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What companies can learn from Taylor Swift

Elba at Taylor Swift concert

If you want to learn about marketing, strategy and innovation, you could read a book by a distinguished academic, you could participate in a webinar led by a successful marketer. If the budget allowed, you could spend two days at an expensive conference.

Or you could attend a Taylor Swift concert with 56,000 of her adoring fans.

I went to my first T-Swift concert recently, not expecting a marketing lesson, but that's what I got, all for the price of a ticket.

Of course, tickets to Swift's concerts, including her current 1989 World Tour, go for hundreds of dollars. And if you want to buy any of the dozens of Taylor Swift collectibles on sale while you're there, you're going to dig even deeper.

But Swift's legion of fans are more than happy to support the T-Swift franchise. Concerts sell out a year in advance, and merchandise flies off the concert and online shelves.

Her net worth of $200 million, as estimated by Forbes, makes her one of America's richest self-made women.

Making connections

How does Taylor Nation do it? That's what I wondered as I listened to her perform a medley of hits from 1989 and earlier albums and watched as thousands of fans hung on every note.

"I wasn’t expecting a marketing lesson, but that’s what I got, all for the price of a ticket."

One way it happens, I decided, is through her seemingly effortlessly ability to connect with consumers - in her case, fans whose ages and demographics seem to run the gamut. The imagery and artistry of the concert, along with her messages of self-confidence and empowerment, are unifying in a chaotic world. From those connections, it's a much easier leap to monetizing the experience.

The power of the connections between product and consumer in a wide range of industries and businesses is well documented.

In an article in the November issue of Harvard Business Review (The New Science of Customer Emotions), the authors say, "When companies connect with customers' emotions, the payoff can be huge."

Bain & Company has described 23 elements of value – including anxiety reduction and fun – that lift products from commodity status and create competitive advantage.

A party for the senses

Integrating technology into the customer experience made the concert I attended a party for the senses. Every audience member received a wrist band programmed to integrate with the music and choreography of the show. Colors, patterns and beats changed in harmony with the music as Swift went through the night's set list.

At home the next day, the lights were still blinking out the beat and reminding me of the way Swift engaged the audience.

The lesson seems clear: whether you make a product, deliver services or perform in front of adoring fans, today's consumers want functionality and simplicity. We also expect experiences enriched by the technology that connected machines, devices and wearables bring us.

Winning over non-customers

In addition to connecting emotionally with her fans and creatively integrating technology, there are two other business strategies the Swift franchise has mastered.

"The imagery and artistry of the concert are unifying in a chaotic world."

The first is winning over non-customers – the people who are not currently buying your products or services.

This is an idea espoused by Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne in their book Blue Ocean Strategy. The authors argue that to gain major commercial success, companies must seek "uncontested market space." Non-customers are one way to find those blue oceans.

Until I attended her Atlanta concert, I was a non-customer of Taylor Swift. But by the next morning, I had purchased three of her songs on i-Tunes.

Later in the week, still thinking about the experience, I went online and ordered two shirts. (Receiving a UPS My Choice alert on my phone, telling me that my shirts would arrive the next day, was one more touch point that continued the emotional connection.)

A second strategy put to good use is targeting the masses. Swift's team has discovered that the appeal of her empowerment message transcends musical genre and age.

She's transitioned from country to pop, from Nashville to New York, from marketing to 15-year-olds to reaching out to their moms and dads. By continuing to target who is not yet listening to her music and buying her merchandise, she and her business team create new market demand.

A week after the concert, I was still feeling inspired by the experience. Connecting emotionally, integrating technology, turning non-customers into buyers and appealing to the masses are strategies the Taylor Swift team has mastered.

And taking a page from Taylor's songbook, they're also ways the rest of us can grow our businesses.

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