As any regular reader knows, Taylor Swift is my guilty pleasure. I admire her as a performer, a songwriter, director and entrepreneur. But as much as my inner Swiftie delights at the current success of her sold out ERAS tour, there is something more interesting afoot from a branding perspective.
Ask yourself the question how a 33-year-old has achieved such fame, wealth and built a global brand bigger than Oprah Winfrey, Dolly Parton, Madonna and Beyoncé? Only Rhianna sits above her in terms of net worth as a musician (and once the Era tour finishes, which is set to be the biggest grossing US tour of all time, that may even change). How did she do it, and what can your own brand and business learn from her approach?
Over the next 3 articles we are going to look at three elements of her success which you may be able to use, reflect upon and replicate with your own brand and customer experience strategies. The first is demand creation.
Perhaps a relatively lazy title for the recent Eras tour spending and behaviours, Swiftonomics examines why her original 2.4 million US tickets sold out in just one day (simultaneously snapping the Ticketmaster infrastructure across her knee). The answer is a mix of pent-up post Covid demand (Taylor cancelled her Lover Fest 2020 tour when Covid struck) and the significant savings her largely millennial fan base have accrued.
While the International dates have just been released, in November 2022, 3.5 million fans registered for the US pre-sale, the largest pre-sale registration for tickets in history, and they promptly crashed the system on the day those pre-sale tickets were released. The Ticketmaster infrastructure couldn’t handle the volume and glitched, meaning many made it all the way to checkout, only to lose their precious tickets at the last minute (there is currently a class-action lawsuit being taken against Ticketmaster by over 300 such Swifites, each seeking $2,500 in damages, as well as congressional antitrust hearing accusing Ticketmaster of abusing their monopoly position within the industry). This resulted in the main sale planned for 2 days later being completely cancelled, mainly as there weren’t that many tickets left to sell anyway, despite Taylor adding a further 17 more stadium nights over the course of the tour.
Can She Stay on Stage for 2 Years?
Ticketmaster, in their apology and reply, noted that she would now have to perform a stadium-sized gig, every night for 2.5 years, to satisfy the ticket requests their system received over those pre-sale and subsequent days.
The international dates have been released last week. Another 50 stadiums across South America, Asia and Europe. An estimated 8 million people had pre-registered to get tickets for the 3 original Singapore dates alone. That was 8m people scrambling for 200,000 tickets, forcing another 3 nights being scheduled. How can one person, one brand, generate such demand and desire, and more importantly, how can you mimic it?
We will discuss Tribal Belonging in Part III, but for now, let’s just agree that the Swifties are a powerful example of brand loyalty, belonging and tribal consumer community. A bit like why 100s queue outside an Apple store to be the first to get their hands on any new tech, Swifties have an inherent desire for all things Taylor, further fuelled by being denied seeing her live for 3 years.
But it can’t just be pent-up demand. The reaction is disproportionate. While the rumour of the $40,000 resale for a ticket remains just that, it is common for fans in the US to pay anything from $1000-$3000 per ticket to get seats close to the action (with many fans in the stadium buying from resale sites due to the main sale fiasco discussed above)
The average spend by a Taylor Swift fan is north of $1,000 to just attend a concert. Even if we take the lowest original rate-card ticket prices ($300-$500), add on the costs of transport and parking, hotels (many cities charging up to $1000 per night for a room on Taylor performance nights), merchandise, clothing (many buy new outfits to attend) and pre-event food and drinks, it is no surprise that every city she has visited has welcomed her with open arms. They have given her the freedom of the city and renamed streets in her honour. Why?
Outside of the ticket spend, a single Taylor performance night results in a $60m-$70m spend in the local economy. And every city she visits gets at least 2, sometimes 3 successive nights. On that basis the 52-night tour in the US alone will be responsible for an approximate $3 Billion consumer spend in local hotels, restaurants, and the city at large. Add in the other $2-3 billion spent on the actual tickets and welcome to Swiftonomics. One woman being responsible for a $5-6 billion spend. Multiply that x2 for the international leg of the Eras tour and its one woman responsible for $12+ Billion in spending.
But where did this money come from? This in a year where we are all facing a cost of living and inflation crisis, the same year there are threatening recessions. Why are consumers throwing all this money around? Doesn’t economics state that in times of looming recession the spending on non-essentials is curtailed? Aren’t consumers supposed to react negatively to the erosion of spending power during times of inflation and interest rates hikes? Why is Taylor Swift breaking the laws of economics?
What your brand should be learning from this is not that you need to become a superstar (although a sparkly dress and red lipstick might help) but that consumers do have money. Despite the drawdown on the aforementioned pandemic savings, it is still estimated there is a ‘spare’ $500 billion in accumulated post-covid savings in the US economy alone, with other global economies showing similar patterns.
Just like the travel industry have had their best year ever re: 2023 bookings, Swifties are spending money on the luxury they believe they deserve. And there is the secret. If as a consumer I feel I deserve something, if my desires are so strong that they overpower any spending concerns, my credit card will be in my hand faster than you can sing the chorus to Shake it Off.
Demand is something you can wait for or you can create. Traditional marketing approaches remain relatively lazy and the brands that are seeking to collaborate with their customers, focusing on tribes and not transactions, and understand the need for relationships over sales numbers are winning. Brands that are authentic and genuine, accessible and delivering above expectations are what today’s consumer wants. All the attributes in bold are what Taylor Swift stands for. Beyoncé hasn’t spent years chatting to her fans at night on Tumblr.
There is also a hype and herding effect taking place, something that is bigger than Taylor herself. The international dates and pre-sale registration panic has been driven by what we have all been watching in the US. It took me 70 minutes in an online queue just to get into the registration page on the day her ‘Register for Tickets’ link was launched in Europe. An hour queuing just to be allowed to register for a likely <5% chance of actually getting a ticket. But the hype and excitement drives further demand.
The Eras tour is an entity in and of itself at this stage, fuelling unique consumer behaviours (more of which we will discuss in Part II and Part III of this series – see what I did there > created pent-up future demand ????). Once the demand and desire ball is rolling, the peer-to-peer economy takes care of the rest for you.
So, whatever you sell, you need to frame it as something the consumer desires over anything else. You need to do a better job in persuading the consumer that your brand is something they cannot do without. That regardless of their other financial pressures, that they simply cannot do without what you are selling. You need to frame it far beyond the core product. Taylor is just a singer, it’s just another concert. But ask anyone seeking tickets or heading to tonight’s gig, it is not just a concert. It is far more important than that. For those fans, it is everything.
One Taylor fan sold her car to pay for her tickets. She has decided that seeing Taylor is more important than her day-to-day need for independent transportation. It is all about priorities. Make your brand their priority by framing it in a way that their desire outweighs any rational decision making.
Join me for Part II to explore the unique consumer behaviours around the Eras tour itself, particularly the tribal and community driven ‘Taylor-Gating’, a masterclass in the moment a brand ceases to be owned by the producer and it becomes truly collaborative.
Until then, might I suggest you go on to Spotify, type in ‘Taylor Swift’ and hit play. You will be surprised as to how many of her songs you already know (regardless of what age you are) and discover that you may be, like me, a closet Swiftie.
See you at the Eras tour, if any of us actually get tickets.
Ken Hughes, known as The King of Customer Experience on the International Conference Circuit, studies emerging consumer behaviour and helps businesses and brands establish deeper and more relevant connections with their customers.
He is also an unapologetic Swiftie.
Book Ken to speak your next event.
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