When Taylor was crafting the Era’s tour setlist she conspicuously left out songs from her self titled first studio album, and delivered only one song from her “Speak Now” album, compared to the 5 – 8 given to each of the other era’s. Fans knew intuitively that the shortened Speak Now setlist was directly connected to the approaching announcement of the Taylor’s Version release of that album. But I have to think, this scarcity based marketing trick was for Taylor, less about holding back in order to fabricate excitement, and more of a gift by way of her signature coded messaging.
So why did she leave songs from her first album out of the show almost entirely, even though images from the album are an integral part of the Era’s Tour imagery? Only a true Swiftie could ever venture a guess. But I believe it is a gift to her fans. And when she, almost inevitably, releases Taylor’s Version of the album “Taylor Swift,” it will be another gift to her fans. And they will pay for the vinyl, the t-shirt, the Spotify download, as a gift to themselves, and subversively, as a gift to each other.
How This Relates To The Real World
Very simply put, I propose that marketing based on the driving motivator of belonging creates a more positive outcome in the buyer. This is not an easy recipe for becoming a millionaire. Unlike scarcity, or empty promises of fame or fortune, or even of status, a sale based on the promise of belonging can not be faked. In order to sell belonging, you have to have created something worth belonging to. It doesn’t matter if you are a guru, or a founder of a brand, or a president of a country, it seems, if we are to look at Taylor Swift’s example, that creating a community worth belonging to, starts with an opening up of oneself. The foundation of belonging marketing has got to be honesty, and a healthy dose of humility that understands how little actually separates the experience of leaders from their consumers. Perhaps that is the difference between a million dollar mastermind and a multi-level marketing scheme. Or between a church and a cult. I don’t know exactly how to put my finger on what works in belonging marketing, except that I know it when I see it.
In my own marketing for my bagel shop I’ve found that nothing is more powerful than word of mouth and the identity of my customers as being “bagel connoisseurs.” Is that about status? Perhaps. But what if an element of our success is based on belonging. If I can find that secret sauce and develop who we are from that starting point… I bet we would take over the bagel world.
Hi! I’m Annie Aaroe, a b2b marketing strategist. To find out more about story-driven, conversion copy and strategy that’s tailored for tech and SaaS brands, visit my website, aaroewriting.com, or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.