7 Branding Lessons From Rocker Jack White

Blue Guitar

In Raven Tools’ beloved home city of Nashville, Jack White is a hipster mascot, according to The New York Times. He and his Third World Records even have their own virtual reality video app.

jack-whiteIf the gushing media can be believed, the White Stripes and Raconteurs rocker is single-handedly responsible for driving the city’s newfound buzz thanks to his rock-star style and ability to single-handedly put a restaurant on the map.

I could hardly conjure a sentence when White recently sat near me in a local Nashville restaurant, but we’ll keep this strictly professional. We’re here to talk about what this talented rocker, savvy businessman and iconoclastic hipster can teach us about branding.

From a consistent color scheme to unconventional marketing tactics, it’s a surprising amount. Here are 7 lessons you can learn from, even if you don’t know a single guitar lick.

1. Tell a story

Every item in Third Man Records in Nashville makes it clear White is a master of setting a scene. His creative touch is seen throughout the store, venue, studio, and everything else he touches.
“The inside holds all manner of curiosities and wonders — secret passageways, trompe l’oeil floors, the mounted heads of various exotic ungulates (a bison, a giraffe, a Himalayan tahr) as well as a sign on the wall that says photography is prohibited,” the New York Times wrote. “The décor [reflects] his quirky junk-art aesthetic: African masks and shrunken heads from New Guinea; antique phone booths and vintage Victrolas.”

They say quirky; I say genius. From each detail of his record store to his use of a consistent color scheme throughout all themerchandise, even down to the yellow bus with black trim, White’s distinct bold branding infuses everything. Every color decision has a purpose, every item has a reason for being – it all tells a unified story.

2. Be consistent

White may be weird, but he’s not dumb. He knows that juggling multiple bands as well as a solo career and a record store could lead to a bit of brand confusion. That’s likely why he brings a consistent and recognizable color scheme into every project he touches.

For the White Stripes, it was black, red and white.
For Third Man Records, the color scheme is an undeniable red, yellow and black. His “power tower” logo graces everything produced or connected to Third Man. His album, Blunderbuss, has taken on a new color, and his backup singers, clothing and promotional palette is all blue.

Whether it’s the yellow, black and red of Third Man, the blue of Blunderbuss or the past black, red and white of the White Stripes, consistency of color is seen in all his branding.

3. Always build community

Before White could own a successful brand, he had to build a solid fan base.

He did that the long, slow way that recalls the way many brands build our communities – starting small (playing in local bands), finding like-minded people (the Michigan garage rock underground music scene) and making your way to bigger and bigger influencers (from small, independent labels to the big time as a nationally touring and highly anticipated rock act).

Branding means nothing unless you have a community around you to experience and appreciate the connection between art and action.

4. Don’t give it all away

As White’s first band, The White Stripes, began to garner acclaim early in his career, the relationship between Jack and Meg White – the only two members of the band – became a topic of intrigue. Are they siblings? Were they married?

In early interviews, the pair presented themselves as siblings, but eventually the press dug up that they had once been married. Neither really ever addressed the topic, which of course only made people more interested.

Examples like this show White’s expertise at the art of intrigue in branding – bringing people to the watering hole and convincing them it was their idea to drink.

People want to know everything about celebrities, but White gives them just enough to keep things interesting.

Remember all that cool stuff in Third Man Records? You can’t take pictures of any of it. On the other side of Jack White’s “towering” presence is something shrouded in a sense of mystery. This side of branding is important as well. There should be something in a brand that invokes curiosity by those both inside and outside its inner circle of followers and fans.

5. Align yourself with awesomeness

When you’re one of Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time,” options start to open up for you. And White’s popular and critical success has allowed him to partner up with legendary artists including The Rolling Stones, Jeff Beck, Bob Dylan and more.

White even continues to build a community of like-minded souls as he engineers comebacks for older talents like Loretta Lynn and Wanda Jackson.

Surrounding yourself with people who excite and inspire you only makes your brand stronger.

6. Try something new

One doesn’t become a master of branding by making people say “Meh, that’s kinda cool.” No sir, you must go hard or go home.

That’s why White is constantly innovating, breathing new life into the “dying industry” of music on vinyl. Laboring under the Third Man slogan “Your turntable’s not dead,” White has gone unconventional in ways that include rolling up to the music festival South by Southwest in the Third Man Rolling Record Store, a mobile record shop equipped with for-sale vinyl, turntables, microphones and a sound system for performances at shows and festival.

Third Man released White’s single “Freedom at 21” by attaching the tune, imprinted on flexi-disc records, onto a handful of blue balloons. “Sixteen Saltines” was released as a limited-edition liquid filled record.

As Sonia Simone of CopyBlogger says, “The greatest businesses, from Apple to Zappos, start with: ‘What would happen if…?’ ” In the same vein, effective branding requires innovative brainstorming.

7. You can’t control perception

Sure, you can try, but talk of the town goes where it will. For White, that means living in the spotlight the best he can while ignoring what he can’t control.

An example: No one wants to see the end of their relationship become a public discussion, but when White and British model Karen Elson divorced in June 2011, the couple did it their way, press speculation be damned.

They threw a divorce party to celebrate their sixth anniversary and the “making and breaking of the sacred union of marriage,” according to the invitation. In a press statement, the couple vowed to remain “dear and trusted friends and co-parents.”

You can never entirely control the way others see you, but you can make the best decisions possible. There’s something commendable about someone so willing to stay true to his image – no matter what others think, say or do.

If you’re local to Nashville, Third Man Records and The Belcourt Theatre are co-presenting The First Annual T.A.M.I. (Teenage Awards Music International) December 18, 2014. Screening at 8 p.m.

Produced in 1964, THE T.A.M.I. Show is a legendary concert film showcasing some of the biggest acts of the period, including Chuck Berry, The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Lesley Gore, Smokey Robinson, and a “Battle of the Bands” between James Brown with his Famous Flames and The Rolling Stones. Rarely seen for decades due to rights issues, THE T.A.M.I. SHOW was shot live over two days at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium on videotape, using the then-innovative Electronovision (and then transferred to film).

Photo credit featured image: Hani Amir via Compfight cc; Jack White photo courtesy Solly_Darling on Flickr; Third Man photo courtesy AtomicPope on Flickr