Last week, I had the chance to see my second Jimmy Buffett concert (third if you count camping outside Fenway Park during grad school, too broke to go inside). Watching the 61-year-old musician/writer/pilot/restaurateur, I wondered how he managed to still sell out stadiums city after city, year after year. The answer I determined: Relevance. While many in his industry have failed to preserve their relevance (think Michael Jackson), Buffett has not only maintained his fan base, but has grown it.
How did he do it? First, he stayed true to his roots. Buffett built his career around his margarita-drinking, beach bum, living the high life persona, and no matter how his private life has changed as he’s aged, this will always be his public character, and he knows it. A 1998 Time article quoted Buffett as saying, “The set I’d like to do is all ballads.” Ten years later, he still hasn’t done it. Why? “The carnival atmosphere wouldn’t allow it. You’ve got to do what’s necessary for the business you’re in.” Remember that whole Garth Brooks is now Chris Gaines debacle of the 1990s? That’s the perfect example of an artist who did not stay true to his roots, neglected his core audience and still hasn’t completely recovered from the mistake.
Buffett also maintains relevance by offering his audience multiple touch points, but every single one of them is true to his persona. His Margaritaville restaurants are located in places you’d expect Buffett himself to be hanging out – Key West, New Orleans, Mexico, the Caribbean, etc. The day a Margaritaville opens in St. Louis is the day that Buffett will lose his relevance. Fans associate Buffett with an escape, a vacation. If he starts being associated with after-work happy hours and kids birthday parties, his restaurant, and therefore his brand, will become just another chain.
A similar approach that recognizes and capitalizes on brand strengths is sure to keep any brand from becoming a “Fruitcake.”