Before StoryBrand, there was a story band—a true musical master of brand building.
While it’s popular right now to talk about clever marketing that makes the consumer the hero of the story, it’s really not a new concept. Telling stories isn’t new either, though our tales are certainly shorter in the modern era of mobile devices and brief attention spans.
The heavy metal band Iron Maiden is perhaps the best example of storytelling and brand building, though others exist. KISS comes to mind.
You don’t have to like heavy metal to learn a lot about business from Iron Maiden.
Iron Maiden has been around for 44 years, has 16 studio albums to its credit, and has sold over 100 million records while creating and defining a genre that’s slightly off the beaten track. The sextet has also generally received praise from critics over its four-decades-plus career.
The band pleases fans—its customers—by delivering the same product and service over and over again. Musicians are often criticized for this practice, and indeed some bands have shown a distinct lack of imagination and growth.
On the other hand, many bands—and businesses—have departed from areas of strength and found themselves without acclaim or listeners. New Coke is an example. Metallica’s “Load”/”Reload” period is another.
That isn’t the case with Iron Maiden. While the band has evolved, it still delivers on the same promise it made in the ‘70s: galloping, intricate music with dark themes and operatic vocals, all packaged with iconic, instantly identifiable branding.
Can you imagine if your business had 50 years of quality messaging and consistent branding behind it?
Icons and Images
Iron Maiden’s music is almost instantly recognizable, the same way legendary acts such as Elvis Presley, U2, Queen and others stand out among their peers.
Perhaps even more important than the music itself is the presentation: Iron Maiden’s cover art has been remarkably consistent, and you can identify a Maiden poster in a crowd from 50 yards away. In fact, if you scroll through the back catalogue on iTunes, you’ll see what looks like a cohesive, carefully crafted Instagram feed.
Most prominent: the band’s mascot, Eddie, a demonic, skeletal figure whose appearance is altered slightly to fit each scene in which he appears. For example, he was depicted as a mental patient in 1983’s “Piece of Mind,” and he was a pharaoh in 1984’s “Powerslave.”
Eddie has become absolutely iconic, and he appears on posters, T-shirts and even the airplane the band uses for transport—a 747 or 757 named “Ed Force One.”
The British outfit is currently on its Legacy of the Beast tour, and I had a chance to catch the Aug. 28 show in Winnipeg, Canada. Eddie was everywhere. On T-shirts in the crowd and on giant backdrops behind the stage—a new one for every song. He even made an in person appearance, with a stilted stage hand in costume to create an 8-foot opponent for lead singer Bruce Dickinson to duel with a sword during “The Trooper.”
If you don’t drink soda, you still know what Coke is. You know Honda if you only ride a bike. And you know all about LEGO if you’ve never played with it.
And even if you don’t like heavy metal or know anything about Iron Maiden, you’ve seen Eddie.
Stories in Song
Iron Maiden’s consistent branding made its fans walking billboards, and the group no doubt makes significant money from merchandising.
But even the coolest iconography is dead in the water without substance.
And that’s where the “story band” comes in:
Iron Maiden’s songs are often lengthy yarns that wouldn’t be out of place around a campfire.
At the Aug. 28 concert, the storytelling was on full display. For each song, a new backdrop appeared, and stage hands periodically appeared to change the set from a military scene complete with camouflage and barbed wire to a cathedral with a rose window. At times, huge inflatables appeared over the stage, and Dickinson changed costume for almost every song, at one point donning a flamethrower and lighting up the stage in time with the music.
These were not just generic songs about love, life or death but rather entire short stories.
The Loudest Story Ever Told
In its history, Maiden has created some of these stories from scratch based on historical themes—like “Flash of the Blade,” in which the listener is “a young boy chasing dragons, with your wooden sword so mighty. You’re St. George or you’re David, and you always killed the beast.”
In other cases, Maiden taps into great works of others, such as “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, to create a 14-minute epic story in song.
“The Trooper”? A tale about the 1854 Charge of the Light Brigade. “Aces High”? Defending the homeland in World War 2, complete with elements of the famous “We Shall Fight on the Beaches” speech by Winston Churchill. “Run to the Hills”? The clash between colonial Europeans and indigenous peoples in North America.
It’s easy to forget a song but hard to forget a story—or a concept.
And Iron Maiden continually wove new threads into its tapestry to create an entire universe. Take the cover of the 1986 album “Somewhere in Time.” You could spend hours discovering all the subtle references in the artwork, but Wikipedia did it for you here: Somewhere in Time.
Beastly Brand Building
Iron Maiden has done what you need to do for your business—and what brand builders want to teach you to do:
The group has created an icon-filled multimedia experience that engages its clients, builds its brand, and encourages retention in the form of sales of new albums and attendance at concerts.
The band has also mastered the concept of average revenue per member or client (ARM): We buy the album, we buy the T-shirt, we buy the concert ticket, we buy the live album, we buy the DVD, and we play the video game.
Yes, there’s a role-playing video game, and you play as Eddie. “Legacy of the Beast” starts with a story, and it’s packed with reference to the Maiden universe. You get rewards and level up, which we all know is addictive.
The game is free; every second you play it, you become more likely to buy Iron Maiden’s music or products. It also offers in-app purchases, of course.
Similarly, Iron Maiden has utilized its creativity to generate insane length of engagement (LEG).
Can you imagine if you retained a customer for 44 years and knew he or she would buy a new product on release every single time?
Metal, Media and Your Brand
You, business owner, are bassist Steve Harris.
When most people think of Maiden, they think of Eddie the mascot or Dickinson, the flashy front man. Or they think of the trio of guitarists shredding away.
But it’s Harris, the bassist, who runs the show.
He’s the founder and principal songwriter, and the band’s only constant since 1975. He’s one of only two members to have appeared on every album.
He is Iron Maiden, just the way you are your business.
And you need to build your brand just the way he did until it’s so big that people forget about you at times.
Brand Building With the Band
To use Maiden’s lessons to support your brand, you need exactly two things:
1. A relentlessly consistent message regularly delivered in new ways on multiple platforms.
2. Compelling media that supports your message and engages your clients.
The last part is critical. Think of any great brand and you’ll likely recall its logo instantly. You might even recall a particularly effective ad for that product. Maybe you whistle a restaurant’s theme song on your way in.
And if you’re a fan or consumer of a particular brand, you’ll immediately be able to identify its position in your life.
“Our Toyota Tundra got our kids to 500 hockey games over the years.”
“Dad only wears Nike shoes.”
“We go to Ray’s Ice Cream on every single birthday in our family.”
As a business, your goal is to become part of each client’s life. That’s your story—and the story of your brand.
Or, in this case, the story of the band.