Stop in the name of Branding

Wanna be stoppin’ something?

I interviewed Michael Schein recently, a New York based content marketing and branding specialist on his thinking on branding, content marketing and Rock’n’Roll here.  Turns out that Michael is also a big fan of classic British rock music, having been an honorary ‘mod’.  We must begin with a nod towards one of his favourite bands, The Who, who used a great deal of branding and marketing stunts to get their message across:

Wanna be stoppin’ something ?

Whenever I’m asked the question “what do I do?”, I like to say that I help people stop branding their companies. Then I stand back and watch their eyes bug out of their heads. The reason I got into the business I’m in is that I was tired of seeing marketing departments invest hundreds of thousands of dollars and a year’s worth of time into rebranding campaigns only to end up with a nicer logo, a prettier website, and no difference in sales results whatsoever. These days, the thing that determines a company’s profitability is how well they drive potential customers to raise their hands and say they want to have a conversation. Everyone is online. They’ve seen it all. They can get all the answers they need about your product or any of your competitors’ products with the click of a button. A new slogan or color scheme isn’t going to make much of a difference. So what I do is create bold, honest content that draws a line in the sand. The people who don’t like it are going to turn away, but they usually aren’t going to be buyers anyway. The people it resonates with end up being customers for life.

The good, bad and ugly of content marketing

Let’s start with the bad and the ugly. It’s a lot of work, plain and simple. If a company chooses to do it themselves, it means creating a lot of content and publishing a lot. Even if you’re hiring outside help, it’s a lot of work. Because when you’re using content to market your business, what you put out there has to be honest. It has to really be about who you are and what you represent as a business. Today’s customers have seen it all before, they know the difference immediately. So a lot of time has to be spent to make sure the marketer knows you better than they know themselves. As for the good, content marketing is quite simply the opportunity of a lifetime for anyone in business. In the past, if you wanted to compete you needed a huge advertising budget, print magazine campaigns, TV commercials, billboards. It was insanely expensive, and you couldn’t even tell what part of it was working. With content marketing, it’s all about the ideas. If you can write or have access to a good writer, and have some knowledge of how the Web works, you can use creativity to beat even the biggest Fortune 500 companies. And on top of that, you can measure everything – what’s working, what isn’t, how so, and why not. 

What can marketers learn from music and musicians?

I’m a gigantic music fan and played in a lot of bands when I was younger. I’ve always said that rock ‘n’ roll is a lot more than music – it’s theater, marketing, sales, and philosophy wrapped up in one package with a backbeat. That’s what makes it so awesome. There are so many lessons that marketers can learn from rock music. But since I’m talking to a British blog, let me give an example from one of my all time favorites, The Who. When The Who first started, they were a diehard R&B band that had a small but very dedicated group of fans. Then at one point they decided to make a change. They ditched the R&B purity, latched onto the Mod trend, jacked up their amps, and draped themselves in all kinds of crazy outfits with Union Jacks, RAF targets, and medals. And of course, they started smashing their guitars and wrecking their equipment. Was it a gimmick? Maybe. Their diehard fans certainly thought so. Seventy-five percent of them bailed. But the audience they got in return ended up being twenty times bigger. A hundred times bigger. Hell, they became one of the biggest bands in the history of bands. So I guess the lesson is that you shouldn’t be afraid of turning off the wrong people. Stand out. Draw a line in the sand. Take controversial positions. Provoke. Some people will dislike you for it. People will abandon you, and that’s an awesome thing. Because the fans and customers you end up getting in return will live and die for you.

What’s the most interesting marketing job you’ve ever done?

I know this is going to sound like I’m evading the question, but what ends up being interesting about my work very rarely has to do with the nature of the actual product or service that’s being sold. It usually has more to do with the process of digging into why our client went into business in the first place, what problem they’re trying to solve, how they’re trying to make the world a better place, and figuring out how to get that out there. I never stop until we get to that point, regardless of how much it annoys the person I’m working with. So I guess all the jobs end up being interesting, which is exactly why I love going to work every day.

Is there anything marketers should NOT learn from the crazy world of Rock’n’Roll?

Don’t throw your TV out of your hotel room window at a trade show. Especially a flat screen.

Mr Schein, Pinball Wizard and Content Marketing King

Get in touch with Michael by email at or by phone at +1-855-855-6607 ext. 801.  On the web at Schein Communications.

Finally, as living proof that Mods and Rockers were quite literally disruptive, here’s some footage of them fighting in 1964 in Margate.  I actually remember being there on the day as we were out on a trip to the seaside, although I think I still managed to produce some castles made of sand before they arrived … 🙂


About the Blogger:  Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock – Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics – Business and organisation development, training and coaching.  Contact via


4 responses to “Stop in the name of Branding

  1. Very interesting post (again), those I don’t do branding as such creating websites for people I can’t help but get involved and found many points to take away.

    I love “Stand out. Draw a line in the sand. Take controversial positions. Provoke” so many people just (as the article says) do those rather meaningless logo changes etc.

    Branding is so much about doing something different, being noteworthy and great products and services.

    I’ve even been watching those Man V Food programs and you see these endless queues outside of family owned [passionate] restaurants with great food and silly food challenges and I bet not one has ever thought if the colours on the logo are just right!

    Business is bad!!! Lets re-organise and re-brand… no, lets not look at the product and services… doh!


  2. A relevant reflective blog Peter. Branding is about showcasing your best, whether it is knowledge, product, service or personal talent. If you can’t explain what the benefits are to your target audience / market, then you do need a serious re-think about what it is that you deliver. I loathe hugely budgeted marketing campaigns too, but targeting and standing out of the crowd is important. Investing in a marketeer is not the quick fix solution to your challenges – only you know the direction of travel & destination. Can’t avoid huge personal investment i.e. time, hard work & evaluation – success never comes easy! Keep your senses open for opportunities, work-out & get business fit!


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