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What David Bowie Knew About Branding- 5 Facts

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David Bowie, born David Robert Jones, was the ultimate global brand. He was magnetic, often magnificent, and the creative world will forever admire his incredible contributions to the arts. Highs, lows and a career based on colorful creativity, Bowie knew a thing or two about navigating towards long-term success. Here, we explore the top five lessons learned from Bowie on branding…

What David Bowie Knew About Branding- 5 Facts

  1. Evolve or risk becoming extinct- David Bowie’s 53-year career was marked with pointed, and near constant, reinvention. It’s easy to assume the evolution was just cosmetic, yet it had much to do with his forward thinking sound and risk taking as it did his fashion sense. Over the years, Bowie evolved into a persona that defies labeling- songwriter, performer, actor and activist- just a few of the markers befitting a man with many talents.

Brand evolutions are essential to the health, growth and longevity of your brand. Your growth strategy and long term brand plans must account for changes in the market that today may look murky. Agility is hard won, yes, yet essential. Consider how you will make thoughtful, meaningful shifts in your brand to expand your audience, explore a new channel or make the most of tastes and trends.


  1. Appearances matter- Space Oddity was David Bowie’s first Top 5 hit in the UK (it’s still my favorite Bowie song). Soon after it’s release, Bowie’s look drastically changed into the eclectic and electric Ziggy Stardust. Flamboyant, androgynous and incredibly memorable. For over five decades, the world saw Bowie the man transition into otherworldly characters only he could dream up. Ziggy Stardust gave way to the Thin White Duke, the New Wave 1980’s and, finally, three-piece suits that started with Sound+ Vision and endured on through the millennium. Bowie knew that, as a brand, visual artistry runs a close second to the sound itself.

Visual cues are incredibly vital to the relevance of your brand, and must align with the audience you’re trying to attract. As times change, so should your brand. Whether that change is drastic, like Bowie, or subtle, depends on your core strategy.


  1. Back it with quality- It’s tough to argue against David Bowie’s legacy and influence in the world of entertainment. He cut 26 studio albums and earned 14 platinum records, combined, in the US and the UK. While critical success came in the late 70’s in the UK, he shot to superstardom in the US, relatively late, with Fame in the 80’s. Bowie’s style and voice was unique, sometimes irreverent, and always evocative. His work, always expertly crafted. Beneath the stage makeup, theatrics and controversy, the true songwriter always shined through.

The wide and wonderful (sometimes wacky) world of branding can be tough terrain for us marketers. It can be tempting to go down a road that leads to compromised quality or off-brand messaging, just to make a quick sale or take advantage of a trending hashtag. Pay attention to what you’re crafting and back it with a quality product and message for a brand that endures.


  1. Remember that personal can stay private- Bowie had his fair share of intrusions over his career; his personal and professional life comingling and crashing, depending on the decade. In the 1970’s, Bowie famously revealed his bisexuality in an interview with Melody Maker magazine, later saying his personal reveal was “one of the biggest mistakes” he ever made. It must have been a considerable personal lesson. For decades after, he remained very private about his sexuality, marriage, children and life off-stage.

Fewer boundaries exist now than ever before between personal and professional content. Social media has made us all, this Brandette included, far more accessible. However, with accessibility also comes accountability. We must all remember that our opinions, affiliations and affinities can have both positive and negative effects on our brands. Recently, I overheard a wise remark- make a public stand only for those causes you are willing to lose business for.


  1. Take risks- Saying Bowie’s critical successes had many peaks and valleys is an understatement. His work was experimental by nature and, often, risk taking. His one-off collaboration with Queen on Under Pressure in 1981 was unique, at the time, considering the megawatt star status of the creators. Equally interesting, and later much lauded, was his involvement in Jim Henson’s dark fantasy film, Labyrinth. Whether it involved film, music, costume or his career overall, Bowie made himself comfortable with the unknown.

In business and branding, there is always an element of risk. Certainly, as your brand grows larger, the pressure is amplified and the risk taking more profound. Risk and reward often go hand in hand, big growth often coming from “comfort zone” departure. Calculate them, craft them and strategize risk management tactics that work for your brand. Like Bowie, the rewards could, likely, be quite sweet.


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