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  • Jeanel Carlson

Branding Brilliance: What Startups Can Learn from Taylor Swift’s Decade of Career Dominance

Updated: Apr 2

With Super Bowl Sunday near, NFL fans are excited to see the San Francisco 49ers take on the Kansas City Chiefs. But unlike previous years, a new demographic of fans has been consistently tuning in - Taylor Swift fans. (Recent news: Swift will make it from Tokyo) It's amazing to see the Swifty phenomenon - Taylor Swift’s over a decade of relevance and meteoric fame is even driving the U.S. economy. She’s a clear case study in branding brilliance. 

Swift consistently stands out for her savvy branding strategies and deep connection with her audience. Beyond her chart-topping hits and sold-out concerts, Swift's approach to branding offers valuable insights for tech startups striving to make their mark in the digital age. From dominating the music charts to captivating audiences with her authenticity and innovation, her influence extends far beyond the realm of music - it extends to the NFL. 

Three Swifty Brand Lessons for Tech Startups

Taylor Swift's rise to stardom is not just about her catchy tunes. Swift has built an empire by staying true to her authentic self, engaging with her fans on a personal level, and constantly reinventing her image to stay relevant. This approach has endeared her to millions worldwide and inspired admiration and emulation across industries.

Tech startups can learn invaluable lessons from Taylor Swift's branding playbook. 

Firstly, let's examine how Swift builds trust and authenticity. 

Swift’s lyrics deepen her parasocial relationships with fans by offering vulnerable stories of breakups, feuds, and love stories. People don’t just listen to her music because it’s a catchy tune, they listen because they want to peek behind the celebrity gossip curtain. 

But a lot of singers do this - so what makes Swift’s hold fanatical? Not only is her music vulnerable, but her storylines build trust through a deep relatability. Her music hits on emotions that allow her audience to see themselves in her. She knows her music is about her fans — not her.

If startups want to capture that kind of loyalty, understand that Swift’s albums have nothing to do with her, and everything to do with the experience of her fans and audience. Her subtle clues culminating in a high-profile album reveal build intrigue and hunger in her audience. And for her fans, deciphering that mystery validates their position as a true Swifty; it’s a badge of honor. 

Brands must examine how they’re positioning their solutions to hit what resonates with their audiences. Is your messaging all about you? Or is it about how your brand “gets” your audiences’ journey and challenges? 

One way to build authenticity is by emphasizing how those who make up your business (your employees, founders, leadership, etc.) are similar to your audience. Are you a software developer building a new automated tool to simplify coding? Give your customers a peek behind the curtain and share the challenges that drove you to build your solution, and how it matches the challenges your customers still face.

Secondly, Swift is a master of reinvention and adaptability — qualities essential for brand longevity. 

Swift's identity from one album to another shifts to fit the times, culture, and values of her fan base — she’s growing up with them. One thing to note is that she remains quintessentially Taylor Swift; it’s important to evolve, but evolution is most successful when you know what’s at your brand’s core, and how that might manifest in different cultural and social contexts. For example, her look may change, her sound may change, but her focus on personal, vulnerable topics remains. 

Similarly, startups must stay agile and recognize what parts of their brand fit with the market's future, and what should be left behind. Keep culture shifts in mind when crafting messages, and what parts of current trends blend well with your core brand values. 

For example, generative AI is at the center of every conversation about technology. Focus on the aspects of the technology you can use to increase productivity and strengthen product messages, but be wary of using it for everything. If you have a distinct point of view that’s simplistic, mature, clean, and works for your audience, AI imagery may confuse your brand. But if your audience is creative or your brand uses detailed illustrations and futuristic imagery - it could offer a fresh revamp for existing content. Another example: if your brand prioritizes security in messaging, the rapid adoption of AI in key messages may rattle your customers. Becoming a thought leader in responsible AI adoption, on the other hand, stays true to your values while embracing AI.

Thirdly, Swift is a master at increasing her star power through influencers in her orbit.

From announcing an album at the Grammy’s to a feud with Kanye West, she’s a professional at shaping any PR, into good PR. Swift sees up-and-coming talent not as a threat, but as a partner to increase her reach and magnitude — her girl gang is a revolving door of the hottest starlets. And her A-list boyfriends, like Travis Kelce, extend her reach to new audiences. She knows that by association, she gains some of their influence, while they benefit from hers. She also doesn’t shy away from musical partnerships with singers with similar fanbases to extend her audience.

Similar to Swift, startups can use a variety of collaborations to reach new audiences and strengthen their existing audiences. Partnering with a brand that serves the same type of buyer can help you mutually reach new prospects that are more likely to convert into paying customers (think Ed Sheeran collaborating with Swift – they have the same singer-songwriter style at their core, which means both fanbases are likely to resonate with each others’ music). 

Alternatively, if you’re an up-and-coming brand in need of more credibility, partnering with a larger more established company can help your business feel more “grown-up” to prospects concerned by how new you are as an organization.

Whether you are a Swifty or not, you must give kudos to Taylor Swift's branding genius. 

She transcends boundaries and resonates with a wide range of audiences. By staying true to her authentic self, embracing reinvention, and reaching new audiences with her celeb-studded posse, Swift personifies branding brilliance — and if you follow her strategy, your startup might just too. 


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