7 branding lessons from rocker Jack White

7 branding lessons from rocker Jack White

In Raven Tools’ beloved home city of Nashville, Jack White is a hipster mascot of sorts.

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.

And 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 all 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 of Third Man. “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 of merchandise, 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 new album, Blunderbuss, has taken on a new color. 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, a 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.

Jack White photo courtesy Solly_Darling on Flickr. Third Man photo courtesy AtomicPope on Flickr

  • John Lowery

    This is extraordinary. I just gave a speech in Berlin entitled ‘7 Lessons we can learn from Jack White – a master of social creativity’. I promise you, I wrote the first draft in June.

    Mind you, I never had the nervous pleasure of sitting next to him in a restaurant.

    Would you be interested in seeing my speech?


    • Courtney Seiter

      That’s crazy, John! What are the odds? Of course we’d love to see your speech. courtney@raventools.com